On an intriguing statement from a friend, I started looking for the feminine pronoun for she היא in the Tanakh. One thing I noticed was that I couldn't find it in the Torah. I did find it fairly readily in the rest of the Tanakh. Eventually, I did find it in Genesis several places but only in the 'and she' והיא form. Is there a reason for this? I'm only about 6 months into my Hebrew studies and haven't come across a reason for this. Is there a significance in this difference example text to unpack can be Genesis 3:12 which uses הוא but is translated she?

WTT Genesis 3:12 וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הָֽאָדָ֑ם הָֽאִשָּׁה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר נָתַ֣תָּה עִמָּדִ֔י הִ֛וא נָֽתְנָה־לִּ֥י מִן־הָעֵ֖ץ וָאֹכֵֽל׃

NAS  Genesis 3:12 And the man said, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with
                  me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate."

Why is this not translated in the masculine as 'he' here? Both in modern English translations we use the feminine gender and in LXX the feminine αὕτη is used. Is context the only reason or is there something more?

  • 1
    May I suggest a small edit to your question in order to link it more firmly to Genesis 3:12. As you probably know BH does not discuss 'topics' and there may be vote closure on that basis. (I am up-voting your question). For the non-Hebrew experts (and I am one) could you kindly explain in your question how the detail you are commenting upon has a bearing on the meaning of the stated text.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 8, 2020 at 10:31
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    Thanks, I tried to avoid the topic dilemma by putting the verse in but hopefully a more poignant question appended will also help. Jan 9, 2020 at 4:16

1 Answer 1


First of all I have to mention an important thing: In the Tannakh the word "הוא" is usually 'he'.

But it can also be "she" - if there is a dot (חיריק - 'khirik') under the letter 'ה', then you have to read the word 'הוא' as 'היא' and that means 'she'.

(In the Tannakh sometimes the letters 'ו' and 'י' change between themselves.)

(There may be more signs under the letters- cantillation notes.)

In the regular Hebrew however, 'היא' is always 'she' and 'הוא' is always 'he'.

Actually the more common word in the Tannakh for she, is 'הִוא'. For example:

Genesis 12, 18:

וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה לְאַבְרָם וַיֹּאמֶר מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי לָמָּה לֹֽא-הִגַּדְתָּ לִּי כִּי אִשְׁתְּךָ הִֽוא:

I ran a search and found the word "היא" all over the Tanakh 4 times:

Genesis 14, 2:

עָשׂוּ מִלְחָמָה אֶת-בֶּרַע מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם וְאֶת-בִּרְשַׁע מֶלֶךְ עֲמֹרָה שִׁנְאָב | מֶלֶךְ אַדְמָה וְשֶׁמְאֵבֶר מֶלֶךְ (צביים) צְבוֹיִים וּמֶלֶךְ בֶּלַע הִיא-צֹֽעַר

Leviticus 11, 39:

וְכִי יָמוּת מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר-הִיא לָכֶם לְאָכְלָה הַנֹּגֵעַ בְּנִבְלָתָהּ יִטְמָא עַד-הָעָֽרֶב

Leviticus 16 31:

שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן הִיא לָכֶם וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת-נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם חֻקַּת עוֹלָֽם

Leviticus 21, 9:

וּבַת אִישׁ כֹּהֵן כִּי תֵחֵל לִזְנוֹת אֶת-אָבִיהָ הִיא מְחַלֶּלֶת בָּאֵשׁ תִּשָּׂרֵֽף

  • Thanks! I didn't realize the niqqud (haven't heard it called khirik before) had more of an impact than just pronunciation. I missed the Lev 21:9 reference. The prior three aren't for 'She' I should have asked the question differently like why isn't היא used for she in the Torah or something like that. Do we know why the Torah seems to only have one usage of היא for she and the Tanakh uses it all over? Jan 16, 2020 at 7:06
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    Every dot or sign has its own name. khirik is pronounced as the vowel i. Another important thing also about Hebrew- there is no difference between 'she' when refers to an animal or a noun, ('it' in English) and 'she' when refers to a human female. In Hebrew, every noun has a gender- feminine or masculine. (e.g. like in Spanish) and there is no 'it' just he (hu "הוא") and she ('hi' - "היא") for example a table is masculine. therefore when talking about a table I can say- ('It is big') -"הוא גדול"
    – Efra
    Jan 16, 2020 at 17:11
  • Interestingly, all my searches about khirik come up with Yiddish related things. Do you speak/use Yiddish? (German dialect that mixes in a lot of Hebrew) I also have been taught that היא is pronounced hee not hi with an 'i' as in eye. I was aware of the gendered only pronouns but it's very helpful information if others had not known. Thank you. Jan 17, 2020 at 4:27
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    about the khirik- it's hiriq, i checked it. And about she it's actually hee. I am sorry for the mistake.
    – Efra
    Jan 18, 2020 at 17:24

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