If they are cognates,what happened to the mophological changes on them historically?Such as the emergence of "h" in "she"?


mid-12c., probably evolving from O.E. seo, sio (acc. sie), fem. of demonstrative pronoun se "the."

The Old English word for "she" was heo, hio, however by 13c. the pronunciation of this had converged by phonetic evolution with he "he," which apparently led to the fem. demonstrative pronoun being used in place of the pronoun (cf. similar development in Du. zij, Ger. sie, Gk. he, etc.).

The original h- survives in her. A relic of the Old English pronoun is in Manchester-area dialectal oo "she."


O.E. he (see paradigm of Old English third person pronoun below), from P.Gmc. *hi- (cf. O.S., O.Fris., M.Du. he, hi, Du. hy, O.H.G. he), from PIE *ki-, variant of *ko-, the "this, here" (as opposed to "that, there") root (cf. Hittite ki "this," Gk. ekeinos "that person," O.C.S. si, Lith. šis "this"), and thus the source of the third person pronouns in Old English.

The feminine, hio, was replaced in early Middle English by forms from other stems (see she), while the h- wore off Old English neuter hit to make modern it.

The Proto-Germanic root also is the source of the first element in Ger. heute "today," lit. "the day" (cf. O.E. heodæg).

------------------------New statement in wiktionary "she"-------------------------

From Middle English sche, hye (“she”), from earlier scho, hyo, ȝho (“she”), a phonetic development of Old English hēo, hīo (“she”), from Proto-Germanic *hijō (“this, this one”), from Proto-Indo-European *k'e-, *k'ey- (“this, here”).

Cognate with English dialectal hoo (“she”), Scots scho, shu (“she”), West Frisian hja (“she”), North Frisian jü (“she”), Danish hun (“she”), Swedish hon (“she”). More at he.

Despite the similarity in appearance, the Old English feminine demonstrative sēo (“that”) is probably not the source of Middle English forms in sch-.

Rather, the sch- developed out of a change in stress upon hío resulting in hió, spelt ȝho (ȝh = hȝ, compare wh = hw, lh = hl, etc.), and the h was palatalised into the sh sound.

Similar alteration can be seen the name Shetland, from Old Norse Hjaltland; ȝho is the immediate parent form of Middle English scho and sche.


There are two opposite statements,making me more confused.

So the question should turn to be which one is more convincing?

  • The text you have copied says that she is from O.E. se "the" while he is from O.E. he. So they are not cognate. Aug 30, 2012 at 11:09
  • @GarethRees You should make this an answer to "close" the question (and get upvotes to acknowledge your contribution). Edit: I just noticed the same thing happened in another question I answered. You should get credit! :)
    – Zairja
    Aug 30, 2012 at 11:31

1 Answer 1


You asked two three questions.

  1. Are he and she cognate? The text you copied from etymonline says that he derives from Old English he, which derives originally from a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *ki—, whereas she derives from the feminine form sio of Old English se meaning "the" or "that", which according to the OED derives from a reconstructed P.I.E. root *so–. So these words are not cognate, at least according to etymonline and the OED.

  2. How did the sound change from sio to she happen? The OED explains it like this:

    It would appear that in some dialects of late Old English the diphthong in this word underwent a change of stress, the older pronunciations /siːo/ [nominative] and /siːe/ [accusative] being replaced by /sjoː/ and /sjeː/.... As the combination /sj/ is acoustically close to /ʃ/ , and more difficult (according to English habits of articulation) to produce, it is not surprising that /sjeː/ /sjoː/ became /ʃeː/ /ʃoː/.

    And then, of course, the Great Vowel Shift changed /ʃeː/ to /ʃiː/.

  3. What can we make of the disagreement between Wiktionary and the OED? Well, there are clearly two competing theories for the etymology of she.

    In the OED's preferred theory we have she < O.E. sio (feminine form of se meaning "the" or "that"). The OED suggests that the displacement of heo by sio took place in the north of England, and in support of this it cites the "Lindisfarne gospels and the glosses to the Durham Ritual and Hymnarium".

    In Wiktionary's theory we have she < O.E. heo (feminine form of he meaning "he"). The OED discusses this theory in addition to its own preferred one:

    Some scholars have maintained that she and its dialectal variants descend directly from the pronunciations /hjeː/ /hjoː/ of heo; the contention being that /hj/ might naturally develop into /ʃ/. This development has occurred in some Norwegian dialects, and it is illustrated by the proper names Shetland and Shapinshay from Old Norse Hjaltland and Hjalpandisøy. There is slight support for this view in the existence of northern dialect forms such as shoop representing Old English heope. Other views are that /ʃ/ was substituted for the un-English sound /ç/ , developed from /hj/ , and that it arose from the sequence –s + j– in such contexts as was was hió.

    So there's evidence for both theories, but not enough for one to be overwhelmingly preferred to the other (or perhaps both theories are partly true, or describe the development in different places). You may have to be prepared to accept that the answer is not known with certainty.

  • Thank you very much!!I later find another source in wiki,where the word "she" is said to be the variant of O.E. "hēo" and ultimately a cognate of "he".How to explain the differences here?
    – archenoo
    Aug 30, 2012 at 16:08
  • 1
    See revised answer. The explanation seems to be that when evidence is incomplete, scholars may legitimately favour different theories. Aug 30, 2012 at 16:47

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