Old English had a single third-person pronoun – from the Proto-Germanic demonstrative base *khi-, from PIE *ko- "this" – which had a plural and three genders in the singular. In early Middle English, one case was lost, and distinct pronouns started to develop. The modern pronoun it developed out of the neuter, singular in the 12th century. Her developed out of the feminine singular dative and genitive forms. The older pronoun had the following forms:
|Dative||him||him||hire||him / heom|
|Genitive||his||his||hire||hira / heora|
The evolution of she is disputed.: 118 Some sources claim it evolved "from Old English seo, sio (accusative sie), fem. of demonstrative pronoun (masc. se) 'the,' from PIE root *so- 'this, that'" (see the). "In Middle English, the Old English system collapses, due to the gradual loss of þe and the replacement of the paradigm se, seo, þæt by indeclinable that.": 296
A more likely account is what is sometimes called the ' Shetland Theory', since it assumes a development parallel to that of Shetland < OScand. Hjaltland, Shapinsay < Hjalpandisey, etc. The starting point is the morphologically and chronologically preferable hēo. Once again we have syllabicity shift and vowel reduction, giving [heo̯] > [he̯o] > [hjoː]. Then [hj-] > [ç-], and [ç-] > [ʃ-], giving final [ʃoː].: 118
Obviously, this doesn't lead to the modern form she /ʃiː/. "So any solution that gets [ʃ] from /eo/ also needs to 'correct' the resultant /oː/ (outside the north) to /eː/. This means an analogical transfer of (probably) the /eː/ of he.": 118 None of this is entirely plausible.
He had three genders in Old English, but in Middle English, the neuter and feminine genders split off. Today, she is the only feminine pronoun in English. It is occasionally used as a gender neutral, third-person, singular pronoun (see also singular they).: 492
- Subject: She's there; her being there; she paid for herself to be there.
- Object: I saw her; I introduced him to her; She saw herself.
- Predicative complement: The only person there was her.
- Dependent determiner: This is her book.
- Independent determiner: This is hers.
- Adjunct: She did it herself.
- Modifier: The she goat was missing.
The pronoun she can also be used to refer to an unspecified person, as in If you see someone in trouble, help her. (See Gender above). This can seem very unnatural, even ungrammatical, as in examples like this:
- If either your mother or father would like to discuss it, I'll talk to her.
She can be used for countries as political entities, but not as geographical entities.: 487
- Canada really found her place in the world during WWII.
- *Canada's prairies are grassland, and she has five great lakes in Ontario.
She can also be used for ships and other inanimate objects of significance to the owner.
According to the OED, the following pronunciations are used:
- Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge University Press.
- Lass, Roger, ed. (1999). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume III 1476–1776. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- "it | Origin and meaning of it by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 20 March 2021.
- Blake, Norman, ed. (1992). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume II 1066–1476. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- "she | Origin and meaning of she by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
- "herself | Origin and meaning of herself by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
- The asterisk indicates ungrammaticality.
- Curzan, Anne (2003). "Third-person pronouns in the gender shift: why is that ship a she?". Gender Shifts in the History of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- "8.118: Pronouns referring to vessels". Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved 8 March 2022.
When a pronoun is used to refer to a vessel, the neuter it or its (rather than she or her) is preferred.
- Siegal, Allan M. (2015). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (Fifth ed.). New York. p. 257. ISBN 9781101905449.
Use it and its in reference to countries, ships and boats. In such contexts, she, her and hers evoke dated stereotypes of the roles of women and men.
- DeFronzo, James; Gill, Jungyun (2020). Social Problems and Social Movements. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 146. ISBN 9781442221550.
- "1999 Words of the Year, Word of the 1990s, Word of the 20th Century, Word of the Millennium". American Dialect Society. 13 January 2000. Retrieved 24 March 2021.