1. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Pronouns for animals?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Mckk, Feb 9, 2015.

    The thread title says it - should I refer to the animals as "it" or with a "he/she"?

    I often want to use the gendered pronoun (he/she) but then I come to a sentence like this:

    He picked up his dog and he licked his face. (lol)​

    And it's just way easier if I'd been using "it", like this:

    He picked up his dog and it licked his face.

    The second one looks far less ridiculous, too, lol. So yeah... in general, which pronoun do people use to refer to animals? I mean ones with names, like say the horse your MC's riding on all the time, not just a passing stray.
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    It, unless you're writing for Disney.
     
  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    He picked up his dog, which licked his face.
     
  4. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Generally it should depend on if your POV character thinks of that animal as "he" or "it".

    Lots of people will think of their own pets as "he" and "she", but if they don't know the gender of the animal they'll use "it".

    Just like in a scene with two male humans, you might have to rephrase sentences to make them less ambiguous.
    "He picked up his son and he burped in his face." Couldn't be fixed by replacing he with it.
     
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  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Animals really don't feature strongly enough in my work for me to want to spend ages rephrasing those odd few sentences though lol. "it" sounds fine to me 95% of the time but right now I'm writing a scene where my MC's beloved pet dog has gone crazy attacking him and his mother... hence my inclination to use a gendered pronoun instead, but using "it" just makes the fight scene that much easier to write.
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    While I can see that's grammatically correct and eliminates confusion, it just sounds really, really odd... I wouldn't write like that.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd use he and she, when it's known, and for pets it would usually be known. Ambiguous "he" and "she" happen all the time with people, anyway, so I wouldn't change the pronouns for that.

    He picked up his dog, and grimaced through a flurry of face-licking.
     
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  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What's the dogs name? Like, could you sometimes use that instead of a pronoun?

    As for this specific instance, maybe something like:
    He picked up Fifi and was greeted with...

    Or @ChickenFreak 's suggestion.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Technically this says the dog licked the dog's face. I think you should avoid this construction but if you wanted to use it you would need to write:
    He picked up his dog and he licked the boy's face.

    Which doesn't sound much better.
    Technically it would need to be:
    He picked up his dog and the dog licked the boy's face.

    The pronoun always refers back to the closest relevant noun.
    Yes, that is more clear. Rather than worrying about using a gendered pronoun, (which is fine, after all dogs have genders), you should be more concerned about clarity.
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    But what then do you call a male dog? Should I refer to my female dog as a bitch?
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with the "use the pronoun the POV character would use" rule. I can't think of a time I'd use "it" for one of my pets, so if you were writing from my POV you'd need to find a way around the pronoun confusion.
     
  12. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    I reckon it for a creature of unknown sex, and he/she for a known creatures. Any ambiguity problems that arise from that are just a generalisation of the problems you face when referring to two different characters using the same pronoun. In these cases, it might be better to find a way to avoid such scenarios, such as using an actual name, or rephrasing the sentence.
     
  13. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Only if she behaves as one. I would use 'it' regardless of sex, unless the story is specifically about the animal. If the animal talks (the Disney reference), all bets are off.
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I do often use the animal's name instead where there's pronoun confusion - in fact, I do that with humans too :D

    Hmm, I'll see if it's worth tweaking the entire scene (the pet dog dies at the end of it - it's gone rabid and my MC kills it) or otherwise stay with "it".

    For those who can't see a pet being referred to as an "it" (btw I don't have any pets), @BayView @ChickenFreak - would it take you out of the story if I did use "it" for a pet? You see, ultimately, first clarity, and then whether it would take the reader out of the experience. If it would affect the reader greatly, then it's worth tweaking. If not, then it's not honestly worth the work lol.
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    This suggests you have a different relationship with dogs than I and a lot of other people have.
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Yes in some situations. If it were a stray, no. If it were the guy's dog that was in the story as his companion, yes. I could overlook it in a few places the way one overlooks 'said', but not if it was used repeatedly. It would begin to stand out as odd.
     
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  17. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Well, yes. I have friends who refer to their two dogs as 'the kids'. Creeps me out.

    The relationship between canines and humans is a special one, but considering that some cultures eat dogs, it seems that elevating them to an equivalence to humans is odd, to say the least. Couldn't care less about cats, an attitude which is returned in kind.
     
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  18. ChickenFreak
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    It would affect my impression of whoever was saying "It". So if it were first person, I'd assume that the first person narrator wasn't all that fond of their pet. If it were any sort of close third person, I would assume that the viewpoint character similarly wasn't all that fond of their pet.

    Edited to add: However, I would use "it" for animals in circumstances where I wouldn't use it for humans, even if I didn't know the gender of the human:

    "Where'd that dog go?"
    "It ran down the street."

    "Where'd that person in the bunny suit go?"
    "They ran down the street."

    And I would tend to use it for animals where the gender is known, if I didn't have a pet-like relationship with the animal:

    "Where'd that chicken go?"
    "It ran down the street."

    Though I'm not sure if this is because I don't care about the gender (with animals do I mean gender or sex? I should look that up) or because my knowledge that a chicken, rather than a rooster, is female, is not quite at the surface of my brain.
     
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  19. ChickenFreak
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    I wouldn't say that using "he" or "she" is elevating them to the status of humans. They are male or female, after all; knowing that isn't anthropomorphizing them.

    I'm not saying you're wrong, it's just interesting that apparently in your dialect, using "he" or "she" has different significance than in my dialect.
     
  20. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The free dictionary:
     
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  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If the sex of the animal is known, use the appropriate pronoun. That's my view.
     
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  22. BayView
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    I feel a bit tentative about challenging a ChickenFreak on this one, but... isn't "chicken" the gender-neutral term? Hens and roosters are both chickens...?
     
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  23. BayView
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    Depends on the POV you're using. If someone refers to an animal as "it" I assume they don't really care about the animal. So it would take me out of the story, for sure, if you had a character referring to a beloved pet as "it". Less so if it was just some random rabid animal...

    Cujo, I'm pretty sure, was referred to as "he".
     
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  24. ChickenFreak
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    Heh. :) I see your point, yes.
     
  25. Void
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    I'm kind of surprised by the idea that referring to something with a gender pronoun is somehow reserved for humans. I'm pretty sure there was another thread on this topic, and it too had such strange ideas.

    People refer to their damn boats as she ... and cars, and swords, and plenty of other inanimate objects. Obviously, these aren't technically correct, but it does show that gender pronouns have never been reserved for humans only.
     
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