Which adjective to use for a personification of living being (her/his or its)?

  1. Nature offers its/her lap to one who seeks it.
  2. Death completes its/his course, no one can stop it/him.

I was watching a grammar video, it said we use his/her for non living being when they are masculine or feminine. Is this correct? Can you explain this rule a little bit more with some better example?


Sometimes we use personification. We pretend something is alive for poetic effect. In your example nature is personified as a woman/mother. Death is personified as a (male) skeleton with a scythe.

These examples are poetic, so you might say "Death stalks the plague-ridden streets, his scythe sharpened." (poetic) but "Death was at 19:45. It was due to a heart attack" (not-poetic)

People might refer to cars or ships as she (ships very often personified like this, even in quite formal language)

Look at her! She's a Porche 911. She'll do 0-60 in under 5 seconds!

I name this ship the Enterprise. May God bless her and all that sail in her.

As a rule of thumb, when we personify things that are protective or beautiful we use "she". When we personify things that are a threat we use "he". When we don't personify we use "it".

As a learner, you should always use "it" unless you are making a very clear personification. Use "it" for both nature and death, unless you clearly mean "Mother nature" or "the skelton of death".

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  • I've up-voted, but I think you've oversimplified what tends to be male and what tends to be female. "Lady Luck" and "Father Time" for example. Male personification also goes along with strength and vigor, not just "threat". – ColleenV Feb 5 '18 at 13:49

There are some non-human things that are traditionally assigned a gender in English, such as:

  • Death, masculine
  • Nature, sometimes described as "Mother nature": feminine
  • the Moon : feminine
  • the Sun : masculine
  • ships, cars, railway locomotives: feminine
  • England and some other countries: feminine

If you use these traditional identities then you must consistently use the appropriate gender pronouns throughout.

Some of these usages are now rather old-fashioned and poetic. In my view you won't go far wrong if you use the neuter for all of them, but you may see others use them from time to time..

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  • non-animate meaning inanimate? I generally agree with your answer though. – Lambie Feb 4 '18 at 17:04
  • Yes. I was struggling to find a way of describing these words that would cover nature. Non-human would have been better. – JeremyC Feb 4 '18 at 17:08
  • @JeremyC I don't think non-human is better than inanimate. Dogs are non-human, but they have a definite gender not a "traditional" gender. – ColleenV Feb 4 '18 at 17:09
  • I think abstract ideas (nature, nation or spirit) and physical objects. Don't forget justice. :) – Lambie Feb 4 '18 at 17:13
  • Justice is good. But some of them are not abstract at all. It's hard to find a word that covers them. – JeremyC Feb 4 '18 at 17:18

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