17

I always feel like it's rude when someone refers to some as "she" or "he" in their presence or when I've done it in the past. But I'm not sure what etiquette says to this in UK culture.

Friend is sat next to her boyfriend and across from me.

Me (talking to my friend's boyfriend): So, what do you think of [ put an interesting topic here ]?

Him replying: I'm not a big fan, but she loves it.


Is it rude to refer to someone as "he" or "she" in their presence?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Ælis, avazula, sphennings, ElizB, Negotiate Nov 16 '18 at 1:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Have you checked this related topic on English Language & Usage? – OldPadawan Aug 26 '17 at 7:34
  • I think the near-identical question at English.SE kindly linked by @OldPadawan almost completely answers your question. Referring to a present person by a personal pronoun is considered rude in India as well. It seems we must refer to them by name or a respectful title, both in India and UK, but maybe the millennial generation would not take offense in an informal setting? Of course IPS members can enrich our understanding of this 'sensitive topic' by writing experience-based new answers here. – English Student Aug 26 '17 at 8:33
  • A side note - It heavily depends on the language or culture. In English (UK as mentioned by OP) it's a usual thing to do. E.g. in Polish (Poland) it's outright rude. – Grzegorz Oledzki Aug 26 '17 at 17:16
27

Based on the answers and comments already posted here, I think it makes sense to understand that it is not always rude to refer to a present person by a personal pronoun, but only if what you say either

  1. gives the impression that they are not present in the room or the conversation, or

  2. presumes to 'speak for them' when they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves.

Moreover, if you are speaking of them in this sense of 'third person', it seems it would still be rude if you referred to them by name or title rather than a personal pronoun.

Personal experience:

My sister and I are very interested in Indian Classical music but my sister is also deeply interested in psychology. When we met an old 'music friend' who asked my sister why she was not following a career in classical arts, I was stupid enough to enthusiastically state in her presence:

She is far more committed to building a career in psychological counselling. She has taken degrees in advanced theories and practical technique. She wants to be a practicing psychological counsellor.

Later my sister said:

Why you want to say that on my behalf? I will say it myself if I want.

So she was not objecting to the pronoun but to my speaking of her 'in the third person' and saying all that when she can decide to say or not say it herself.

So what's rude is not the pronoun but the presumption.


Answers to this old but very similar question at English.SE kindly linked by @OldPadawan provide good historical context and 'etiquette of usage'.

8

Depends on context. I don't think it's rude in your given context.

Also, here's another context, where I think it's not rude.

Imagine Alice, Betty, and Clare in a room, at night:

Clare: How about a movie? Let's watch one now?

Alice: We should sleep now. Or we won't wake up well-rested for tomorrow's class.

Betty (to Clare): She's right, you know.

I don't see why it's necessary to repeat the name Alice here.

  • 2
    Especially if someone has a long name, like "Sebastian" or "Rosamund" - repeating the whole name would be clumsy, and some people don't like abbreviations like Seb or Ros. – alephzero Aug 26 '17 at 15:39
6

Not rude per se, but often more or less rude depending on what you're saying about the person.

"I'm with her." — not rude if true.

"He's my brother." — not rude if true (unless you are butting in to their conversation).

"No, he doesn't drink coffee." — borderline; let him speak for himself, unless he doesn't speak a language the other person understands, and even then, it's better to ask him and interpret instead of speaking for him.

"She's not deaf, ask her." — not rude, and a good response to someone else being rude.

"He is going to the prom with me." — rude if you haven't already agreed to that, otherwise depends.

  • Now that I think about it, it's also cultural. In some cultures, a man might speak for his wife. We might detest that custom, but it's not rude in their culture. Or a military officer might tell his boss, "He will take care of that," effectively giving direction to the subordinate and informing the boss it will be done. Or a parent might speak for a child. Or something similar in a culture I'm not aware of. – WGroleau Feb 2 '18 at 6:48
5

If there wasn't another reference to them recently (in about the last sentence or two), it's disrespectful to refer to them using a third person pronoun (he / she). This is of course assuming it's clear who you're referring to, which it may not be.

If you're in the middle of speaking about them and someone (whether you or someone else) has already referred to them by name, it's fine (and generally expected) to refer to them using a third person pronoun.

Although this might be a sign that you're being rude by speaking about them too much and just generally saying things you shouldn't be saying (e.g. putting words in their mouth or treating them as if they're not there).

For example, this is disrespectful:

"Everyone likes chocolate."
"I don't think she would agree with you." [presumably while pointing to someone]

These are fine:

"Alice would probably say she doesn't like chocolate."

"Alice doesn't like chocolate."
"No, I don't think she does."

If you're responding to something they just said, it could go either way, but the "safe" bet would be to just use their name.

Alice: "I don't think anyone really likes chocolate."
You: "She makes a good point."
OR You: "Alice makes a good point."

If you know the person you're referring to well, a third person pronoun can be used in a playful manner where it otherwise would've been considered disrespectful.

  • That's a great answer! Have you considered answering the similar question over on English Language & Usage? – SQB Aug 26 '17 at 9:59
  • 1
    Your first part basically says to avoid "unknown antecedent." But in the OP's example, it was probably obvious who "she" referred to. And pointing is only rude in some cultures. – WGroleau Aug 26 '17 at 11:57
  • @WGroleau It's disrespectful because that's just not how you do things IMO, even if it is clear who you're referring to. Of course most answers on this site are heavily dependent on culture, but my answer doesn't have much to do with pointing being or not being rude. – NotThatGuy Aug 26 '17 at 13:10
  • 1
    Again, a third-person reference is not disrespectful by itself. Depends on what is being said and how, AND by the culture. – WGroleau Aug 26 '17 at 13:29
2

Is it rude to refer to a woman as "she" in her presence?

Yes, but it kinda depends on what you're saying. If you are referring to someone who is present in the third present, regardless of the gender, is rude or at least is something you must avoid.

If you use pronouns such as he and she during the conversation which that person is present in, it makes them feel that the conversation is about them, not with them. It really makes an uncomfortable situation for him/her.

When you are having conversation in a group, you should call them with their name or use you if you need to instead of using he/she.

Sometimes, it also depends on what being said. For example, if you introduce your friend like:

This is John. He lives in Manchester.

It is not rude. However, if you say,

He will now do this.

This might be rude, because you're not asking that person directly.

In case of given example in the question, there is a little chance or it is very unlikely that she will consider it rude.

  • 2
    It would be cringe-worthy if someone says "Alice thinks Alice should be referred to by Alice's name" as opposed to "Alice thinks she should be referred to by her name". – NotThatGuy Aug 26 '17 at 7:37
  • Yes. And no... Whatever the topic is: > see Alice. SHE knows! No one is more expert than her regarding this matter. Alice, do you mind telling us what is the proper way to [ whatever ] ? This doesn't sound rude to me. You just use it to empazise. Or am I wrong here ? – OldPadawan Aug 26 '17 at 7:37
2

I've been in countless situations exactly as you describe, when sitting with my other half. Someone will ask about a particular musician or band for example, and I may say "Not really my taste but she (pointing to my other half) loves them!" This carries with it an implied passing-on of the conversational thread to her, at which point she can pick up and run with the topic if she wishes since it's of specific interest to her. I don't see anything rude in that at all and can't imagine anyone thinking otherwise.

I can certainly think of rude ways to use a pronoun to refer to someone, but I do not believe at all that it is inherently rude. As with so many things, context is key.

0

Binary pronoun options can also be used, such as they, them, without offending, if the context is appropriate. For example, to avoid gendernormative pronoun labeling when you, they and we are in the same room discussing a business report authored by all three of you:

Sally (yourself): I'm glad this report is ready to distribute to the CEO and task force.

They (your first coauthor): Yes, we all worked very hard, and Ed edited it twice!

Ed: it's top notch, and they did quite well with much of the preliminary research so we could get it accomplished so efficiently and accurately. Without them, we would still be outlining our main goals.

Sally: the meeting starts in five minutes. Ready?

  • Welcome to Interpersonal Skills! I invite you to take the tour and visit our help center to learn more about the site and its guidelines. :) – NVZ Aug 27 '17 at 14:01
  • Thanks a lot @Uol for the interesting answer about (non)gendernormative pronoun labeling, which actually introduced me to something I hadn't known before: but maybe OP was really asking about the use of a pronoun instead of a name when referring to a present person? This question does not seem to be about gender, but whether use of a pronoun is bad etiquette. Moreover, I found they/them referred to as non-binary pronouns in this article at BBC online: you have written 'binary pronouns' in this answer but did you mean 'non binary pronouns?' – English Student Aug 29 '17 at 18:30

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