Yes, I know that an animal is referred as “it” unless the relationship is personal (like a pet that has a name). Then they'd be "he" or "she"

It's more on the context of: A person and their animal companion(s)

For example: A man riding a horse in a jungle.

Despite the picturesque landscape, he was fully aware of the dangers beneath the wilds.

Fortunately, they hadn't encountered any wild predators

I feel like the answer is obvious which is kinda embarrassing but can "they" be used in this context?

Or will it be a "he" instead?

Edit: It seems I have created a lot of confusion because I didn't make it clear, and I do apologize for that.

I am asking if "they" would be used in case of a person and their animal companion together. (Plural pronouns)

For me, it felt like the man above in the example is not alone because he have a horse with him. Even though it's an animal. That's why I'm asking if it's correct to use "they", "their" etc.

Because plural pronouns are used mainly for two or more humans? Can they be used too for a human and an animal?

  • 2
    If the horse is more than just a transport method, I don't see a problem with using "they". But I wouldn't do it in the example given, because people won't know where to find what "they" refers to. Which, admittedly, may just be because the example is too short. But, it might help to insert a sentence in between that contains the referent, e.g. "Despite the picturesque landscape, he was fully aware of the dangers beneath the wilds. He patted his horse reassuringly. Fortunately, they hadn't encountered any wild predators."
    – user54131
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 15:04
  • Yes i would go with @towr
    – ndotie
    Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 17:22
  • I feel there's some confusing in the answers below about whether "they" is to be used to refer to the horse (as gender-neutral pronoun), or to the horse and rider together (as plural pronoun). So it would be good to make it more clear in the question.
    – user54131
    Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 9:06

4 Answers 4


Absolutely, they can mean a group of people, a group of animals, a mixed group of animals and people, a bunch of inanimate objects, and more.

He looked at the knives on the table. They all had wear marks.

The farmer was leading a small flock of sheep, and Protagonist watched as they headed down the road.

I wouldn't use it for "Steve has a car and is driving it here. They should arrive in 10 minutes or so" where they means Steve and the car. But I might for Steve and his broadsword who have had a lot of adventures together. It's completely correct for the rider and horse who, together, have not encountered any predators.

There is a slight nuance: by narrating the horse and person as they the horse matters a bit more. You would also be correct to ignore the horse and just say of the rider "he hadn't encountered ...". Choosing they doesn't ignore the horse the way you might ignore a car, or the hero's boots, or whatever. It's a choice.

Original answer, on referring to a single animal as "they":

If you are narrating something close to the protagonists thoughts, and the protagonist knows the animal's gender, then no, don't use they.

He rode through the jungle, glad of the extra protection of the horse. Her sure feet found a way along paths he could barely see.

(I've noticed it's quite common for our brave young man to find a mare or filly for these adventures, probably because it's less confusing when there are two different pronouns in the narration.) Also specifically for horses and farm animals, you get subcategories of gender all the time. A mare has had a foal, a filly hasn't. Males might be stallions or geldings. The idea that someone would be riding a genderless horse? Maybe if they were blindfolded, in which case knowing nothing about the animal would be a big part of the scene you're setting.

If the protagonist doesn't know, then usually it is more common for animals, and they for people.

The stranger, with glittering silver chains draped around their body, was also riding a horse, with ribbons tied in its mane.

If the creature either doesn't have a binary gender (sci fi or fantasy) or it's just not something people normally know about a creature, then you're going to have to address it in dialog. People give genders to cars and boats and tools so they will probably give some to their trained fire ants.

"I'll treat him well", he promised, then paused. "He? She? Is this --?"

The vendor laughed. "One you don't know, you can call it. But that would be rude for your own. Treat them well, and they'll treat you well. This one, their favourite snack is dried fruit. You get some, you be sure to share with them."

The extra sentences are to make it clear the vendor isn't referring to plural animals, like saying "if you treat dogs fairly they respond well." (And can set up something with dried fruit later.) You can probably be smoother than that.


As long as it is consistent I would say there is no issue with it.

If you said “He rode into the forest” immediately followed by “they didn’t encounter any danger” that could cause confusion to the reader on if “they” means there is another person.

As towr pointed out, it can also help to establish that the horse is being viewed like a person, and therefore being referred to as he, she or they like in the the example, rather than just it.


Consider carefully

As you mentioned, at the present it would be uncommon to use "they" pronoun when referring to animals. A horse rider typically is fully aware of the biological sex of the ride. Thus, if you use "they" to refer to a single animal, readers would expect you to give more explanations regarding gender identity of this animal. I am not sure that this is your plan.

If you don't want that pronoun to stand out, make sure to use "they" regularly throughout your book to refer to different animals. This way the reader wouldn't wonder if there was a specific reason to use a neutral pronoun.


Good question! In the CIS countries, just the same appeal to the animal is said as "they". When a Ukrainian or a Russian speaks English, of course, they say "it", but in their language, the animals are treated like "they". So it is possible.

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