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He is the masculine third-person, singular personal pronoun (nominative case) in Modern English.

Contents

UsageEdit

Original and modern scopeEdit

As in many languages, in Old English each noun had a grammatical gender (masculine, feminine or neuter), and a pronoun was generally (but not always) selected according to its antecedent's grammatical gender. Thus because dæg ([dæj] 'day') was masculine, one would refer to the day as he.[1][2] Since in Modern English nouns have no grammatical gender (though suffixes like -or or -ess may indicate the sex of their referents), only the sex of the referent determines the pronoun to use.

Generic pronounEdit

Until recently, he served as a generic pronoun whose antecedent was any noun denoting a social category under which both sexes fall.

  • A good student always does his homework.
  • If someone asks you for help, give it to him.
  • When a customer argues, always agree with him.

The use of generic he was often prescribed by manuals of style and school textbooks from the early 18th century until around the 1960s, an early example of which is Ann Fisher's 1745 grammar book A New Grammar.[3]

OtherEdit

In referring to God or to Jesus Christ, and whenever referring to the Holy Spirit conceived on that occasion to be masculine, Christians always use the capitalized forms He, His, and Him.

EtymologyEdit

He has always been the third-person masculine pronoun in English, as this table of the pronouns of Old English shows:

Old English pronouns
Nominative IPA Accusative Dative Genitive
1st Singular [ɪtʃ] mec / mē mīn
Dual wit [wɪt] uncit unc uncer
Plural [weː] ūsic ūs ūser / ūre
2nd Singular þū [θuː] þec / þē þē þīn
Dual ġit [jɪt] incit inc incer
Plural ġē [jeː] ēowic ēow ēower
3rd Singular Masculine [heː] hine him his
Neuter hit [hɪt] hit him his
Feminine hēo [heːo] hīe hiere hiere
Plural hīe [hiːə] hīe heom heora


Although the pronoun has always been spelled the same, its Old English pronunciation was closer to that of modern hay.

As the OE table shows, hine and him were respectively the accusative and dative cases of he. These oblique forms persisted in Middle English:

Personal pronouns in Middle English
The Modern English is shown in italics below each Middle English pronoun
Person (gender) Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
Singular
First
modern
ic / ich / I
I
me / mi
me
min / minen [pl.]
my
min / mire / minre
mine
min one / mi selven
myself
Second
modern (archaic)
þou / þu / tu / þeou
you (thou)
þe
you (thee)
þi / ti
your (thy)
þin / þyn
yours (thine)
þeself / þi selven
yourself (thyself)
Third Masculine
modern
he
he
him[a] / hine[b]
him
his / hisse / hes
his
his / hisse
his
him-seluen
himself
Feminine
modern
sche[o] / s[c]ho / ȝho
she
heo / his / hie / hies / hire
her
hio / heo / hire / heore
her
-
hers
heo-seolf
herself
Neuter
modern
hit
it
hit / him
it
his
its
his
its
hit sulue
itself
Plural
First
modern
we
we
us / ous
us
ure[n] / our[e] / ures / urne
our
oures
ours
us self / ous silve
ourselves
Second
modern (archaic)
ȝe / ye
you (ye)
eow / [ȝ]ou / ȝow / gu / you
you
eower / [ȝ]ower / gur / [e]our
your
youres
yours
Ȝou self / ou selve
yourselves
Third From Old English heo / he his / heo[m] heore / her - -
From Old Norse þa / þei / þeo / þo þem / þo þeir - þam-selue
modern they them their theirs themselves

Many other variations are noted in Middle English sources due to difference in spellings and pronunciations. See Francis Henry Stratmann (1891). A Middle-English dictionary. [London]: Oxford University Press.  and A Concise Dictionary of Middle English from A.D. 1150 TO 1580, A. L. Mayhew, Walter W. Skeat, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1888.

Hence in modern English the dative form him took on the accusative functions of accusative hine [hinə].

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Peter S Baker, Introduction to Old English Archived 10 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine., (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003).
  2. ^ Greville Corbett, Gender, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
  3. ^ Patricia T. O'Conner; Stewart Kellerman (21 July 2009). "All-Purpose Pronoun". The New York Times. 

Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman, 1985.

External linksEdit