Him, Her, It and It – Beginner Chinese

by Dave Flynn | 29th May, 2012 | Vocabulary |

Even though they are all pronounced the same, Chinese actually has distinct characters to refer to males, females, animals and objects. In speech you’ll never run into any problems just saying “tā”, but when writing it’s important that you use the correct character.

Him, her, it and it

Here are the different characters along with some simple example sentences that should be easy for beginners to learn how to use each word:

他(他)

Pinyin:
English: him, her

很懶惰(很懒惰)
hěn lǎnduò
He’s very lazy

她(她)

Pinyin:
English: her

是我的女朋友
shì wǒ de nǚpéngyǒu
She’s my girlfriend

牠(它)

Pinyin:
English: it (animal)

我的貓瘋了,一直跑來跑去(我的猫疯了,一直跑来跑去)
wǒ de māo fēng le, yīzhí pǎo lái pǎo qù
My cat is crazy, it keeps running back and forth

它(它)

Pinyin:
English: it (thing)

這是我新買的T恤,很舒服(这是我新买的T恤,很舒服)
zhè shì wǒ xīn mǎi de T xù, hěn shūfú
This is my new t-shirt, it’s really comfortable

Worth noting is that in simplified Chinese 牠 is replaced by 它, and while 她 is still be used it is often the case that 他 is used. The latter is also true for Taiwan, and 他, like 你, is a catchall for when you aren’t sure if the person being referred to is male or female. Basically – if in doubt, use 他.

Bonus tā

In addition to the tā above, there is one more, the tā that is used to describe a god:

Pinyin:
English: him, he (god)

This is another tā that isn’t used in simplified Chinese, so to see examples of it you’d have to read the bible in traditional Chinese. The example I’ve used here is from a Youtube video I found:

為我開路(为我开路)
wèi wǒ kāi lù
God Will Make A Way (for me)

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Dave Flynn

Dave is a designer of websites, learner of Chinese and lover of technology. Originally from the UK, he's been living in Taiwan and learning Mandarin Chinese for the last seven years. He founded and runs Chinese Hacks, a blog dedicated to effectively learning Chinese.

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Tags: #Animal #female #god #her #him #it #male #man #thing #usage #woman

5 Comments

  1. It’s a pity that simplified Chinese removed the 牠. I was just looking at that and wondering why I’ve never seen it before…

    The god 祂 is awesome! Thanks for that addition. Good post!


    • Agree,

      牠 was cool!

      Sometimes I really think they made a big mess with simplified Chinese…

      Also, last week I read an Italian travel novel about China (La Cina in vespa) and I learned Mao Zedong was thinking to remove the characters and only let the pinyin (or another transliteration, as happened in Vietnam).

      For what I learned it was Stalin that “saved” characters by convincing Mao that a great country should have is own alphabet!

      Don’t know if it’s true as I never heard it before but anyway let’s thanks Stalin for it haha


  2. york2275

    Great post, Dave, especially for pointing out that 他 is often used even when we are referring to a woman. In Taiwan, 他 can be used for both man and woman, while 她 only for woman. However, we generally avoid using 他 for animal or lifeless objects.


  3. Ken

    Agreed, great post. I can’t remember ever seeing 牠 used — the closest character I can remember is 牧 from an old Chinese movie called 牧馬人, which I saw in Chinese class long ago. I think I’ve always thought that 它 was used for animals. I had forgotten about the 祂 character, although I’ve actually seen it in a Chinese bible.

    I wrote a post on my own blog touching on gender issues associated with the spoken tā.


  4. Ken

    Hmm, I see a Taiwanese friend who loves her dog dearly uses 它 to refer to her dog, but another Taiwanese says using 牠 is necessary for animals, because 它 is for inanimate things.

    Well, I’ll make an effort to get used to using 牠 for animals, and maybe no one will accuse me of disrespecting their pet….