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]


"She" is probably a development of the Old English feminine demonstrative pronoun sēo ("that one").[a]

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...[5]

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


In 2013, the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary recorded the following current pronunciations of "she" and "her" in standard British and American English:[6]

British American
She /ʃiː/, /ʃᵻ/ /ʃi/, /ʃᵻ/
Her /həː/, /hə/, /ə/ /hər/, /ər/


When, by convention, feminine gender is attributed to things (such as a ship, a carriage or a gun), "she" is used instead of "it". When features of nature (the moon, planets named after goddesses, rivers, the sea and hurricanes) and man-made constructions (a city, a country, an army, the Church, and others) are personified as feminine, "she" is used to denote 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)
  • "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)
  • "[He] told the Ambassadour, that the Turkes army was at Malta, and that she had saccaged the towne." — Thomas Washington tr. Nicholay's Voyages (1585)

"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 (1674)

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 (1871)
  • "Correlative to the he-man is the she-woman, who is equally undesirable." — B. Russell, New Hopes for changing World (1951)

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 (1889)
  • " '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 (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:

  • "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."

Modern English pronounsEdit

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender) Subject Object Dependent possessive (determiner) Independent possessive Reflexive
First I me my mine myself
Second you your yours yourself
Third Masculine he him his himself
Feminine she her hers herself
Neuter it its itself
Epicene they them their theirs themself
First we us our ours ourselves
Second you your yours yourselves
Third they them their theirs themselves


  1. ^ Some sources[2][3] derive "she" from the demonstrative pronoun seo. However, others[4] derive "she"' from an alteration of the variant form of heo, being hye.


  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. ^ American Heritage Dictionary Archived 2008-12-06 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  4. ^ Merriam-Websters Dictionary
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "she, pron.1, n., and adj.", "her, pron.2 and n.2.", Oxford English Dictionary Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

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