Gender in English

July 16, 2011pdf

English does not have any complicated grammatical gender system. People are usually he or she. Things are it.

  • He is a teacher. (NOT It is a teacher.)
  • She is a doctor.
  • It is an apple tree. (NOT She is an apple tree.)

Sometimes he and she are used to refer to animals. This usually happens when they are being thought of as having personality.

  • I have a rabbit called Joe. He is very cute. (More natural than ‘It is very cute’)

Some people use she for cars, ships and bikes.

  • The ship has struck an iceberg. She is sinking. (OR It is sinking.)

Cases where the sex of a person is not known
English has traditionally used he in cases where the sex of a person is not known.

  • A teacher can’t do a good job if he doesn’t have patience.

Nowadays this usage is regarded as sexist. Instead, may people use the expression he or she.

  • A teacher can’t do a good job if he or she doesn’t have patience.

In an informal style, they is often used instead of he or she.

  • If anybody hasn’t registered yet, he or she should do so at once. (More formal)
  • If anybody hasn’t registered yet, they should do so at once. (Informal)
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