She vs. He

As you might've known already, 'he' and 'she' are the only gender-specific personal pronouns in the English language. Here, we'll explain them in more detail.

"She" vs. "He" in the English Grammar

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

'She' as a third-person singular subject pronoun, can refer to:

  • a female person

Is she your baby sister? She's cute!

  • a female animal (especially pets)

Have you seen my cat? She's been missing all day.

  • an inanimate object (especially when the object have special meaning and sentimental value to the owner) For example:
  • boats
  • ships
  • vessels
  • countries
  • dolls and stuffed animals
  • homes
  • cars
  • musical instruments

Now, take a look at some examples:

She is our mother Russia.

Here, 'she' is used to refer to a country.

Let's go for a sailing. There's my boat. She's a beauty, isn't she?

Here, 'she' is a pronoun that refers to a sailing boat.

Mommy, I want to play with Lucy. She wants to have a tea party.

Here, a child is referring to her doll, as a 'she'.

  • a female deity or goddess

Aphrodite is an ancient Greek goddess. She's the goddess of love.

  • an unspecified person (although nowadays some might consider it to be grammatically incorrect)

If somebody comes to the door, she can come in.

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

'He' as a subject pronoun, can refer to:

  • a male person

He plays basketball in a college league.

  • a male animal (especially pets)

Trixie loves playing hide and seek. He's mischievous.

  • God in some religious context

He will forgive all our sins, because He is Merciful.

  • an unidentified person

Every celebrity wants to be unique no matter how special he actually is.

Gender Neutrality

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. He can't escape forever.

  • as a generic pronoun (referring to all mankind as a whole; human beings)

He who seeks, finds.

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, they will have to pay the full price.

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