He, She, It, They: How Should We Refer To Animals?


2 Minutes Read

Language has an impact on the way we think - Media Credit:

Animal lovers are known to pay close attention to semantic distinctions when it comes to using the most thoughtful and respectful words when referring to non-human animals.

Naturally, ‘companion animals’ is preferred instead of the derogatory ‘pets’ – but does language also need an overhaul when it comes to pronouns?


Language can shape the way we think.

Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics Director Andrew Linzey states: ‘We shall not be able to think clearly unless we discipline ourselves’ to use appropriate language that reflects our proper ‘moral relations with’ animals.

President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Ingrid Newkirk, who favors ‘companion animals’, believes pronouns are also important when referring to an animal.

Newkirk makes a case for utilizing ‘he’ and ‘she’, instead of ‘it’.


Linzey and Newkirk are not alone in their condemnation on calling animals ‘it’ – back in 2013, a petition was launched on change.org asking people to stop calling animals it.

A powerful letter was written by PETA’s Director of Written Communications Anna West in 2007 to Associated Press [AP] editor Norm Goldstein.

In it, she asked Goldstein to update the AP’s style guide to reflect animals as living beings – rather than it.

She wrote: “As ‘the essential global news network,’ the Associated Press [AP] should take a progressive step and give animals the respect that they deserve by revising AP style guidelines to reflect the usage of personal pronouns for all animals.”

While fairly little seems to have changed in the mainstream’s use of ‘it’ for animals – it is certainly a topic that support within the animal rights and vegan community.


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