She (pronoun)

She is the feminine third-person, singular personal pronoun (subjective case) in Modern English. In 1999, the American Dialect Society chose she as the word of the past millennium.[1]

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender) Subject Object Dependent possessive (determiner) Independent possessive Reflexive
First Imemyminemyself
Second youyouryoursyourself
Third Masculine hehimhishimself
Feminine sheherhersherself
Neuter ititsitself
Epicene theythemtheirtheirsthemself
First weusouroursourselves
Second youyouryoursyourselves
Third theythemtheirtheirsthemselves


She is probably an alteration of the Old English feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun seo ("that one").[2]

Although she was a lexical alteration of an Old English pronoun, its grammatical place in Middle English was not determined by its lexical predecessor's grammatical place in Old English. According to Dennis Baron's Grammar and Gender:

In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces "ou" to Middle English epicene "a", used by the 14th century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" for he, she, it, they, and even I. This "a" is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = "he" and heo = "she". By the 12th and 13th centuries, these had often weakened to a point where, according to the OED, they were "almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation." The modern feminine pronoun she, which first appears in the mid twelfth century, seems to have been drafted at least partly to reduce the increasing ambiguity of the pronoun system...[3]

Thus in Middle English the new feminine pronoun she established itself to satisfy a linguistic need.


When by convention feminine gender is attributed to things (e.g., a ship, a carriage, a cannon or gun, a sword, a tool or utensil), she is used instead of it to denote it.

When natural realities (the moon, planets named after goddesses, rivers, the sea, hurricanes, the soul) and social realities (a city, a country, an army, the Church, and others) are personified as feminine, she denotes them as well.

  • "Stanley had been ridiculing the habit of personifying the Church as a woman, and speaking of it tenderly as she." — George C. Brodrick, Memory and Impressions (1900) 252
  • "With all the pompous titles ... bestowed upon France, she is not more than half so powerful as she might be." — The Annual Register III. Miscellaneous Essays (1760) 203
  • "[He] told the Ambassadour, that the Turkes army was at Malta, and that she had saccaged the towne." — Thomas Washington tr. Nicholay's Voyages i. xiii. (1585) 14 b

She is also used attributively with female animals, as in she-ass, -ape, -bear, -dragon, -wolf, -lion. In early modern English she was occasionally prefixed to masculine nouns in place of the (later frequent) feminine suffix -ess.

  • "They took her for their Patroness, and consequently for their she God." — Daniel Brevint, Saul and Samuel at Endor, vii. (1674) 161.

Sometimes she is prefixed to nouns to attribute feminine character to or emphasize or intensify the feminine attributes of a thing:

  • "Some she-malady, some unhealthy wanton, Fires thee verily." — Robinson Ellis, The poems and fragments of Catullus, vi. (1871) 4
  • "Correlative to the he-man is the she-woman, who is equally undesirable." — B. Russell, New Hopes for changing World (1951) 162

Instead of her, she has been used as an object or after a preposition both in literary use (now rare) or vulgarly as an emphatic oblique (object) case.

  • "I want no angel, only she." — Olive Schreiner Story African Farm ii. xiii. (1889) 284
  • " 'I hope—our presence did not inconvenience—the young lady?' 'Bless your heart, sir! nothing ever inconveniences she'." — Miss Dinah Mulock Craik, John Halifax, gentleman x (1856).

The use of she for I (also for you and he) is common in literary representations of Highland English.

"He" and "she" are sometimes used colloquially as adjectives or nouns to distinguish gender, e.g.

  • "he goat" for "billy goat".
  • "The cat's a she. It's had six kittens in the night. We were told [when we got the cat] that it was a he."

See also


  1. "1999 Words of the Year, Word of the 1990s, Word of the 20th Century, Word of the Millennium". American Dialect Society. Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  2. Example, American Heritage Dictionary Archived 2008-12-06 at the Wayback Machine and Online Etymology Dictionary derive she from the demonstrative pronoun seo. However, Merriam-Websters Dictionary derives she from an alteration of the variant form of heo, being hye.
  3. Baron, Dennis (1986). Grammar and Gender. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03526-8.
    As cited by: Williams, John (1990s). "History – Native-English GNPs". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ. Archived from the original on 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2007-01-01.
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