She is a feminine third-person, singular personal pronoun (subjective case) in Modern English. In 1999, the American Dialect Society chose "she" as the word of the past millennium.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender)SubjectObjectDependent PossessiveIndependent PossessiveReflexive
Singular
FirstImemyminemyself
Secondyouyouryoursyourself
ThirdMasculinehehimhishimself
Femininesheherhersherself
Neuterititsitself
Epicenetheythemtheirtheirsthemselves
Plural
Firstweusouroursourselves
Secondyouyouryoursyourselves
Thirdtheythemtheirtheirsthemselves

Usage

The use of she for I (also for you and he) is common in literary representations of Highland English.

  • " 'And here she comes,' said Donald, as Captain Dalgetty entered the hall." — Walter Scott, The Legend of Montrose iv (1819).

She is additionally used instead of it for things to which feminine gender is conventionally attributed: a ship or boat (especially in colloquial and dialect use), often said of a carriage, a cannon or gun, a tool or utensil of any kind, and occasionally of additional things.

  • HMS Elizabeth was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 17 October 1769 at Portsmouth Dockyard. She was broken up in 1797.

She refers to abstractions personified as feminine, and additionally for the soul, a city, a country, an army, the Church, and others.

  • "Stanley had been ridiculing the habit of personifying the Church as a woman, and speaking of it tenderly as she." — George C. Brodrick, Memory and Impressions (1900) 252
  • "With all the pompous titles … bestowed upon France, she isn't more than half so powerful as she might be." — The Annual Register III. Miscellaneous Essays (1760) 203
  • "[He] told the Ambassadour, that the Turkes army was at Malta, and that she had saccaged the towne." — Thomas Washington tr. Nicholay’s Voyages i. xiii. (1585) 14 b

Rarely and archaically, she referred to an immaterial thing without personification. Also of natural objects considered to be feminine, as the moon, or the planets that are named after goddesses; additionally of a river (now rare), formerly of the sea, a tree, etc. William Caxton in 1483 (The Golden Legende 112 b/2) and Robert Parke in 1588 (tr. Mendoza’s Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, 340) used she for the sun, but this might possibly be due to misprint; survival of the Old English grammatical gender can hardly be supposed, but Caxton might have been influenced by the fact that the sun is feminine in Dutch.

She has been used for her, as an object or governed by a preposition, both in literary use (now rare), or vulgarly, as an emphatic oblique (object) case.

  • "I want no angel, only she." — Olive Schreiner Story African Farm ii. xiii. (1889) 284
  • " 'I hope—our presence didn't inconvenience—the young lady?' 'Bless your heart, sir! nothing ever inconveniences she'." — Miss Dinah Mulock Craik, John Halifax, gentleman x (1856).

She is additionally used attributively, applied to female animals, as in: she-ass, -ape, -bear, -dog, -dragon, -sheep, -wolf, -lion [really a punning distortion of shilling], -stock, and -stuff [in the U.S. = cattle]. When applied to persons, it is now somewhat contemptuous, as in she-being, -cousin, -dancer, -thief, and others. She-friend meant a female friend, often in bad sense, that is, a mistress; but she-saint, was simply a female saint. Rarely she was additionally prefixed to masculine nouns in place of the (later frequent) feminine suffix -ess.

  • "They took her for their Patroness, and consequently for their she God." — Daniel Brevint, Saul and Samuel at Endor, vii. (1674) 161.

It has additionally been prefixed to nouns with the sense "that is a woman", often in disparaging use but additionally with intensive force, as she-woman. Now it is somewhat rare:

  • "Some she-malady, a few unhealthy wanton, Fires thee verily." — Robinson Ellis, The poems and fragments of Catullus, vi. (1871) 4
  • "Correlative to the he-man is the she-woman, who's equally undesirable." — B. Russell, New Hopes for changing World (1951) 162

Origin

According to Dennis Baron's Grammar and Gender:

In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces "ou" to Middle English epicene "a", used by the fourteenth century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" for he, she, it, they, and even I. This "a" is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = "he" and heo = "she". By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, these had often weakened to a point where, according to the OED, they were "almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation." The modern feminine pronoun she, which first appears in the mid twelfth century, seems to have been drafted at least partly to reduce the increasing ambiguity of the pronoun system…

Probably, the etymology of she derived from an alteration of the Old English feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun: seo 'that' one. In Middle English, the new feminine pronoun she seems to have been intentionally artificial, to fulfil the linguistic need.