Are animals ‘it, he’ or ‘she’?

(Difficult denomination of animals with ‘he, she, it, his, her’)

Table of contents – ‘he, she, it, his, her’ for animals

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Pronouns for animals
  2. Male and female names
  3. Further explanations and exercises

How are animals named?

A recurring problem (for learners of English as a foreign language) is the question how animals can be named, that means with which personal pronoun (he, she, it, him, her) or possessive pronoun (his, her, its) they can be used. Basically, two reasons need to be differentiated. Compare:

  • On the one hand, it is a close relationship. If that is the case, and the pet ‘belongs to the family’, ‘he’ or ‘she’ may often be suitable:
    • “Where’s the cat? Have you fed it?”
      • The reference to animals with ‘it’ is always possible and often the ‘normal’ way of expressing for many native speakers. However, this can also concern pets.
    • “Lola is a sweet cat. We’ve had her for three years now.”
      • In this comment, the possessive pronoun ‘her’ shows that the cat is female and, therefore, named by its gender. An emotional bond with the pet is present.
    • “Look at your dog. He is also feeling sad.”
      • In this example, the speaker wants to attribute human emotions to the dog. On such occasions, ‘he’ or ‘she’ is acceptable too.
  • On the other hand, it is tolerable to use ‘he’ and ‘she’ if the sex of the animal is known. Such a naming usually applies to animals that are typically not pets. There are often male and female forms for such animal designations:
    • “Do you see that bull there? He is my best one.”
      • In this statement, ‘bull’ is male cattle and occasionally referred to with ‘he’.
  • Provided that the animals are insects, fish, and the like, they are usually not associated with ‘he’ or ‘she’ for their sex. ‘It’ is appropriate instead. Sometimes ‘he’ is suitable (albeit not as gender-specific but -neutral pronoun):
    • “Wow, that snake is long. And it’s also very poisonous.”
      • The proper denomination for the snake is ‘it’ as it is not a domesticated animal.

Information: In case you are unsure about which one to choose, ‘it’ is the correct choice in any situation. A female or male form can – but does not have to be used.

Male and female names for animals

Some animals in English have two or more forms – a male, a female, and one that is gender-neutral. In addition to that, young animals are often named differently. Compare the list:

Gender-neutral form Male form Female form Young animal
bear boar sow cub
bee drone queen, worker larva
buffalo bull cow calf
cat tom queen kitten
cattle bull cow calf
deer buck, stag doe fawn
dog dog bitch pup (puppy)
duck drake duck duckling
elephant bull cow calf
fox dog vixen cub
horse stallion mare foal
lion lion lioness cub
pig boar sow piglet
rabbit buck doe bunny
tiger tiger tigress cub
wasp drone queen, worker larva

Further explanations related to the topic ‘‘she, he’ or ‘it’ for animals?’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Denomination of animals with ‘he, she, it, his, her’’ and could be interesting too: