In what cases is it appropriate to refer to unknown gender as she?

  • In what cases it is appropriate to refer to unknown gender as 'he'? - If you know the answer to this question, you can just use 'she' for the cases which do not fall under the 'he' category. Please provide an example sentence and let us know why do you want to use 'she' in a sentence. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 10:07
  • @NagarajanShanmuganathan I don't want to use she, I simply noticed that sometimes people refer to 'she' when gender is unknown, and was wondering are there any rules around this or it is just personal preference. I myself usually use 'one' or 'he' when I am not sure of gender. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 10:12
  • Then expand your question as to what you are actually asking. And what research have you done already?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 10:58
  • I don't think you should use "she" for an unknown gender of a real person when you really don't know. e.g. "Chris is visiting next week." "I never met her, is she nice?". You'd ask "is Chris a man or a woman?" if it was important to you. Or use singular they as per Jascol's answer, if not. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


While technically it should refer back to a plural, the singular 'they' is commonly used and, indeed, has a long history in English usage (back to the 16th Century).

You can use the plural pronouns ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’ etc., despite the fact that, technically, they are referring back to a singular noun:1

e.g. "Whoever it was, they should come forward."

Only in certain situations such as extremely formal writing would I not use a singular 'they.' This is due to the fact that it still does irk some people.

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