Is it possible to use the personal pronoun subject he or she for a nonhuman animal according to their sex?

One of my friends said that there is a possibility of using it for animals. My concern is that my friend did not give me the real explanation of why and how to use the pronoun in this case.

  • 1
    Pets, when a pet is a member of the family, then its owners will spontaneously use the appropriate pronoun.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 3, 2019 at 10:35

2 Answers 2


Yes, animals of a given gender can be referred to using he or she as appropriate. For example we might say

The female dog runs across the field. She is fast.

However, when referring to an animal of unknown gender, it is acceptable.

The dog runs across the field. It is fast.

This is in contrast to people. If a person is of unspecified gender, one is more likely to use he or she. In fact, the correct gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun to use for a person is rather controversial, as shown in this discussion.

Regardless, for animals the answer is fairly clear-cut: use he for male animals, she for female animals, and it for animals of unspecified gender.

  • I thought animals only have sex not gender?
    – tchrist
    Jan 1 at 21:40

Personal pronouns (He) can only be applied to male human or domestic animals. Personal pronouns (She) can only be applied to female human or domestic animals.

  • Do you have any references supporting this statement. You can find many counterexamples to this on the web. Just Google "her cubs". Mar 3, 2019 at 10:45
  • @PeterShor Yes, any gendered animal can be referred to using male and female pronouns. I have even seen a worker bee referred to as "her" as all bees other than drones are considered to be female even though they do not, normally, lay eggs. An hermaphrodite creature such as a slug should, of course, be referred to as "it". Having said that I've never seen a 'female' plant such as a holly referred to as "she"
    – BoldBen
    Mar 3, 2019 at 11:53

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