CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

Subject pronouns and inanimate objects

In the English language, subject pronouns, namely he and she, are mostly reserved for the use of describing humans.

My friend Susan told me to wait for her outside the ticket office.

Tom was angry that he was not invited to the party.

However, it has become a common tradition to also use them for pets. And why not? We give them a name, after all, and they’re sometimes more interesting than humans anyway…! Ahem. For example:

Thomas’ Dalmatian puppy came bounding across the lawn with her favourite toy in her mouth.

‘Crookshanks doesn’t do anything but clean his fur and sleep all day!’ Hermione complained.

Unlike many European languages, English does not apply the subject pronouns he or she when writing about inanimate objects. We generally just use it to describe the table, the television or the book.

I went over to the table and began to clear it for dinner.

Paul closed the book and threw it down on the bed.

However, it has become a tradition to give beloved inanimate objects, such as the car, a musical instrument or a weapon the gender-specific he or she. For example:

‘Look at her,’ Simon said, looking at his new car with misty eyes. ‘Isn’t she stunning?’

Ian took hold of his guitar and gave her a powerful strum.

It is also common practise to refer to countries or ships using subject pronouns, such as:

For all her faults, we love her still, Britannia rules the wave!

The ship’s masts towered over the other vessels docked at the wharf. She was the largest thing the boy had ever seen.

CS SealeyArchiveContact