I've seen 彼 and even sometimes 彼氏 described in several dictionaries as a pronoun that can refer to a person of any gender, while 彼女 is explicitly female. However in the wild ive never seen a woman referred to with 彼, but its also possible i dont see it, just as a second-language speaker of English may not realize "his" in "Every man must choose his fate" can refer to a person of any gender as it's a very subtle distinction.

So my question is this — when in modern day practice can 彼 refer to a person of either gender?

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    I think including those relevant dictionary definitions would make for a better question. May 27 '20 at 14:12
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    What you are referencing is called "markedness" in linguistic. Native Japanese speakers use pronouns much less frequently in Japanese than native English speakers use pronouns in English.
    – rppkgai
    May 27 '20 at 14:17
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    dictionary.goo.ne.jp/word/%E5%BD%BC_%28%E3%81%8B%E3%82%8C%29 Definition 2 here. 彼 without regard for gender is pretty archaic.
    – Angelos
    May 27 '20 at 14:28
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    @Aeon Right, the definition you linked says right in it that it’s not longer used. So I was wondering dictionary OP was using that made it unclear. May 27 '20 at 15:55
  • Maybe that's obvious to others, and not to me perhaps because I am not an English native speaker, but how come "Every man ..." can refer to a person of any gender?
    – jarmanso7
    May 30 '20 at 6:20

彼{かれ} always refers to a male person in modern Japanese.

Historically, it was used to refer to something far away (like あれ in modern Japanese), and as a result was compatible with females as well, but that usage is no longer possible. Vestiges of that usage can be seen in 彼{か}の〜 (largely equivalent to あの) which is still used in modern Japanese.

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    And in fact the etymology of 彼女 is 彼{か}の女. May 29 '20 at 17:03

The meaning of 彼 depends on the reading. If it's read かれ and is singular (i.e., not 彼ら), then it refers to a male.

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    彼ら literally refers to something like '(the guy we were talking about) and others in his group', so while there can be females in that group, 彼 is still referring to a man. So it's less a function of 彼's meaning changing and more just how ら works. May 27 '20 at 22:58
  • @DariusJahandarie 彼's meaning does change, based on the reading. It's not always read かれ and doesn't always refer to a man. May 29 '20 at 15:58
  • If you are talking about 彼{か}, sure. I was responding to your parenthetical note about 彼ら. May 29 '20 at 16:55
  • @DariusJahandarie The paren was just to avoid suggesting that 彼ら refers only to males. For the other readings, I was thinking in terms of あ and あれ. So this was a misunderstanding I guess. May 29 '20 at 20:49

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