Pronouns: Using Appropriate Gender – He, She, and It

The third-person singular pronouns “he” and “she” are used to refer to antecedents that have a sex or gender, e.g., a dolphin, a human, a zebra.

The third-person singular pronoun “it” is used to refer to antecedents that do not have a sex or gender, e.g., a box, a direction, a thought.

Use the pronoun that is appropriate for the given antecedent.


PROPER:  The dancer tied his shoelaces. He then began to dance.
IMPROPER:  The dancer tied its shoelaces. It then began to dance.

PROPER:  The kitten found her water bowl. She then drank some water.
IMPROPER:  The kitten found its water bowl. It then drank some water.


Editor’s note: Sometimes a speaker or writer does not know the sex or gender of a living antecedent; in such cases, the repetitive use of “he or she” and “his or her” can be quite cumbersome. Moreover, the pronouns “he” and “she” do not readily accommodate the complex and non-binary nature of gender.

For all of these reasons, the English language needs a gender-neutral, third-person, singular pronoun for living beings. While it is beyond the scope of the present work to determine what that pronoun should be or how the widespread adoption of such a pronoun can best be facilitated, effective resolution of this issue will be a significant embodiment of the principles underlying The Humane Manual of Style.