The pronunciation for he, she, and it are all the same in Mandarin Chinese. The pronunciation for he 他, she 她, and it (or neuter) 它 are all ta1. The way Chinese distinguishes between male, female, and it is through Chinese Characters and context.
Pronouns In Mandarin Chinese
He – 他 (ta1)
She – 她 (ta1)
It – 它 (ta1)
If the gender of the person is unclear, the character 他 (ta1) is used as the default pronoun character. Words like other people (他人 ta1 ren2) demonstrate this.
Plural Pronouns In Mandarin Chinese
The pronoun characters 他, 她, and 它 all refer to singular objects. To talk about anything plural in Mandarin Chinese, just add a 们 (men) right after the respective pronoun, to talk about something plural.
他们 – ta1 men – they or them masculine
她们 – ta1 men – they or them only feminine
它们 – ta1 men – they or them (for things or animals)
Plural Pronouns (females only) In Mandarin
她们 ta1 men
Like in Spanish with ellas, you only use 她们 in Chinese if the people you are talking about are all female. Otherwise, if there are males and females, males only, or you don’t know the genders of the people, use 他们 to talk about them.
Quick Note On Chinese People Talking About Pronouns In Other Languages
Chinese people often transfer over the idea that male, female, and neuter pronouns are all pronounced the same way, into other languages, even if it isn’t the case in the other languages. I do remember a few times, while living in Mainland China, when I was talking individually with different Chinese people in English, and noticed some bizarre things. Sometimes, when someone would be telling me a story about another person or persons, suddenly the person in the story would change gender, not just once, but multiple times during the course of the story. You may at first get quite confused or think the person is a little crazy. Like for example, if the person is talking about a male, and refers to him as “he” one moment, refers to the same person as “she”, then as “he”, then as “she”, and so on, there is probably an easy explanation.
In Chinese people’s native language (assuming it is Mandarin or Cantonese or other Chinese dialects), all pronouns are pronounced exactly the same way. Chinese people distinguish between male, female, and non-human things and animals through Chinese Characters and context.
How To Know A Person’s Gender From Listening In Chinese
So, when listening to a story, paying very close attention to details about the person for clues about whether or not the person is male or female. Sometimes, you may need to explicitly ask if the person is a male or female if context is unclear and you can’t figure it out from the name.
You can often guess a person’s gender through their name. Often, a male will have a masculine sounding name like army 军 (jun1), and a female will have a feminine name like quiet 静 (jing4) which is a very common Chinese female name. 娜 Na4 is also a very common Chinese female given name. Though there are exceptions to this rule. For example, both a male and a female could be named hero (or outstanding) 杰 (jie2) or other neutral kind of things.
In any case, you will need to pay close attention to what is happening in the story and details about the person to figure out a person’s gender from just listening to a story.
So, as a recap, the pronouns in Mandarin Chinese are he 他 (ta1), she 她 (ta1), and it 它 (ta1). To make a pronoun plural, just add a 们 (men) right after each respective pronoun, to make it plural. And finally, to know a person’s gender from listening to a story, pay very close attention to details about the person and other aspects of the story. Chinese uses both context, and the written form to distinguish between male, female, and neuter when talking about something because all the pronouns are pronouns exactly the same way (ta1).