When I was reading:

A ferryman of the underworld tests the soul of a dead king to see if he can count to ten.

For a moment, I thought: "who are 'he'? The king or his soul?"

then I keep on reading a little further:

The dead soul's answer takes the form of a poem in which the ten fingers are listed in their order.

and I got clarification.

But what if it'd have been a dead queen? Must one say:

"... to see if she can count to ten?"

  • It kinda depends on your believe about souls, I guess. So you could certainly let your beliefs or belief system inform/influence your writing. In this sense, there is no 'must'. You could say it if you wanted. But if you use (or agree with) masculine pronouns for a king's soul, then using feminine pronouns for a queen's soul seems logical, to me at least.
    – user6951
    Jun 2, 2015 at 7:01
  • @pazzo , I'm still a little confused; it seems MaulikV shared the author's view. Just wondering — well — in the logical sense, how it can be, to test a soul, to get an answer from the soul, but as MaulikV say, it refers (grammatically?) to a king? Why didn't the author say, "... to see if his soul can count to ten."?
    – Avtokod
    Jun 2, 2015 at 7:52
  • I voted an hour ago to close the question. ;) There are many views of metaphysics and the afterlife that have differing and conflicting views on the person, the soul, the body, etc, that this question really does boil down to one's opinion or beliefs.
    – user6951
    Jun 2, 2015 at 8:40

1 Answer 1


Well, when talking about royalty, a queen is a female ruler, so yes, using a female pronoun would be appropriate.

Regarding your initial confusion about what 'he' referenced, keep in mind that if you take a soul to be the essence of a person, then in a metaphysical sense the king is his soul. In the context of the passage you've highlighted, it doesn't matter that there is no longer a body housing him; the king still exists as an entity and can therefore be referred to by his pre-established gender.

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