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Does the word God get the pronoun "it" or "he"?

For example: I want to say thanks to God for what it / he gave me

I am talking about the God of Monotheism (force majeure) - like what the Jews and Muslims believe in. [I don't know whether the Christian God is considered the same God, because of the Trinity.]

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It depends on which deity you're speaking of or praying to, but most of them are She or He. – StoneyB Mar 2 at 1:40
    
I edited the question, and now it's clearer. – Assiduous Mar 2 at 1:48
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Yes, you can use the pronoun He but not he. – Khan Mar 2 at 2:27
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@StoneyB, Cthulhu is definitely It: :-) – Martín-Blas Pérez Pinilla Mar 2 at 7:30
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up vote 34 down vote accepted

The God of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, basically) is traditionally a father figure, and the pronoun used is "he" (or "He", if you're using the majestic capital). Sometimes people will subvert this and use "She", either as a tongue-in-cheek substitution or as an earnest attempt at gender inclusivity, but in general, if you're talking about the God of a monotheistic religion, the pronoun to use is "He".

If you're talking about a higher being of a more personified pantheon (e.g. Greek or Norse myth), then use the pronoun appropriate to the gender of said higher being.

The one pronoun you never use for God, any God, is "it".1

1 Well, OK, maybe Cthulhu. Sometimes. But it's best to just not talk about him/her/it. :)

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Would using the singular "they" ever make sense in place of "it" for a god of unknown gender? – Kevin Brown Mar 2 at 7:21
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In the original Hebrew, the Old Testament most often refers to God using plural nouns and pronouns, but singular verbs. Many consider this akin to the "royal we" or in this case the "royal they". Others point out that Hebrew is caseless, so the plural form is akin to Capitalizing. The especially pious might advise you to avoid pronouns entirely when referring to God, that they diminish your praise. In my personal opinion, God exists before and beyond gender and it is unfortunate that our language and culture limit our conception of God through a gender filter. – Timbo Mar 2 at 8:45
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The one pronoun you never use for God, any God, is "it". Never, even for animal gods? – ANeves Mar 2 at 10:32
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A work of philosophical theology in the Spinozan vein might intentionally use a capitalized It or Itself to emphasize the remoteness, unknowability, and, when you get right down to it, inhumanity of God-the-Infinite. – zwol Mar 2 at 15:28
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@PLL: I need to send you my button which says "I'm not anal, I'm a pedant. Let me explain the difference...". :) – Martha Mar 2 at 21:31

This question must be understood as a question of usage. The primary source are the relevant books (the books). They are so old that all possible copyrights have expired by now, so the books are easily found online.

Therefore, we can inspect which gender the relevant books ascribe. You are asking on an English language site, so we'll inspect English translations of the books. Note that there are all kinds of problems with translations; the question which gender historical texts ascribe to their gods would be harder to answer and involve critical examinations of language, culture and the text histories. I'll give two examples for the difficulties involved, with the caveat that I'm not a theologician and have no knowledge of Hebrew.

  • Hebrew apparently has no grammatical neuter. Every word is male or female. That means that in Hebrew, god cannot be "it" at all for purely grammatical reasons. Obviously that weakens the conclusions we can draw from god's original grammatical gender.
  • One of the words for the god in the Torah is Elohim, a plural; if we can believe the wikipedia entry about the subject, in Genesis 1:26-27 "Elohim" creates man and woman "in his image" (their image?).

But you are asking about English, so we'll examine English translations. In English there is a grammatical neuter, so referring to god -- a person-like entity -- with "He" makes a statement about the physical gender ascribed to, well, him.

  • Torah: We find an English translation here, and the first book, the Genesis, uses "He" in the few cases it doesn't say "God"; for example in the fifth sentence:

    And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.

    (But remember the translation problems.)

  • Quran: An English translation is here, and in the 2nd Surah the translation uses "He", for example in 2:20:

    And if Allah had willed, He could have taken away their hearing and their sight.

This should answer your question. Note that it is not immediately clear what the original authors of the texts wrote, and what they meant with what they wrote. For example, the Catholic virgin Mary cult may well be rooted in a misleading translation.

As a side note: Let's suppose that the original authors indeed wrote and meant that god is male. Then it is still up to debate whether what they wrote is correct (from the standpoint of a believer). After all, the authors were children of their (patriarchal) times and may have misunderstood, mis-interpreted or liberally embellished their visions. My girlfriend says "When god created man she was only practicing" (for example, she mutilated the chromosomes).

But as far as the actual English usage goes, it's clear that the correct pronoun is "He".

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This answer would be greatly improved if you removed the unnecessary religion-bashing. – Martha Mar 2 at 15:54
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@Martha The "bashing" served a purpose beyond making an atheist point. It defined what would be discussed in the article (language usage, not what I believe to be correct). That is, of course, the general attitude of a dictionary: whatever is said often enough becomes correct. The question seemed ambivalent in this respect, so I wanted to make sure it's clear which kind of statement I'm making. – Peter A. Schneider Mar 2 at 20:50
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I dunno. I think if your faith in atheism is so strong that you can't even answer a simple language question without invoking it, maybe you need to find a different question to answer. – Martha Mar 2 at 20:54
    
There are two things to note here. First is that when these translations were written, the word "he" was both a male pronoun and a neuter pronoun. So the English translators may well have intended a neuter gender. Second, the word "it" isn't really a neuter pronoun; it's a non-person pronoun. You would typically only use "it" to refer to something that's not a person, someone you're trying to insult, or someonething that's so alien the human concept of "person" might not apply regardless of intellect. It's increasingly common to use "they" as a singular, neuter person, but it's a new thing. – MichaelS Mar 3 at 13:17
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@MichaelS Interesting. A quick google didn't come up with any evidence for the history of "he"; do you have a reference? In any case, at least the Torah translation I quoted is from (or at least edited in) the 20th century. More modern translations seem to retain "He" (or "he"), while changing other things around ("human beings" etc.) Regarding "it": It can refer to children; and your "someonething that's so alien the human concept of 'person' might not apply regardless of intellect" seems to me like the very definition of the Judaeic god ;-). – Peter A. Schneider Mar 3 at 13:43

The rules are basically the same as for any noun or proper noun, usually signified by the capitalisation of the first letter.

If you are using an upper case G, this denotes that it's a name, and a name which is masculine, the answer is 'he'.

In polytheistic faiths, it can be more specific, but it's still basically the same grammar as other nouns. A god (lower case g, a noun), would be he, a goddess is the feminine form, she. If it's plural, it's always 'they'. In most cases using 'it' for people, or anything person-like is disrespectful, displaying an opinion that you don't think they should be person-like.

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The God of the Abrahamatic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is traditionally referred to with a masculine pronoun. However, it is worth mentioning that ancient Hebrew had no gender-neutral pronoun, and typically used the masculine form as a default. So, it could be argued that the original intent was gender-neutral, although the monotheistic God was generally seen as a father-figure of sorts, if a formless (and therefore technically agendered) one.

Interestingly enough, the earthly presence of God (in Hebrew shechinah, roughly akin to the Christian concept of the 'Holy Spirit') is both grammatically and traditionally considered feminine.

Ancient philosophy often considered the concept of initiating a creative act to be symbolically masculine (i.e. the "seminal" input), while the aspect of shaping or finilazing that action was seen as feminine. Many ancient religions considered the sky to be masculine and the earth feminine as a result.

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Yes, you use the pronoun He, not he/it, for God.

However, if you are talking about a god or goddess, you use he or she accordingly.

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@ANeves Because the word God is also one of the names of a particular god. One could write "The Norse god, Thor." One could also write "The Christian god, God." The name of the moon is Luna. – Shane Mar 2 at 16:37
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@ANeves As far as the rules of english are concerned, you don't capitalize 'he'. Capitalizing 'he' is something believers do to show reverence. It is a cultural thing left over from a time when not being reverent enough could get you burned at the stake, not an actual english rule. IOW, if you don't capitalize 'he' you aren't wrong. As for the Earth and the moon, again, 'Earth' is the name of a planet. Names of planets get capitalized. 'Moon' is a class of stellar system bodies. It isn't a name, so you don't capitalize it. – Shane Mar 2 at 18:20
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This is very tangential (and thus perhaps should be moved to chat), but the International Astronomical Union says that the name of Earth's moon is Moon. See e.g. this answer in Space.StackExchange. – JiK Mar 2 at 22:44
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@Shane As an aside, "God" as a nickname applies to all monotheistic religions, not just Christianity, just as (most) everyone refers to their one and only mom as "Mom". Its mere use IS the implicit statement of faith that there only in fact exists one actual god as opposed to multiple, and whatever that being is like, that's who you're talking about. In Christianity, the name of God, as given in Genesis, is YHWH, sometimes pronounced/written as Yahweh or Iehovah or Jehovah. – David Mar 2 at 23:24
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The question is about what-gendered pronoun to use, not how to capitalize it. However, since you mention it... Long style guides might include "capitalize the names of deity" (Deity?), but capitalizing a pronoun is a believer's choice, not a rule. James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ [1915] capitalizes pronouns (not just "He", but also "His", "Who", etc.) referring to Jesus throughout, but a copy of the King James Bible published before 1960 that I own uses "he" and "him" in Genesis 1:5 and I Corinthians 12:18, respectively. – david Mar 3 at 11:37

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