Main Similarity and Difference
'He' and 'she' are the only gender-specific personal pronouns in the English language.
- 'He' is used to refer to a male person or animal,
- and 'she' is used to refer to a female person or animal.
In other words, 'he' is the masculine subject pronoun, and 'she' is the feminine subject pronoun.
'She' as a third-person singular subject pronoun, can refer to:
- a female person
Is she your baby sister?
- a female animal (especially pets)
Have you seen my cat?
- an inanimate object (especially when the object have special meaning and sentimental value to the owner) For example:
- dolls and stuffed animals
- musical instruments
Now, take a look at some examples:
Here, 'she' is used to refer to a country.
Let's go for a sailing. There's my boat.
Here, 'she' is a pronoun that refers to a sailing boat.
Mommy, I want to play with Lucy.
Here, a child is referring to her doll, as a 'she'.
- a female deity or goddess
Aphrodite is an ancient Greek goddess.
- an unspecified person (although nowadays some might consider it to be grammatically incorrect)
If somebody comes to the door,
The better choice here would be to say, 'If somebody comes to the door, they can come in'. 'They' singular is now considered to be a generic pronoun.
'He' as a subject pronoun, can refer to:
- a male person
- a male animal (especially pets)
Trixie loves playing hide and seek.
- God in some religious context
- an unidentified person
Every celebrity wants to be unique no matter how special
Nowadays, in modern English, it may sound sexist to use the pronoun 'he' for an unidentified or unknown person. That's why many writers choose 'the singular they' to refer to them.
- an unknown person (someone we don’t know whether is a male or female)
Police is trying to catch the thief.
- as a generic pronoun (referring to all mankind as a whole; human beings)
Generic One and You
For generic use, you can also use 'one', as in 'one can learn a lot from books', but it may sound way too formal or unnatural. Another alternative is using 'you', which is more informal and colloquial.
Gender Pronouns: Alternatives
Other alternatives for a generic pronoun are 'he/she' or '(S)he', or 'he or she' or 's/he'. But they are less acceptable than the singular 'they'. So try to avoid using them as much as you can. Also, be careful to use language in a way that includes males and females equally.
If a passenger does not arrive on time, s/he will have to pay the full price.
It's better to say:
If a passenger does not arrive on time,