She

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She /ʃ/ is a 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]

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
SingularPlural
SubjectObjectPossessive determinerPossessive pronounReflexiveSubjectObjectPossessive determinerPossessive pronounReflexive
FirstImemyminemyselfweusouroursourselves
Secondyouyouryoursyourselfyouyouryoursyourselves
ThirdMasculinehehimhishimselftheythemtheirtheirsthemselves
Femininesheherhersherself
Neuterititsitself
Nonspecifictheythemtheirtheirsthemself
(themselves)

Usage[edit]

The use of she for I (also for you and he) is common in literary representations of Highland English.

She is also used instead of it for things to which feminine gender is conventionally attributed: a ship or boat (especially in colloquial and dialect use), often said of a carriage, a cannon or gun, a tool or utensil of any kind, and occasionally of other things.

She refers to abstractions personified as feminine, and also for the soul, a city, a country, an army, the Church, and others.

Rarely and archaically, she referred to an immaterial thing without personification. Also of natural objects considered to be feminine, as the moon, or the planets that are named after goddesses; also of a river (now rare), formerly of the sea, a tree, etc. William Caxton in 1483 (The Golden Legende 112 b/2) and Robert Parke in 1588 (tr. Mendoza’s Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, 340) used she for the sun, but this may possibly be due to misprint; survival of the Old English grammatical gender can hardly be supposed, but Caxton may have been influenced by the fact that the sun is feminine in Dutch.

She has been used for her, as an object or governed by a preposition, both in literary use (now rare), or vulgarly, as an emphatic oblique (object) case.

She is also used attributively, applied to female animals, as in: she-ass, -ape, -bear, -dog, -dragon, -sheep, -wolf, -lion [really a punning distortion of shilling], -stock, and -stuff [in the U.S. = cattle]. When applied to persons, it is now somewhat contemptuous, as in she-being, -cousin, -dancer, -thief, and others. She-friend meant a female friend, often in bad sense, that is, a mistress; but she-saint, was simply a female saint. Rarely she was also prefixed to masculine nouns in place of the (later frequent) feminine suffix -ess.

It has also been prefixed to nouns with the sense "that is a woman", often in disparaging use but also with intensive force, as she-woman. Now it is somewhat rare:

Origin[edit]

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…[2]

Probably, the etymology of she derived from an alteration of the Old English feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun: seo 'that' one.[3] In Middle English, the new feminine pronoun she seems to have been intentionally artificial, to fulfill the linguistic need.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "1999 Words of the Year, Word of the 1990s, Word of the 20th Century, Word of the Millennium". American Dialect Society. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  2. ^ 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. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  3. ^ Example, American Heritage Dictionary and Online Etymology Dictionary derive she from the demonstrative pronoun seo. However, Merriam-Websters Dictionary derives she from an alteration of the variant form of heo, being hye.