3rd person pronouns (people / things)

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by Encolpius, Jan 30, 2014.

  1. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    I wonder if the 3rd person personal pronouns in your language apply to people only or to animals or even to things?

    English = he (only persons) - she (only persons) - it (animals, things)

    German = er, sie, es (all apply to people, animals, things), e.g.: er schreibt (it can be a person or a pen)

    Slavic languages = "on, ona, ono" an interesting situation (if you will be really interested natives will explain that to you)

    Hungarian = ő (we have only one pronoun which applies to persons only)
  2. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    In French, we use "il" (masculine pronoun) or "elle" (feminine pronoun) for animals and things, depending on their grammatical gender (so we use 'la' even for male animals like 'la girafe, la souris, la grenouille,...'): no specific pronouns for them.
  3. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Very interesting French comment. Since personal pronouns are obligatory in French (unlike Spanish or Italian), it is the same as in German.
    - Où est la clé? - Elle est sur la table.
  4. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    I'm a native and I do not know what you mean. Can you explain it to me?:)
  5. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Just answer my question and you will realize it.... :) but maybe it does not work in the same way in all Slavic languages. I am sure only about Czech....
  6. porkkanaraaste Member


    hän (person)
    se (animal, thing)

    So too in plural, he (persons), ne (animals, things).

    In colloquial language, se/ne is used for people too. Some people speak of their pets as hän, which feels and sounds really annoying to me and many others.
  7. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    Pretty similar in Turkish = o (except, it's not limited to human beings; it can denote an animal or an object as well)
  8. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Wow, than I wouldn't say it is pretty similar, since I am examining here the person-thing stuff...very interesting and surprising answer indeed... :)
  9. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek technically lacks pronouns for 3rd person, it uses the generic demonstrative pronoun «αυτός» [af'tos] instead (I ithink it's an inhereted characteristic from PIE):

    «αυτός, -τή, -τό» [af'tos] (masc.), [af'ti] (fem.), [af'to] (neut.) --> this, that, s/he, it < Classical pronoun «αὐτός, -τὴ, -τόν» autós (masc.), autḕ (fem.), autón (neut.) --> this, that, he, she, it, for the simple pronoun of 3rd person (PIE *h₂eu-, again, other + PIE *to-, that cf Lat. autem, while, however).
    «αυτός, αυτή, αυτό» is used for both animate creatures (persons, animals) and inanimate objects, depending on their grammatical gender.
  10. Rallino Moderatoúrkos

    Hungarian has ő and az. Turkish doesn't make this difference. Just like Greek, we only have o (which is the opposite of bu [this; ez]) that also plays the role of he/she/it when necessary.
  11. ahmedcowon Senior Member

    In Arabic:

    Singular pronouns are used for both human and non-human things (هو /huwa/ for masc. and هي /hiya/ for fem.). Dual pronoun (هما huma) is also used for both human and non-human things.

    But we only use plural pronouns (هم humm for masc. and هن hunna for fem.) with persons because all non-human plurals are treated in Arabic as feminine singular.
  12. OneStroke Senior Member

    Hong Kong, China
    Chinese - Cantonese (HK)
    In standard Vernacular Chinese, there was originally no such distinction - the third person pronoun was always 他 tā. In modern written Chinese, this was split into 他 (males), 她 (females), 牠 (animals) and 它 (inanimate objects). This distinction is purely orthographic and has no real syntactic or morphological significance.

    In Classical Chinese, since there were about as many pronouns as there were nouns (OK, I exaggerate), there were probably some that restricted the antecedent (I can't think of any at the moment). However, the most common ones, such as 彼 (nominative or objective), 其 (nominative or genitive) and 之 (objective) applied to all sorts of antecedents. (I can think of a lot of highly restrictive first- and second-person pronouns, though! :p)
  13. arielipi Senior Member

    In hebrew we have an equivalent of 'it'.
    everything can be pointed at with humane 3rd person but when living things arent usually used with 'it' except when one wants to object or ridicule the other.
  14. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    So, the personal pronoun הוּא applies to both persons and things like in German or French?
  15. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    In Russian (I do not speak other Slavic languages) there are three grammatical genders, so technically we do not have the inanimate "it", it is only she, he, he/it (neutral). All of these (including the neuter pronoun) can be used with things, animals and people according to the word grammatical gender. So it is not different from, say, French, except for the additional neuter gender.

    ADDITION: by the way, I don't think your statement re: English is accurate. He/she is used with animals very extensively, in cases when a person either knows the animal's sex from the context (e.g. a mother goose walking with babies would be referred to a she; a buck with antlers as a he) or an animal who is kown to the speaker (I never heard people refer to their or others' pets or horses as it). She is sometimes also used with inanimate objects, such as boats.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2014
  16. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    I think that's an Americanism, and not extensively used in BrE. Perhaps a native speaker of BrE might correct me or confirm me?
  17. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    I just looked up an old thread of mine on the topic and while there were not many responses, they seemed to be all over the place, may be with a slight tendency toward it in BE. :)
    I would be really interested to hear more.
  18. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Hello Rusita, yes, as for animals it might be a little bit complicated, but I am mostly interested in living creatures vs. things. Are bacteria animals, too? Then what? :) But if I am not mistaken there is another thread here discussing that phenomenon.
    But I am more interested in Russian which I speak only little. Is this sentence OK? - Где подушка? - Она на кровати.
  19. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Yes, completely OK, just like in French (and I suspect in German too).

    BTW, in Russian aminals are usually referred to as who, not what (e.g. if an unknown animal destroyed a nest, you would ask "who destroyed a nest, not what". However, I do not know where who ends and what begins. Bacteria is certainly "what" and mammals "who". I think the line is drawn at insects, but it would be nice to hear from others.
  20. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    In Old English, personal pronouns agreed with the grammatical gender of the noun they were referring to: he referred to male humans and masculine nouns, heo to female humans and feminine nouns, and hit to neuter nouns.

    However, in contexts where a pronoun referred to an indefinite topic, the neuter form hit could be used, as in modern English: Ic hit eom "It is I" / "It's me".

    The same may have been true in contexts where a pronoun referred to an adjacent context or statement (as in Modern English, It's great that you're back, or Wow, it's hot in here!), but I'm not sure how Old English would have rendered such sentences.
  21. learnerr Senior Member

    I would reformulate the question "какая муха тебя укусила" ("what a fly has bitten you") as "кто тебя укусил" ("who has bitten you"). To ask "что тебя укусило" ("what has bitten you") would not occur to me. If some insect is flying or walking around, then it is again "кто-то". The interesting case is plants and fungi. They are "what".
    They cannot act on their own, understanding what they are doing and why, therefore they do not possess souls (and the word "animal" stems from a word meaning "soul", if I am not mistaken). So, I would say that for our purposes they are not animals.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2014
  22. bazq Senior Member

    Yes, "hu"/"hem" (he/they m.p) and "hi"/"hen" (she/they f.p) are used for both people and inanimate objects, depending on the noun's grammatical gender and number.
  23. 123xyz

    123xyz Senior Member

    Skopje, Macedonia
    In Macedonian, the third person singular pronouns are "тој", "таа", and "тоа", for replacing masculine, feminine and neuter nouns respectively, and there is a single plural form "тие". All four of these pronouns are used to refer to people, other living entities, natural phenomena, abstract concepts, objects, and so on - in other words, they can be used to refer to anything that can be denoted by a noun. Since Macedonian is a pro-drop language, these pronouns are not used that frequently to begin with, so they may sound strange in some cases when being used to refer to non-humans, but they are correct either way. By the way, it is noteworthy that colloquially (at least in Skopje), these pronouns are often (in some persons' speech, completely) replaced with "он", "она", "оно", and "они", but these forms are not accepted by the standard language.

    Anyway, just like in Turkish and Greek, the third person pronoun set in Macedonian overlaps with the distal demonstrative pronouns, i.e. those meaning "that" and "those". The other set, i.e. the colloquial one (the one found in BCS, Czech, Russian) corresponds to the medial demonstrative pronouns (though the forms are not identical, as the medial demonstrative pronouns are in fact "оној", "онаа", "она", and "оние", whereas there is full overlapping between the distal demonstrative pronouns and their forms as personal pronouns).

    In relation to the discussion as to whether "who" or "what" is used for which animals, Macedonian generally doesn't allow "who", i.e. "кој" to be used for any animal, regardless of how complex it is, though it may be allowed in cases where one is more familiar with the animal in question. For example, if one is visiting a friend with two dogs of the same breed, and one comes into the room, one might ask "who is this?", asking whether it is the first or second dog. However, one would always say "what bit you?", "what crossed the street in front of us?" and the like.

    As for the discussion about bacteria, bacteria are not animals, and it doesn't have anything to do with them not having souls, regardless of the etymology of the word "animal". Bacteria are not animals due to evolutionary/genetic history of development and multiple distinctive features, such as being prokaryotic and unicellular. They are classified not only in a different kingdom from animals but also a different domain. Animals are classified in Kingdom Animalia and furthermore in the domain Eukaryota, along with plants, fungi and protists, but not bacteria or archaea.
  24. learnerr Senior Member

    The application of the word "animal" to the who/what distinction in languages ("for our purposes") has nothing to do with biological classification (genetic or any other) and everything to do with having souls (which term I made specific by a description what it means to have a soul). The note about etymology was merely a side note and an illustration, as evidenced by its being put in parentheses.
  25. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
  26. learnerr Senior Member

    It was not discussed here as of yet… I.e., there was no discussion how do various people call various animals in the biological meaning of the word.

    As for the discussion of the who/what distinctions in general, it is partly pertinent here, because it is naturally interesting to compare the use of personal pronouns in relation to animate/non-animate things (here called animals/non-animals for shortness) with any other means to differentiate between them in a given language. For any discussion like that, and also for any discussion of this topic in relation only to pronouns, it is important to see which things may be called animate and which things may be not.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2014
  27. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Dutch (and German) : not that clear...
    - sg.: hij/zij/ het refer to grammatical gender, do not have anything to do with persons or objects (but het words, neutral words, are often objects - and diminitives of persons)
    - pl. : zij is a general subject pronoun, but we do have a different object form depending on persons or things; hen/ hun (persons) vs. ze (ambiguous) but er- before a preposition (only objects)
  28. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)

    on - refers to any noun of masculine grammatical gender (e.g. pán = lord, pes = dog, brouk = beetle, strom = tree, klíč = key);
    ona - ... feminine (e.g. žena = woman, voda = water, pravda = true);
    ono - ... neuter (dítě = child, slovo = word, zlo = evil);

    oni - ... masculine animate (e.g. páni = lords, psi = dogs, brouci = beatles);
    ony - ... feminine + masculine inanimate (ženy = women, stromy = trees, klíče = keys);
    ona - ... neuter (děvčata = girls, slova = words);

    Czech morphologically distinguishes the grammatical gender even in plural (like French, Old Russian, unlike most modern Slavic languages).

    - Où est la clé? - Elle est sur la table.
    - Kde je ten klíč? - (On) je na stole. (klíč - masculine)

    - Où sont les clés? - Elles sont sur la table.
    - Kde jsou ty klíče? - (Ony) jsou na stole. (klíče - masculine inanimate)

    There are some peculiarities:

    1) In plural the inanimate masculine nouns morphologically "behave" like the feminine nouns. We often vacillate whether some nouns mostly used in plural are feminine or inanimate masculine, e.g. brambory (= potatoes), ony in plur. - either on (brambor, inanim. masc.) or ona (brambora, fem.) in sing. (a potatoe).
    2) The animals including mollusca, insecta, etc. (even slanečci = salted herrings) are animate (grammatically, of course), however it is important only in the masculine gender. E.g. brouk (beetle) is masculine animate, so on in sing. oni in plur., but virus and bacillus are inanimate masculine for unknown reason, on in sing. ony in plur.; bacteria is naturally feminine (like in most European languages), ona in sing. ony in plur.
    3) Some things are or optionally can be animate (snowmen, scarecrows, robots, ice-breakers, ...), thus on in sing. oni in plur.
    4) Some neuter nouns denote persons (mostly children), e.g. děvče (little girl), vnouče (little grandson), ono in sing., ona in plur.
    5) The diminutives follow the original gender (like in Latin: homo -> homunculus masc., avis -> aviuncula fem., corpus -> corpusculum neuter).
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2014
  29. francisgranada Senior Member

    This is valid also for Slovak ("ona je na posteli"), however on/ona refers rather to persons (or animals) than things. So if you say "Ona je na posteli" whitout any context, everybody will thing of a woman (girl, cat ...) and not of a cushion. Perhaps my spontaneous answer to the question "Where is the cushion?" would be in Slovak " je na posteli" (tá - demonstr. pronoun fem. sg.)
  30. bibax Senior Member

    Czech (Prague)
    In the Slavic languages the situation concerning the third-person personal pronouns is more complicated. We have discussed only the nominative case of the pronouns. However there are other cases, namely genitive, dative, accusative, locative and instrumental.

    For the 3rd person the Slavic languages use the anaphoric pronoun *jь, ja, je (m. f. n.) in all cases except nominative. In the nominative case (both sing. and plur.) the anaphoric pronoun jь/ja/je was replaced by demonstrative pronouns, either *onъ, ona, ono (in most Slavic languages) or *tъ, ta, to (for Makedonian see post #23).

    Example (Czech):

    Demonstrative ona (= that, fem. sing.):

    N. ona žena (= that woman)
    G. oné ženy
    D. oné ženě
    A. onu ženu
    L. oné ženě
    I. onou ženou

    Personal ona (= she):

    N. ona (= she), (in Czech the anaphoric nominative ja ceased from use in the Middle Ages)
    A. ji (= her; e.g. To je voda. - Vidím ji. = It is water. - I see her. as water is feminine)

    in plural:
    N. ony (= they feminine)
    G. jich
    D. jim
    A. je (= them)
    L. jich
    I. jimi

    In any way the personal ona/jí/ji/... always refers to any noun of the feminine grammatical gender (e.g. woman, person is fem. in Czech, cat, cow, bacteria, water, Earth, justice, mercy, etc.). Agreement is always formal according to the grammatical gender, animateness (in the case of masculine gender) and number.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2014
  31. Holger2014 Senior Member

    Estonian distinguishes between:
    - tema: 'he' = 'she' (tends to be used for persons only)
    - ta: the short (unstressed) form of tema
    - see: 'it' (universal) = 'this'
    - nemad: plural of tema
    - nad: plural of ta (i.e. the unstressed form)
    - need: plural of see

    More details about Estonian pronouns and their declensions here...
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2015
  32. 810senior

    810senior Senior Member

    He = 彼kare originating from ka(demonstrative pronouns indicating the thing at a distant place), re is a suffix.
    She = 彼女kanozyo, ka(it) no(of) zyo(woman)
    It = それsore so(demonstrative pronouns)+re(suffix)

    They(those men, cf. ils in French) = 彼らkarera, 彼たちkaretachi
    They(those women, cf. elles in French) = 彼女らkanozyora, 彼女たちkanozyotachi
    それらsorera(they) *NOT それたちsoretachi

    Sore or sorera can only point to the inanimate things like stone, river, cloth and so forth.
  33. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In Portuguese the 3rd. person singular pronouns are ele and ela. Each of them may be used with people, animals, or things, according to the grammatical gender of the noun being referred to.
    But if the referent is a clause, or otherwise indefinite, there's another common option: using a demonstrative. Rather exceptionally, demonstratives have three forms -- e.g. este, esta, isto -- the latter of which has the semantic value of a "neuter", and is the one ordinarily used in these cases. The same happens in the plural: eles (m.), elas (f.), along with isso/aquilo (dem.) for indefinite referents.

    I suspect that the same is true in other Romance languages, for exemple in French ceci or cela are often used to refer to clauses or indefinite things.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2015
  34. Holger2014 Senior Member

    Danish has two grammatical genders, common and neuter.

    There are three common gender 3rd person singular pronouns:
    - han: he <-- male persons
    - hun: she <-- female persons
    - den: it <-- other common gender nouns

    The neuter gender pronoun is det. - Even though the nouns menneske ('human being') and barn ('child') have neuter gender, people tend to use han for males and hun for females here as well (rather than the neuter pronoun det).

    In the plural there is only one 3rd person pronoun: de ('they')

    Those are just the basics, perhaps a native speaker can correct me - which I hope isn't necessary ;) - or add more details...

    Swedish has a similar system (han, hon, den, det in the singular and de or dom in the plural) but apparently a new 3rd person pronoun is now joining han and hon: hen, which seems to be used as a 'unisex' pronoun - discussed here >>

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