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The question concerns the usage of possessive pronouns in phrases like:

Sun won't show its/his/her face much today.

I saw this sentence using her in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and several sources online point out that the Sun was feminine only in Old English and changed to masculine later due to Roman influence. How is it used nowadays? Does it differ in colloquial speech, fiction and/or other books?

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    Note that in Tolkien's world, the sun is a ship steered by a goddess, which probably best explains the use of "her". – siride Jan 16 '16 at 16:34
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As any speaker can tell you, the Sun in English is generally neuter. We call it an it rather than a he or a she. Granted, you might have people like J. R. R. Tolkein calling it female, but you also have him talking about magic rings, elves, and wizards. It's fiction.

When English was more German based, the Sun was female. However, the Romans came and so came their linguistic influence. In Latin and Latin-based languages, the word for the Sun takes a male article, not surprising considering that the Greek god of the Sun, Helios, and the Egyptian God of the Sun, Ra, were both male and that Roman culture was so greatly influenced by these cultures. Thus, the gender bending of the Sun came to pass.

Nowadays, and even back four hundred years, you would be hard pressed to find anyone referring to the Sun as anything but an it, though, not unless waxing poetic. If so, I would imagine whatever gender picked would be arbitrary.

Here is a quote from Sir Francis Bacon written in 1605:

"The sun, which passeth through pollutions and itself remains as pure as before..."

So, even by the turn from the 16th to the 17th centuries, the Sun had already been neutered.

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Sun and moon are neuter, in the ordinary fashion of English nouns. (As opposed to German or French, representing the two relevant traditions: germanic and romance). Any departure from that marks some degree of license.

It is important to notice that grammatical gender was manifest in (early) Old English: sun was feminine. This is probably Tolkien's inspiration; poetic/writer's license but, naturally, Tolkien would, and did, follow the germanic tradition.

In French, le soleil is masculine, and this is what inspired romantic poets and other poetic souls to personify the sun as him.

Cf. also this earlier post.

Sentences such as the one quoted actually seem to call for personification. If the sun has a face, and cares to show it on occasions, why could it not acquire a gender?

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I prefer to use 'its'. 'His' and 'her' may be used to create an impact as per the theme, or be used to implement personification

  • The sun (he) is mainly used in poetry. – rogermue Jan 16 '16 at 15:15
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As has been stated, the sun is neuter, grammatically speaking.

However, speaking literarily, the most common anthropomorphic usage nowadays seems to call the sun masculine and the moon feminine. This is probably a grossly sexist practice, referring to the sun as the primary power and the moon reflecting its' (his) light.

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