Original and modern scope
As in many languages, in Old English each noun had a grammatical gender (masculine, feminine or neuter), and a pronoun was generally (but not always) selected according to its antecedent's grammatical gender. Thus because dæg ([dæj] 'day') was masculine, one would refer to the day as he. Since in Modern English nouns have no grammatical gender (though suffixes like -or or -ess may indicate the sex of their referents), only the sex of the referent determines the pronoun to use.
The generic he serves as a pronoun whose antecedent is any noun denoting a social category under which both sexes fall:
- A good student always does his homework.
- If someone asks you for help, give it to him.
- When a customer argues, always agree with him.
Ann Fisher's first prescribed the generic he in her 1745 grammar book A New Grammar. It was thereafter often prescribed in manuals of style and school textbooks until around the 1960s.
In referring to their God or to Jesus Christ, and whenever referring to the Holy Spirit conceived on that occasion to be masculine, some Christians use the capitalized forms He, His, and Him.