What is a Gender Pronoun?

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

A gender pronoun is a pronoun, such as 'he,' 'she,' 'him' and 'her,' that indicates the male or female gender of the person the pronoun is referring to. They only exist in a specific instance known as the third person singular.

What is a Pronoun?

We probably all know what a noun is. It is a word that refers to a person, place, or thing. Man is a noun. So is house. And hammer. And San Diego.

OK, so we got that, but what is a pronoun? A pronoun is a group of words that take the place of a noun in a sentence. Why do we have them? Because without them, writing and speech would look like this:

  • Jane went to Jane's house after work. Jane liked Jane's house because Jane's house was warm and comfortable.

Sounds pretty awkward right? But since we have pronouns, we can rewrite this mess to sound like this:

  • Jane went to her house after work. She liked her house because it was warm and comfortable.

After we have established that we are talking about Jane, we can use the pronouns 'she' and 'her' to refer to her. Similarly, we can use 'it' to refer to her house after we know that is where she is.

This example also shows two types of pronouns. 'She' and 'her' are both gender pronouns because they indicate the person being discussed is female. 'It,' on the other hand, is not a gender pronoun because it doesn't refer to a specific gender. The gender pronouns are 'she,' 'her,' 'hers,' 'he,' 'him' and 'his.'

Gender pronouns are used to specify male and female gender of the noun being replaced.
Male and Female

Third Person Singular

In English, gender pronouns only occur in a specific situation known as third person singular. First person pronouns that refer to the person speaking, like 'I', are not gendered. Nor is the second person pronoun 'you,' used to refer to the person being spoken to. They only occur when referring to a third person who is neither the speaker or listener.

  • Jane said she is going to Europe tomorrow.
  • Jack is at work. He will be home around 6:00 pm.
  • Emily loaned me $20. I will repay her next week.
  • George asked me to let him borrow my bicycle for school tomorrow.

In addition, the gender pronouns only occur when talking about a single person. The third person plural pronouns 'they,' 'them' and 'their' are not gendered.

Subject and Object

So, the gender pronouns are all third person singular. But when do you use 'she' as opposed to 'her' and 'he' as opposed' to 'him'? 'She' and 'he' are used when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence or the one doing the action:

  • Jane said she is going to Europe tomorrow.
  • Jack is at work. He will be home around 6:00.

'Her' and 'him', on the other hand, are used when the pronoun is the object of the sentence or the one receiving the action.

  • Emily loaned me $20. I will repay her next week.
  • George asked me to let him borrow my bicycle for school tomorrow.

Possessive Pronouns

There is also a group of gender pronouns that show possession. When the pronoun is the subject, the possessive pronouns are 'his' and 'her':

  • Dianna loved her new car.
  • Adam lost his glasses.

When the pronoun is the object, the possessive pronouns are 'his' and 'hers':

  • Dennis claimed that the reward money should be his.
  • Raquel swore that the first-place trophy would be hers.

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