Possible Duplicates:
Is it a good practice to refer to countries, ships etc using the feminine form?
When referring to a noun, when does the gender matter?

What is the origin of referring to some nouns by "she" but never by "he"?
Can I refer to Internet as "she"?

  • Can you possibly be a little more specific? For example, which nouns do you mean? (Are you referring to the same concept as this question, or something else?) – psmears Feb 28 '11 at 16:15
  • I refer to my car as he. I'm ornery like that. – Matt E. Эллен Feb 28 '11 at 16:33
  • It's probably worth mentioning that referring to any transport other than ships as "she" is at best extremely unusual (unless the owner of the vehicle in question thinks of it as a being with a female personality!) - and even for ships, using "it" is far more common. – psmears Feb 28 '11 at 16:59
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    Re: the update (why can't you comment??) I'm aware of that usage - as you can see from my comment - I'm just saying that it is far more common (and by no means incorrect) to say "it" - to the point that some would consider you strange if you did use "she". I'm not saying there's anything wrong with saying "she" - just pointing out that this is how many native speakers will perceive you if you do :) – psmears Feb 28 '11 at 18:00
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    @Colin Fine: OK, that's probably fair - personally when I hear this I assume they mean a feminine personality, but your interpretation works just as well! My point is really that using "she" in this way does have a very definite meaning (even if it's hard to pin down exactly in the space of a comment:), and it would be unusual to employ it in "normal" use ("*Today I caught the number 37 bus but she was late" would sound very strange indeed!) – psmears Feb 28 '11 at 21:08

Since English does not have grammatical genders any more, as German still has them, using "she" for inanimate objects is a form of personification (Wikipedia).

Traditionally some nouns are personified more often than others; geographic concepts ("Britain"), emotions ("Jealousy"), and vehicles ("the Lusitania") are among the things more often personified as "she". Personification is a prominent rhetorical device that should only be used when a writer is prepared to draw some attention to his language, because it is not the neutral way to refer to inanimate objects (which is "it").

[Edited:] The reason why some nouns are personified more often than others is probably tradition, in addition to a feeling that they share more characteristics with persons. A ship is an elegant thing that is lovingly cared for by its captain; a country is what has brought forth its people like a mother; an emotion is an important thing that we sometimes curse but could not live without, and it can have the power to make us do both bad and good things.

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In many non English languages, nouns often have "gender". Words ending in a are often "female" and words ending in "e" or "o" are often "male". This varies by languages. (Similarly, in Spanish, you have la and el, in German you Der and Die.)

English does not have gender-based nouns, but some of the feminity gets translated as a show of affection for something. A "Mother" is the epitome of affection. So when someone says something about the "Mother" land, it's a sign of love for their country.

Theoretically, you can call the Internet whatever you want, but "he" is incorrect.

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    In fact in German you have "Der" and "Die" for masculine and feminine, plus also "Das" for neuter :) – psmears Feb 28 '11 at 16:29
  • (And, filling in the missing part of the original question - no, you can't refer to the internet as "she".) – psmears Feb 28 '11 at 16:39
  • It is possible that there is some connection between grammatical gender in other languages (and Old English) and the use of "she" for certain inanimates in English. I know of absolutely no evidence that there is such a connection. But then your second paragraph is a completely different suggestion, which I do not believe is related either to your first paragraph or to the question. Nobody questions that "motherland" has an emotional resonance, but that has nothing obvious to do with why Germany or a ship may be "she" in English. – Colin Fine Feb 28 '11 at 18:18
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    @Colin -- the fact that Old English had genders may actually be a red herring. For example, the most salient use of "she" with transport is to name ships, but the word "ship" (< "scip") was originally neuter as far as I'm aware. I'm guessing that the association may have come about more through a 'natural fondness' that sailors had for their ships. – Neil Coffey Feb 28 '11 at 19:35
  • @Neil: I think it probably is a complete red herring, but I didn't feel confident in dismissing it. – Colin Fine Mar 1 '11 at 11:51

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