How to Handle Animal Pronouns: He, She or It?

Learn how to handle animal pronouns when writing. Should writers use he, she, or it? Believe it or not, the answer gets a little personal.
Author:
Publish date:

Q: When I write stories that include horses, is it grammatically correct for me to say "he" or "she" when I write about a horse? Also when referring to a horse in context, can I write "who" and "whom"; e.g., "Whom shall I ride today?" —Hans C.

Image placeholder title

A: It's not often we get grammar questions about animals—it's even less often that we get one with two different answers. But that's what we have here.

An animal is referred as “it” unless the relationship is personal (like a pet that has a name). Then it’s OK to use “he” or “she" when referring to the animal. This also applies to using “who” and “whom." If the animal has a personal relationship with the person, then use "who" or "whom." Otherwise you must exclusively use “which” or “that.” Here's an example that incorporates both of these rules:

Personal: My horse, whom I call Steve, is my best friend. He comforts me when I ride him.

Generic: The stray dog, which I saw chasing its own tail, was shedding hair.

The "personal" rule also holds true if you're writing a kids book and the animals can talk—as you’re giving them human traits and making them characters your readers can get to know. Even if the animals don't have specific names, they are given personalities and this is enough to make them personal.

Learn more in the online course, Grammar and Mechanics, from Writer’s Digest University:

Image placeholder title
Amir

The “Secret Sauce” Necessary to Succeed at a 30-Day Writing Challenge

In this article, author and writing coach Nina Amir lays out her top tips to master your mindset and complete a 30-day writing challenge.

Kane2

Crashing Into New Worlds: Writing About the Unfamiliar

Award-winning crime author Stephanie Kane explains how she builds characters unlike herself and navigates their worlds to create vivid and realistic stories.

plot_twist_story_prompts_without_a_trace_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.

WDVintage_10_29

Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.

new_agent_alert_barb_roose_books_such_literary_services_adult_christian_fiction_and_nonfiction

New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Grinnell_10:28

Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.

Richard_Shadowlands

Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.