What is the difference between 他, 她, and 它?

I want to know when you use one and when not to. It seems pretty basic language because I hear 他, 她, and 它 everywhere in Chinese language.

Anything else would be appreciated.


6 Answers 6


Disclaimer: I am a native speaker, but I am neither a professional linguist, nor have I received any sufficient grammar training beyond high school Chinese, so please take a grain of salt.

“他” would be “he” in English, “她” would be “she” and “它” would be “it". We use it exactly like that in English.

a mnemonic device: the left component of "她” is “女字旁”, which is an indication that the word is related to female.

  • I don't think you need to be a linguist to answer questions here. If you know the answer and are willing to share, that should be good enough.
    – monalisa
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 3:14
  • @monalisa lol, you are probably right on this particular case, but sometimes the questions could get very tricky. I do have experienced situation where I gave a wrong explanation.
    – jxhyc
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 3:21
  • 1
    (unlike English)它 applies to any animal whether male or female, to show respect and love 她 can apply to mother land,party, flag etc。 (iciba: 对祖国、党、旗等称呼“她”, 表示敬爱)
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 3:25
  • @S.Rhee that's not unlike English at all, where sometimes countries or ships are referred to with gendered pronouns. This usage is going out of style though: english.stackexchange.com/questions/12632/… Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 6:12
  • 1
    Of course in English sometimes countries or ships are referred to with gendered pronouns,above comment meant to say that in Chinese unlike English 它 is used for oxen,cows,stags,hens,roosters,female toads,male beetles etc。, whereas English is free to use he/she ,see comment below。
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 8:02

她 is "she",female only. While 他 refers to both male and female. But sometimes 他 may only stand for male. In English,when you're not sure one's gender,you have to say "He or she is....".But in Chinese you can simply use 他 to include both male and female. Please note,unlike "it" in English,它 is only used to indicate non-living objects.

  • that's true! 牠 as well... though does anyone even bother with that last one? Never see it... Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 3:31
  • He or she in English is they.
    – Gao
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 4:36
  • Really?But I've never seen that usage before. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 8:48
  • 1
    Regarding "它 is only used to indicate non-living objects", just look up Chinese version of any Wikipedia article for an animal e。g。 elephant,when referring to elephants it always uses 它们(10 times),twice 它 for a single individual
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 4:58
  • That confuses me.... Cuz everyone I've talked to always uses "牠"or"她/他" when referring to animals,otherwise what's "牠" for? Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 3:09

What is the difference between 他, 它, and 她?

In short, you can exchange 它 and 她 to 他, but not always right inversely. Basically, 他 is inclusive. In the stories for children, 他 is used for animals. In most cases, if you do not have to use 她, always use 他 instead.

For example, 我们今天要选一个组长,他必须有五年的工作经验.

You must not write, 我们今天要选一个组长,她必须有五年的工作经验. Since 她 is exclusive.


Trying to use linguistic slangs: 他 is the masculine gender third person, i.e "he/him"; 她 is the feminine gender third person i.e "she/her"; it for non-human third person, i.e "it" In Traditional Chinese, there is also 妳 for feminine gender second person, Simplified Chinese doesn't normally distinguish the gender for second-person.

Also in Chinese, do not use 它("it") for babies.

You can use 她/他 for animals, pets. Nations, lands, ships are often referred to in feminine gender when speaking figuratively.

Normally, the masculine gender are used for default, unknown and mixed genders like it is used to be in English in which it is common to use "she or he" to refer to unknown gender. In Chinese the form of 他或她 (he or she) are not very common but acceptable if the speaker what to stress gender equity.

When personification, 她、他 can be used for objects that are not human.

  • are there internet examples with female dogs, cats, horses, etc, referred as 她, some users (like this one) have only seen 它 when referring to animals known to be female.
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 4:54
  • @S.Rhee as I said this is only when used in personification. An internet examples would be baike.baidu.com/subview/629576/10574039.htm 艾咪·罗斯(Amy Rose)艾咪一只粉色的刺猬、索尼克的女朋友,性格热情、泼辣,初登场于索尼克 CD。当艾咪初次遇见索尼克时便对他一见钟情,但索尼克对这个充满热情的女朋友又惊又怕,时常躲着她. Basically this is the introduction of Sonic's girl friend. Also you can call your pet he or she which I believe to be common in English as well. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 5:40
  • Needless to say in English it is common practice to refer to animals of any order (including e。g。insects)as he/she once gender has been established。 Reply seems to confirm that when talking about e。g。公牛、母牛,雄乌鸦,母鸡,雄黄蜂,雌癞蛤蟆 Chinese unlike English would usually not use 他/她 but only 它。
    – user6065
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 7:47
  • @S.Rhee Yes, they should not simply be applied to 公牛、母牛 etc. 她 and 他 should only be used on animals when the speaker tries to personify the object which is common in narratives in stories where all characters are based on animals, but again this is not mandatory, or the animal is of personal significance to the speaker so that the speaker would treat it as a human, i.e. refer to beloved pet. Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 5:05
  • So what should you use for babies?
    – minseong
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 11:32

i want to add on, if use 他们 (they), or 她们 (they),while the 他们 can be all male, or mix, but 她们 will always be all female group.


她 is "she" in English, which is the third person used to describe a girl. For example, 她是一个女孩, “she is a girl”. 他 is "he" in English, which is the third person used to describe a man. For example, 他是一个男孩,”he is a boy”. 它 is "it" in English, which is the third person used to describe an animal or object. For example, 它是一只小狗, " It is a dog". Chinese is a complex subject because it has a deep cultural heritage. It requires a lot of our time to understand. I have been learning Chinese for six years, since I was a child, so I know a fair amount about it. youtube has a large number of learning videos that are short and easy to understand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMUWYIs9nj0 I usually learn Chinese on this channel

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