I have some troubles in understanding what pronoun to use when referring to things be they inanimate things, living things, wild, tamed animals or pets, for I saw either use.

When referring to a lion, for example, shall I use he or it, she, her or it, its?

Even in case of a ship or a space ship I came across with expression like this: her crew.

Would you please explain if there is a strict rule or depends on the author’s choice?

2 Answers 2


In English, vessels, like boats, cars and aircraft, are often referred to in the feminine.

The Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage.

But the neutral is also fine:

The Titanic split in two when it sank.

Animals vary by context. Domestic pets are always gender specific forms.

My dog barks when he sees the cat in the window.

Non-domestic animals use a gender specific form if you know it:

We saw the lion at the zoo; he had such a majestic mane.

But if you're not sure, or it doesn't matter, use the neutral:

The lioness caught the Gazelle and she took it (referring to the Gazelle) back to the pride.


The question is more about the matter of style than the language English. Whilst referring living beings (other than humans and plants) based on their genders is quite common, non-living things have neuter gender. I think it's because non-living things don't have private parts.

Pets have genders and their owners are very much attached to them. They consider them no less than their family members and thus they refer their cats with she and dogs with he.

When referring to a lion, for example, you can use he, his or it, and not she, her or hers. It's a lion, not a lioness.

I observe that figuratively the feminine gender is assigned to some vehicles (cars etc.) and vessels. On the other hand, the masculine gender is assigned to some instruments or their parts.

I'm not aware of any strict rule for non-living things but you may find some lists on the Internet. Assigning genders to non-living things I think is dogmatic. When confused, always use neutral gender. BTW, wonderful question (+1) :)

  • Thank you for both your answer and the link, good indeed!+1 I laughed a lot. Commented May 4, 2014 at 4:05
  • If somebody's pet is a female dog, it's she, and if it's a male cat, it's he. The default gender, if you don't know whether it's male or female, is traditionally she for a cat and he for a dog (don't ask me why), but you should use their actual gender if you know it. Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 15:08

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