The Grammarphobia Blog

Is a country a “she” or an “it”?

Q: I am a librarian and I put up a display entitled “Ireland and Its Books, Authors, and Countryside.” Was I correct to use the word “Its” or should I have used “Her”? What is the correct usage of pronouns in referring to countries? I know ships are often referred to as feminine, but what about countries?

A: The personification of nonliving nouns (such as nations, cities, hurricanes, ships, and other vessels) as “she” has fallen out of common usage. It’s now generally considered quaint or poetic.

Both the Associated Press and the New York Times style books, for example, recommend using “it” or “its” to refer to ships and countries.

Nearly five years ago, Lloyd’s List, the 273-year-old London-based shipping newspaper, officially dropped the gender personification and now refers to ships with the pronouns “its” and “it” instead of “her” and “she.”