I apologize for my rudimentary Chinese, but I am having trouble finding the translation for "them/they" in Chinese in regards to an entity (and gender neutral).

For example: Does the store sell furniture? 这儿个商店卖家具吗? No they don't; they only sell stationery.

How will translate "they" in this instance? 他们/她们/它们?

  • 1
    You should use 他们, which implys the people (owner or sales man) of the store. 它们不卖 is weird, sell's subject should be human.
    – user4072
    Sep 17, 2014 at 1:24
  • 2
    Actually you can leave 'they' out here - no need to translate it.
    – neubau
    Sep 17, 2014 at 1:38
  • By the way, the expression '这儿个商店' is wrong - should be ' 这个商店' .
    – Patrick
    Sep 18, 2014 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


The translation of "they" depends on what it refers to.

  1. Use "他们" if you are talking about a group of people.

  2. Use "她们" if you are talking about a group of females. Note that if you are certain that they are a group of females you should always use "她们" instead of "他们". In comparison, if there is at least one male in the group of people, or if you don't know about their gender, you should use "他们".

  3. As for "祂" I have only seen it when Christian people refer to God. There's only one God so you don't want to say "祂们". For other gods, we usually use "他" or "她", depending on if that is a male god or a female god.

  4. "牠" is for animals. However it is seldom seen in modern CHS (Chinese Simplified). Now we use "它" for animals too. It is considered a character in CHT (Chinese Traditional).

  5. "它" is for objects, including animals.

For your example:

You should use "他们" in your example sentence instead of "他们" because actually you are talking about the people in the shop.

No, they only sell x. => 不,他们只卖 X。

Some other special cases you may want to know:

  1. When we assimilate some object to a person (拟人, personification), we use the corresponding "他" or "她" instead of "它". Therefore you may also use "他们" or "她们" in this cases.

  2. For pets, Chinese people don't think they are people - No they are never people. You should always use "它们" for your pets as you do for other animals. Exception happens if you are following point 6.


This is where a few basic Chinese concepts come in handy:

  • Spoken Mandarin is genderless, written Chinese has Gender expressed in the radicals
  • Knowledge of radicals will tell you the appropriate to use

I like using yellowbridge.com for looking up etymology, stroke order, radicals, etc. for each character: http://www.yellowbridge.com/chinese/character-etymology.php?zi=%E7%89%A0

The radical, 人, makes this pronoun for him

The radical, 女, makes this pronoun for her

The radical, 示, make this pronoun for God

and were merged together. refers to animals, as you can tell by the radical 牛 (cow). And refers to inanimate objects.

And 们 men makes the subject/noun plural.

So, in the context of your sentence, No they don't; they only sell stationary, you would use 它们.

  • 1
    牠 is not the strict traditional form of 它. Rather, both 牠 and 它 were merged into 它 in simplified Chinese. Traditionally, 牠 referred to animate objects whereas 它 referred to inanimate objects.
    – Claw
    Sep 16, 2014 at 20:37
  • @Claw good point. I thought that as well originally too, but was confused when I read this: yellowbridge.com/chinese/dictionary.php
    – user3871
    Sep 16, 2014 at 20:39
  • 4
    There's also 祂, with the radical 示, which is almost exclusively used in Chinese translations of the Christian Bible to refer to God.
    – Claw
    Sep 16, 2014 at 22:04
  • 3
    Actually it is not the store but the salesperson that is pluralized here, so I think 他们 would be more appropriate.
    – arax
    Sep 17, 2014 at 5:14

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