What Is the Neuter Gender? (with Examples)

Neuter Gender in Grammar

Neuter gender is one of three genders in English grammar. The three genders for nouns and pronouns are as follows: The associated singular pronouns are:
GenderPronounPossessive Determiner
(a type of pronoun)
Possessive Pronoun
masculine pronounshe
Example: He is cold.
his
Example: These are his boots.
his
Example: These are his.
feminine pronounsshe
Example: She is cold.
her
Example: These are her earrings.
hers
Example: These are hers.
neuter pronounsit
Example: It is cold.
its
Example: These are its toys.
its
Example: These are its. (rare)

Unless its meaning makes it obviously male (e.g., boy, king, boar) or female (e.g., princess, hen, mare), a noun in English is neuter by default. Here are two noteworthy points related to gender:
  • Large machines. Large machines such as ships and trains, which - by default - are neuter, are sometimes affectionately given a female gender (i.e., referred to as she or her).
  • Animals. An animal is referred to as it. It is only referred to as he or she when the sex is known.

Why Should I Care about Neuter Gender?

There are three noteworthy issues related to neuter gender.

(Issue 1) There's no apostrophe in the neuter possessive determiner its.

Look at the following list of nouns and their possessive determiners:
  • A king and his son
  • (His is the possessive determiner for something of masculine gender.)
  • A queen and her dog
  • (Her is the possessive determiner for something of feminine gender.)
  • A shark and its prey
  • (Its is the possessive determiner for something of neuter gender.)
Note that there is no apostrophe in its.

It's (with an apostrophe) is a contraction of it is or it has. If you can't expand your it's to it is or it has, then it is wrong. That is a 100% rule!

Read more about its and it's.

(Issue 2) Finding an alternative to his/her.

In English, there is no singular, neuter possessive determiner for people. in other words, the singular possessive determiner its cannot be used for a person whose gender is unknown. For example:
  • Each student must ensure its guest signs the registry.
  • (Its cannot be used for people.)
In the past,he or his was used to denote "his or her." This is no longer an acceptable practice, and their is used instead. For example:
  • Each student must ensure his guest signs the registry.
  • (This is an outdated practice.)
  • Each student must ensure his/her guest signs the registry.
  • (This is clumsy as well as outdated.)
  • Each student must ensure their guest signs the registry.
  • (This is now the accepted solution.)
Read more about singular they and their.

(Issue 3) Using gender-neutral pronouns for people who do not identify themselves as either male or female.

Some people identify as "non-binary." This means they do not identify as male or female or as both. These people might ask you to use they (and their, them, theirs, themself) or just their name instead of a pronoun (e.g., Terry, Terry's, Terry's self) when talking about them.

Read more about using non-binary pronouns.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

See Also

What is gender? What are nouns? What are pronouns? What is the feminine gender? What is the masculine gender? What are possessive adjective? What are absolute possessive pronouns? Glossary of grammatical terms