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Neuter Gender

What Is the Neuter Gender?

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Neuter gender is one of three genders in English grammar. The three genders for nouns and pronouns are as follows:

Table of Contents

  • Neuter Pronouns
  • Why the Neuter Gender Is Important
  • Video Lesson
  • Test Time!
gender in grammar

Neuter Pronouns

In the table below, the singular neuter pronouns are in the shaded row:
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
(not used)
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.
If the word does not denote something obviously masculine or feminine, then it is a neuter word.

Why the Neuter Gender Is Important

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. wrong cross
  • ("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. wrong cross
  • (This is an outdated practice.)
  • Each student must ensure his/her guest signs the registry. wrong cross
  • (This is clumsy as well as outdated.)
  • Each student must ensure their guest signs the registry. correct tick
  • (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.

Key Points

Video Lesson

Here is 9-minute video summarizing grammatical gender in English. video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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