Can a ship or a car be a "he"?



In English, especially in a poetic description, ships and cars are referred to as "she".

Maybe their owners compare their beauty and elegance with those of women, but what if a female owner wanted to describe her yacht or car?

Would she also say, "She is a real beauty", or it might be "he" then?

Does the choice of a pronoun depend on whom she is giving the description of it to — a man or a woman?

What about a man-o’-war or a merchantman? Being ships, are they also referred as "she"?

P.S. There's a post on the use of "she" in reference to ships, but there seems to be no answer to my question there.

P.P.S. My question wasn't pulled out of a thin air. I came across a book by a prominent Russian linguist, G.Veichman, written in 1990, (Novelties in The English Grammar is my translation of the title), where I read that the rule of personification of vehicles may be added regarding a female owner talking about her car using the preposition "he". Period. No further explanation or reference examples.

Victor B.

Posted 2016-06-28T10:14:21.213

Reputation: 8 293

1As far as I've ever been able to tell, ships of all kinds are "she"; it doesn't matter who the owner is or what kind of ship it is. – stangdon – 2016-06-28T11:04:56.953



There is no law that one cannot use masculine or gender neutral pronouns to refer to ships and other things that are normally referred to by feminine pronouns.

For instance, if a female owner wanted to name her yacht a man's name, paint that name on her yacht and refer to this yacht as he, there is no language police that can stop her.

Besides that, Is your vehicle a 'he' or a 'she'? quotes a survey that says

Nearly half of drivers think their vehicle has a gender, with 60 percent of vehicles viewed as female and 40 percent viewed as male. Of those with a gender, vehicles in Southern states are more likely to be female, while autos in the Midwest are more likely to be male [my emphasis].

There is also a current commercial on TV for an insurance company, and it starts off with a woman who has named her car 'Brad' (a male's name)...

At any rate, this question is not, to me, about what the convention is, but whether or not it is possible in English. And of course it's possible. And I see no reason to discourage a woman, or man, from doing so.

Hurricanes used to always be given female names. Now during each hurricane season, the names alter between male and female. So it's not like there is absolutely no room to maneuver regarding this subject: for whatever the reason may be, it's possible to incorporate change.

Alan Carmack

Posted 2016-06-28T10:14:21.213

Reputation: 11 630

There's no law about almost anything in language. But if you use language in non-standard ways, you risk being misunderstood. If you use personal pronouns to refer to inanimates, you are likely to confuse your readers, except for well-established uses like "she" for ships and countries. – Colin Fine – 2016-06-28T10:24:37.107

2If a woman, named her yacht ALFRED and painted the name ALFRED on the boat and referred to it as he, I don't see how that risks bring misunderstood regarding language usage, except culture pedants who might think it improper because it goes against "the rules of established usage", @ColinFine. – Alan Carmack – 2016-06-28T10:27:57.760

Any particular reasons to downvote the question? – Victor B. – 2016-06-28T10:35:01.407

1I vaguely remember reading somewhere that women sometimes refer to their cars as 'he'. However, I might be mistaken and this could have referred to my native language rather than English. Anyway, here is another discussion worth reading (as well as a few other links that can be found there), but there is no answer to the OP's question there either. – tum_ – 2016-06-28T10:35:50.040

You might well be right, if the boat's name were salient in the conversation. If I'm talking about my boat Alfred and you don't know its name, then a "he" dropped into the conversation is likely to confuse you. And pedants generally don't understand any more or less than anybody else, they just choose to pretend that they don't understand. – Colin Fine – 2016-06-28T10:37:14.090

What would confuse me is everybody in the world not using any language usage that had the potential to confuse anybody, @ColinFine And therefore no one ever thought out of the box. What a dull, miserable world, but one with no potential language confusion. oh joy. – Alan Carmack – 2016-06-28T10:43:15.643

Added to the question: What about a man-o’-war or a merchantman? Being ships, are they also referred as "she"? – Victor B. – 2016-06-28T10:55:56.120

Alan: how do you think languages change? And there's plenty of scope for playing with language. If you want to personify a ship (or anything else) by referring to it as "he", good on you. Maybe it's a game, that your listeners will appreciate. But if you're trying to get information across, rather than have fun, it might work better to stick to established usage. – Colin Fine – 2016-06-28T11:48:12.343

@ColinFine: My question wasn't spun out of a thin air. I came across a book by prominent Russian linguist G.Veichman written in 1990, (Novelties in The English Grammar is my translation of the title), where I read that the rule of personification of vehicles may be added regarding a female owner talking about her car. That's all I could find and this is where my question comes from. – Victor B. – 2016-06-28T12:27:26.470

1Alan, you're absolutely right pointing out that it's not a traditional usage I'm asking about. A woman saying how much she loves "her", meaning her car or yacht called, say, Falcon, to me personally, sounds a tad strange. – Victor B. – 2016-06-28T14:32:47.983

@AlanCarmack: Alan, you have found the right link! Bullseye! Thanks ever so much for your interest in this question, the time spent, and the effort you've made to help me. Great answer! – Victor B. – 2016-06-28T14:47:47.003

Cars aren't normally called "he" or "she", so I'm not sure why cars are even entering into this discussion... – stangdon – 2016-06-29T14:37:17.573


From this wiki page:

Traditionally, oceans, countries, and ships, even those named after men such as USS Barry, have been referred to using the feminine pronouns. It is currently in decline (though still more common for ships, particularly in nautical usage, than for countries), and in Modern English, calling objects "she" is an optional figure of speech, while in American English it is advised against by The Chicago Manual of Style.

Note, though, that if she is not used, the correct term ought to be it, not he.


Posted 2016-06-28T10:14:21.213

Reputation: 43 538

The link to this article is in an existing answer to the question that the OP links to in this question. – Alan Carmack – 2016-06-28T14:10:15.740

Thanks a lot, it's all clear with ships now, but there are vehicles such as cars and yachts that ,too, have traditionally been referred to as "she". Do women never refer to those which are their own as "he" opposing men's calling them "she"? Actually, this was the main point in the question and this is what has been left unanswered so far. – Victor B. – 2016-06-28T14:19:03.740