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She (pronoun)

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In Modern English, she is a singular, feminine, third-person pronoun.


In Standard Modern English, she has four shapes representing five distinct word forms:[1]


Old English had a single third-person pronoun – from the Proto-Germanic demonstrative base *khi-, from PIE *ko- "this"[3] – which had a plural and three genders in the singular. In early Middle English, one case was lost, and distinct pronouns started to develop. The modern pronoun it developed out of the neuter, singular in the 12th century. Her developed out of the feminine singular dative and genitive forms. The older pronoun had the following forms:

Old English, third-person pronoun[4]: 117 
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative hit hēo (e)
Accusative hine hit hīe (e)
Dative him him hire him / heom
Genitive his his hire hira / heora

The evolution of she is disputed.[4]: 118  Some sources claim it evolved "from Old English seo, sio (accusative sie), fem. of demonstrative pronoun (masc. se) 'the,' from PIE root *so- 'this, that'" (see the).[5] "In Middle English, the Old English system collapses, due to the gradual loss of þe and the replacement of the paradigm se, seo, þæt by indeclinable that."[4]: 296 

A more likely account is what is sometimes called the ' Shetland Theory', since it assumes a development parallel to that of Shetland < OScand. Hjaltland, Shapinsay < Hjalpandisey, etc. The starting point is the morphologically and chronologically preferable hēo. Once again we have syllabicity shift and vowel reduction, giving [heo̯] > [he̯o] > [hjoː]. Then [hj-] > [ç-], and [ç-] > [ʃ-], giving final [ʃoː].[4]: 118 

This does not lead to the modern form she /ʃiː/. "So any solution that gets [ʃ] from /eo/ also needs to 'correct' the resultant /oː/ (outside the north) to /eː/. This means an analogical transfer of (probably) the /eː/ of he."[4]: 118  None of this is entirely plausible.

The -self forms developed in early Middle English, with hire self becoming herself.[6] By the 15th century, the Middle English forms of she had solidified into those we use today.[4]: 120 


Historically, She was encompassed in He as He had three genders in Old English. The neuter and feminine genders split off during Middle English. Today, she is the only feminine pronoun in English.

She is occasionally used as a gender neutral, third-person, singular pronoun (see also singular they).[1]: 492 



She can appear as a subject, object, determiner or predicative complement.[1] The reflexive form also appears as an adjunct. She occasionally appears as a modifier in a noun phrase.

  • Subject: She's there; her being there; she paid for herself to be there.
  • Object: I saw her; I introduced him to her; She saw herself.
  • Predicative complement: The only person there was her.
  • Dependent determiner: This is her book.
  • Independent determiner: This is hers.
  • Adjunct: She did it herself.
  • Modifier: The she goat was missing.


Pronouns rarely take dependents, but it is possible for she to have many of the same kind of dependents as other noun phrases.


She's referents are generally limited to individual, female persons, excluding the speaker and the addressee. She is always definite and usually specific.


The pronoun she can also be used to refer to an unspecified person, as in If you see someone in trouble, help her.[a]

  • If either your mother or father would like to discuss it, I'll talk to her.

Non-human she[edit]

She has traditionally been used for ships, but can also be used for other inanimate objects of significance to the owner.[7]

She can also be used for countries as political entities, but not as geographical entities.[1]: 487 

  • Canada really found her place in the world during WWII.
  • Canada's prairies are grassland, and she has five great lakes in Ontario.

Many English style guides discourage the use of she for countries or inanimate objects;[7][8] such use may be considered dated or sexist.[9][10]


"She" may refer to a particular goddess or to a monotheistic God when regarded as female. In this case it may be written "She" with reverential capitalization.


According to the OED, the following pronunciations are used:

Form Plain Unstressed Recording
she (UK) /ʃiː/

(US) /ʃi/



female speaker with US accent
her (UK) /həː/

(US) /hər/



female speaker with US accent
hers (UK) /həːz/

(US) /hərz/

female speaker with US accent
herself (UK) /həːˈsɛlf/

(US) /hərˈsɛlf/

female speaker with US accent


In 1999, she was selected as the word of the millennium by the American Dialect Society.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See § Gender, above.


  1. ^ a b c d Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Lass, Roger, ed. (1999). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume III 1476–1776. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ "it | Origin and meaning of it by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Blake, Norman, ed. (1992). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume II 1066–1476. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ "she | Origin and meaning of she by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  6. ^ "herself | Origin and meaning of herself by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  7. ^ a b Curzan, Anne (2003). "Third-person pronouns in the gender shift: why is that ship a she?". Gender Shifts in the History of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  8. ^ "8.118: Pronouns referring to vessels". Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved 8 March 2022. When a pronoun is used to refer to a vessel, the neuter it or its (rather than she or her) is preferred.
  9. ^ Siegal, Allan M. (2015). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (Fifth ed.). New York. p. 257. ISBN 9781101905449. Use it and its in reference to countries, ships and boats. In such contexts, she, her and hers evoke dated stereotypes of the roles of women and men.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ DeFronzo, James; Gill, Jungyun (2020). Social Problems and Social Movements. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 146. ISBN 9781442221550.
  11. ^ "1999 Words of the Year, Word of the 1990s, Word of the 20th Century, Word of the Millennium". American Dialect Society. 13 January 2000. Retrieved 24 March 2021.