EN: pronoun for a baby - it or he/she

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le Fnake

Senior Member
France, French
Hi there,

yesterday evening, watching Grey's Anatomy, i heard that the newborn was called "she", although i remember in my youth that i was told that a baby should be called "it" during 6 months or something like that ? Am I wrong, or is this rules just applied in UK but not in USA ?

Thanks for your answers :)

Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one
 
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  • gws75

    Senior Member
    American English
    He, she, and it can all be used when talking about a baby. People who have a personal connection to the baby would be more inclined to use he or she. I am not aware of a 6-month rule.
     

    LARSAY

    Senior Member
    BI-NATIONAL FRENCH-ENGLISH.
    "It" is for animals and things, so, unless one considers that a baby, who was born with a gender, is not a human, "it" is incorrect. Well, that's what a French would say anyway.
     

    le Fnake

    Senior Member
    France, French
    ok, well, when my teacher told me that, i find it weird too, and that's why i still remember it today :) I think he said that a baby was considered genderless or something like that.

    BTW, what differentiates a (clothed) female baby from a male baby except the fact that the girl wears pink clothes and the boy blue ones ? A baby might become a little girl or boy when he/she starts to walk, i.e. when he/she's not 100% dependent from his/her parents anymore.

    But if you say that using "it" may be incorrect, i won't use it (if i'll be able to use it in the future, which is not sure :))

    thanks all of u anyway !
     

    wildan1

    Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)
    English - USA
    if you don't know the baby's gender, it is often used, as in

    Lucy had her baby yesterday!
    What is it--a boy or a girl?

    Once you know the answer, however, you use he/she even if it is one day old!
     

    Laurie.Cocoon

    Senior Member
    French
    J'avais le même problème en parlant de bébé en général, car en français le masculin l'emporte.

    Exemple, si je dis "Si votre bébé se met à pleurer, donnez-lui sa tétine" -> on parle d'une fille ou d'un garçon !

    En anglais, on dit quoi ?

    Edit : Si on dit 'give him his dummy' ou 'give her her dummy', on implique le sexe.

    Serait-ce 'if baby cries, give them their dummy', même si l'on parle d'un seul bébé ?
     

    besoul

    Senior Member
    French - France
    Effectivement, c'est une bonne question qui est soulevée là.

    Je pense en revanche que "if baby cries, give them their dummy" est incorrect. A mon sens, on utilise him/her pour les individus ou les choses personnifiées, et it pour tout ce qui est matériel, sans identité propre.

    Je dirais par conséquent "if baby cries, give him his dummy", privilégiant donc le masculin. Mais alors là sans conviction... Je serais intéressé d'avoir l'avis d'un véritable Anglais.
     

    hakdz

    Senior Member
    Italian
    A British-Indian friend of mine told me that "it" is an appropriate pronoun for a baby in American English, but not in British English.
    Is it true? And what about the other versions of English?
    But maybe we should start a new thread about this.
     
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    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    If you know whether the baby is a boy or a girl, use "he" or "she".

    If it's hypothetical and you don't know the sex of the baby, you can also say "it". There's nothing wrong with calling a baby, a dog, a cat, a child "it".

    "If your baby is crying, maybe its nappy is wet, maybe it needs a feed, maybe it just needs a hug."
    Here, you can't use "they/their" (not in BE anyway). But to get back to the original question, you wouldn't use "it" for a person, you'd use "they/their/them" as previous posters have said.

    - "Mum, there's someone at the front door."
    - "Ask them what they want."
     
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    The Prof

    Senior Member
    A British-Indian friend of mine told me that "it" is an appropriate pronoun for a baby in American English, but not in British English.
    Is it true? And what about the other versions of English?
    But maybe we should start a new thread about this.
    This is always a difficult one! Here is my British English take on it, for what it is worth:

    When talking about an as-yet unborn child whose sex is still unknown, 'it' is perfectly ok.

    Things can become more problematic once the child is born. For instance, if the person next to me is carrying a young baby, I might start by saying "Oh, what a cute baby". But the next natural question is "how old is ...", and that is the point where I start frantically looking for visual clues, such as pink flowery clothing, that will make it possible to complete the sentence with 'he' or 'she'. In the absence of such clues, I usually make a wild guess and wait to be corrected, or, sometimes, ask the parent directly: "(I'm sorry,) is it a girl or a boy?" (although asking that question requires an 'it').

    On the other hand, away from the parents I would use 'it' quite freely:
    "There was a woman with a baby sat next to me on the plane, and it screamed non-stop for the whole flight!"

    And Enquiring Mind's example: "If your baby is crying, maybe its nappy is wet ... " sounds perfectly acceptable to me. :)
     

    Maud18

    New Member
    French
    If it's hypothetical and you don't know the sex of the baby, you can also say "it". There's nothing wrong with calling a baby, a dog, a cat, a child "it".
    […]
    But to get back to the original question, you wouldn't use "it" for a person, you'd use "they/their/them" as previous posters have said.
    You wouldn't use "it" for a person but there's nothing with calling a baby or a child "it"? It's obvious for me you think babies and children are not persons.
     
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    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    Hello Maud18, and welcome to the forum! :)

    French doesn't have a grammatical neuter gender, so you have to refer to everything as either "he" or "she". However I don't draw the conclusion that you think a table is a person. :)
     

    Maud18

    New Member
    French
    Thanks for welcoming me.
    No,indeed we don't have a grammatical neuter gender (we should,it'd make everything easier) but if you say you wouldn't use "it" for a person but there's nothing wrong with calling a baby or a child "it". Why,except because babies and children are not persons? Worse,in your example,you don't know the gender of the person at the door so you use a gender neutral pronoun "they". Why do you use "they" and not "it" in that case?
     
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    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    "They" typically refers to more than one thing or person. If it's a baby, it's only one thing or person. With the "someone at the door" example, we've already identified it as a person ("someone" not "something") but we don't know if it's a man or woman.
    Of course, in that example we could say "ask him or her what he or she wants", but that's clumsy, so our only recourse in normal idiomatic everyday style is to use "ask them what they want".
    In a vaguely similar* parallel with French, we might wonder why "la personne à la porte" is "une personne" even if it's a male, similarly why it's "la vedette" (even for a male), "la victime" (even for a male) and so forth.
    So really, when we refer to a baby as "it" or "its" (usually only on first mention, until we're told whether it's a boy or a girl), we are just using the convention of the language we speak. It doesn't say anything about our perception of the infant as a person or a thing.
    But if we have been told that the infant is a boy or a girl, and then we continue to refer to "it/its" instead of "he/his" or "she/her", then it might indicate a disparaging or pejorative attitude, depending on the context.

    * (in the sense that the determiner doesn't always correspond to the real nature of the person or thing it describes - "it" for a baby, "la personne" even when the person is a male)
     
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