Q. What is your preference for expletives (as in CMOS 5.30)? I have been taught that “It’s important that you eat breakfast” should be changed by a vigilant editor to something else, like “You really should eat breakfast” or “Breakfast is an important meal of the day.” Are expletives acceptable or not preferred?
Q. I have seen some texts using the pronoun her to refer to a business: “Apple’s profit was high due to her impressive product designs.” I would like to learn when I should use the feminine pronoun and when I should avoid it.
Q. This is an excerpt from an investigative report:
Officer Doe said that Sgt. Smith takes sleeping pills while on duty. Officer Jones stated that on a couple of occasions, Sgt. Smith gave him sleeping pills to help him relax. When asked what time of day he would take these pills, Officer Jones responded, around 11:30 p.m.
It was unclear to me who he referred to, and I asked the writer for clarification. The answer I received from the writer was “The pronoun he refers to the last male proper name mentioned, therefore Jones, but I’ll make it clearer.” I had not heard this before. Is this a rule of writing?
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?
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’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?
Q. Should she or it be used as a pronoun for a country?
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. 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?