Q. I am writing a thesis for my university and use the pronoun “we” instead of “I.” For example, “From this, we can conclude that . . .” I personally think this looks more scientific than using the “I” pronoun. However, a colleague of mine states that if I am the only one writing the thesis and doing the research, I should use “I,” because otherwise readers might wonder who else wrote the document. Do you know which one is better to use in my case?

Q. Could you please give a definitive answer to the “its” versus “it’s” issue? I just came back from a writing conference, and the advice we received was contradictory to everything I was taught previously, as well as contradictory to what I can find online on college websites. Most writer’s websites that I’ve checked out are claiming that the ONLY time “its” is written as “it’s” would be when the meaning is “it is.” What happened to possessive nouns?

Q. Hi. My question is about the use of “you” versus “your” in a participial phrase. Which is correct: “I appreciate you helping keep the house clean” or “I appreciate your helping keep the house clean”? A little ghost from grade-school grammar tells me it is the latter, but I can’t find anything in CMOS that addresses this (although I’m sure it’s there and I’ve simply missed it).

Q. This is from today’s op-ed column in the Washington Post: “Two top fundraisers for Newt Gingrich quit Tuesday. . . . Neither Thomas nor Heitman returned an e-mail seeking comment on their departure.” Should that pronoun be plural, really?

Q. Should she or it be used as a pronoun for a country?

Q. I’ve always thought that to avoid confusion a pronoun should rename the closest noun to it, but an author says “the pronoun it is most naturally taken to repeat the subject of the sentence.” The pronoun in question renamed a noun that immediately preceded it (not the subject). Is the author correct? Should it always refer to the subject rather than to the closest noun or pronoun?

August Q&A

Q. I hope I’m not losing my mind. I’ve been told that “they” and “their” are used incorrectly in this sentence: “The telltale sign of a right-winger: they can’t write in English to save their lives.” I agree that it’s an awkward sentence, but is “they/their” used incorrectly? Thanks!

Q. I would swear that I saw a reference in your manual that approved of the use of “their” instead of a gender-biased singular pronoun. For example, “If the user has completed installing the program, they should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” instead of “If the user has completed installing the program, s/he should put the CD-ROM back in the package,” but on your Q&A, you dance around the answer to the question and suggest that you do NOT approve of the singular “their.” Can you tell us what is acceptable?

Q. PLEASE tell me what you are recommending when people need a gender-neutral singular possessive pronoun. In order to avoid saying “his mind” or “her mind” (or, God forbid, “his/her mind”) people are saying “their mind”—and it blows MY mind—unless, of course, those people could be sure “they” are “of one mind”! If you have a discussion on this issue, I’d be most happy to receive it or be directed to it.

Q. When referring to a zombie, should I use the relative pronoun who (which would refer to a person) or that (since, technically, the zombie is no longer living)? Essentially, does a zombie cease to become a “person” in the grammatical sense?