Hello. I am puzzled with this phenomena I have met lately in written English: is it a rule or courtesy to refer to any character's unknown gender as to "she" no matter how improbable she is. (I know we assume that Death is he, Sun is she, boat is she ). But here for example: I read a sentence in a science book "A green monkey can yell to its comrades, ‘Careful! A lion!’ But a modern human can tell her friends that this morning, near the bend in the river, she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison. She can then..." And many more sentences like this even if she hunts mammoths, she does - sounds ridiculous.     

Original Post

I have always been taught that the correct formal form is "he or she".  Colloquially, some people use "they", but that is a plural, and is incorrect for an individual.

But a modern human can tell his or her friends that this morning, near the bend in the river, he or she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison. 

Stilted, but correct.

Like you said, there are certain things, including abstract concepts, which have had a gender assigned for a long time. Other than that, most things written about people in general, where a pronoun had to be used, have traditionally used male gender - not to imply that all humans are male, obviously, but because it became the accepted practice, and it represented men and women. It was just easier to pick one and stick with it. But now, it's common and really socially acceptable to use "she" instead - going to the other end of the rope. Some places will go between both, sometimes using "she" and sometime "he". Others use "they". It's about personal and organisational choice. For some, it's about being firmly feminist. Overall, it's seen as politically correct now, but there's no actual rule.

So the 'she' in the sentence example you used is obviously just representative, and is also used in an attempt by that writer/publishing company to sound fair and socially acceptable, and probably to try to teach that to the students reading the textbook. Even if it doesn't fit with what's known about 'cavemen', or should I say, 'cavepeople' : )

I am a bit confused.  Are we talking about colloquial English or formal grammar rules?  Written or spoken?  Descriptive or prescriptive language?

In compositions, I would always have had points taken off for each time that I used "they" for a singular, or "he" or "she" instead of "he or she".  We were always encouraged to use "one" for a general reference, or "he or she" to reference an unnamed individual.  The pronoun "it" was never appropriate for humans.

Now, if this thread is about colloquial or descriptive English, then I agree with you.  People will sometimes refer to God as "She" to get away from the male implication, but, more and more people refer to God as "It" or "Source" to not only avoid gender implication, but anthropomorphism and duality.

Complex verb tenses and moods of the past become woefully insufficient with people talking about non-time, parallel time-streams, infinite possibilities, branching time-streams, and perhaps "past" relative to the "future" of a parallel  time-stream, and so forth.  So, indeed, language must change to serve evolving thinking.

Unlike the Académie française, there is indeed no formal authority on English language usage, although some Universities may claim to hold that authority. 

That being the case, I yield to your perspective, even though sentence diagramming, tenses and moods, and "correct" pronoun usage had been drummed into me from grade-school through college.

David D.

BTW, In formal, composition writing, it was never correct to use "he" if the gender was unknown, thus the construct "he or she".  One would often use the pronoun "one" to avoid the stiltedness of "he or she".  But then one would need be careful to precisely maintain that style.  Inconsistency (non-parallel usage) would mean more points off.

And, of course, one must use gerunds when appropriate .

David D.

'If one says '' look, the sun is out in all his glory'', they use the so called personification figure of speech' 

Nothing is wrong with this sentence, I believe.

I wonder what the schools are teaching now with regards to formal grammar.  I went to school many decades ago, and the rules were well-defined and quite strict.

Even in grade school, you were expected to look at a construct like "I ought to had been going," and immediately name the verb tense, mood and components, and come up with a correct context for its usage. 
(BTW, my use of the word "you" in the previous sentence is colloquial ).
(Oops, I said "BTW" ).

I remember when cell phones first became popular, and English teachers were having nervous breakdowns because texting acronyms were showing up in students' compositions.

If I can judge by this thread, language seems to be a bit loosey-goosey now (unless the thread is simply discussing colloquial usage).

I guess we need to focus on happiness and fulfillment, rather than to stress over possible grammatical sins.

Enjoy life, however you express yourself!

Last edited by David D.

Thank you all for sharing your knowledge. Now I see that In my particular case and many other cases "she" used only out of political correctness and fiministic mindset (though I don't find it much fiministic when they make cave-girls hunt saber-toothed tigers   

I was told in university that this particular usage has to do with avoiding the gender bias, it is considered to be academic one, although it is ungrammatical. I have just started to read "Analysing Sentences" by Noel Burton, a man writer. In this particular book the author refers to every speaker of utterances by using "her'', "Disjunct adverbials provide some comment by the speaker/ writer about what she is reporting''. Being written in the beginning of this millennium, the book just follows some fashion that emerged then, the idea that it is not fair to refer to every unknown speaker as 'him', what was the case with all books written in the past millennium. This academic usage,then was probably the perfect solution to solve this issue. I mean this usage " Everybody should mind their own business'', although ungrammatical.

      About the previous comment I made, you can forget it. I was trying to explain that in most of the cultures the Sun represents the masculine aspect of the creation. What I quoted was a line from ''The Northern Wind and the Sun'' which I thought to be an Old English fairy-tale. It was in fact, from Latin language that all Aesop fables were then translated into many languages, since the Roman Empire had boundaries with Aesop's homeland- Thrace. And when we read a translation, what we see in is a translator's choice, we can't know whether the translator used the word for word translation technique or he/she adapted it to the English audience. 

Last edited by zigzag

This was an interesting thread, which took us well beyond a simple grammatical question.

The understanding of Father Sun and Mother Earth has a metaphysical basis, having to do with the polarity that is the basis of duality. The sun and the Earth form a complimentary energetic synergy out of which life emerges.  Polarity is what facilitates our perception of this time-space physical duality.

The same is true of the male and female synergy.  It is not that one or the other should be dominant, but rather, that each is the most important.  There are roles that belong to neither gender, such as corporate, governmental or spiritual leadership, or being a nurturing, loving parent or spouse.  There is also great value and power in the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine, and even greater power in our connection to Universal Consciousness (which is genderless).

As humanity evolves, its collective consciousness changes, creating a different focus each decade or so.  That plants the seeds of social change. Of course, many groups and individuals cling to the past, so there will be lingering effects of old modes of thought for decades. But once the seedlings are firmly established, we collectively shift consciousness once again.

The first decade of this new millennium still had a strong, lingering focus on feminism. This was a correction to the established gender inequalities.  The second decade showed an emerging awareness of the Divine Feminine.  This decade sees the gradual emerging of Unity consciousness -- perceiving Oneness while living in Duality. 

There is, of course, much overlap, as many individuals are still working to nurture the seeds of change that were started previously.  The length of time that it takes physical reality to catch up with non-physical, energetic change is a function of the degree of resistance to it that humanity collectively exhibits.

And language needs to evolve, not only to communicate our changes in consciousness and focus, but also to be able to communicate experiences that are totally new to mankind's perceptions -- experiences in the realms of quantum phenomena, conscious reality creation, and Unity.

Thank you, all, for your contributions to this thread.

Also, thank you, Windward, for your comment about saber-toothed tigers. We often fail to notice what is working well, when we initiate a pendulum swing.  That is the mechanism that drives continual pendulum swings.  When we swing the pendulum to the other extreme, in correcting what was wrong, we also create new problems by disrupting those things that were supportive and beneficial in the former dynamic.

Blessings to all of you she's and he's!

David D.

 It makes me feel good that you understood my point, David.D. This is something hardly achievable even between people speaking one and the same language. I am not to comment on this particular topic anymore because English is not my native language. All the best, stay healthy, enjoy life as it is!

There is actually a rather simple and strict grammatical rule which directs gender personification in English: everything good comes from female and everything bad - from male source. Is it not enough for political correctness, chivalry and such? Indeed, this matter is well beyond a grammar book. There is one unpleasantness in this situation: we all perfectly know that women had had zero decisive power in the world until XX century. If we now start refer to historical figures in general as to "she" it can't be called chivalrous, feministic, politically correct or fair, it should be called hypocrisy. Because doing so men of today renounce the brutal force of their fathers and forefathers starting from Adam himself with the help of which they had dominated and ruled over their women for 50 000 years and thus they also rid themselves and all their ancestors of responsibility: hey! she hunted tigers, she waged wars, she discovered America, she killed Indians, she came down on the Mayflower, she signed the declaration of independence, she started the world war, and she dropped the nuclear bombs. But wait a second, she had not been considered a human being in the first place until XX century, she got the right to vote in 1920 or something. Trying now to persuade everybody with this she-crap that women had not been treated like shit for 50 000 years of conscious life of the Sapience is like to say that Jews were relocated to Heaven by Saint Hitler or Africans have never been enslaved -  many of them just won a Green card!              

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