Usage and Grammar

Q. In reading a marketing piece written by a co-worker, I thought that the following sentence contained a possessive pronoun that disagrees in number with its antecedent: “We tailor each client’s portfolio to meet their investment objectives.” Personally, I think “their” should be “his,” “his/her,” or “its” because “each client” is singular. Another approach, in my opinion, would be to make the entire sentence plural, i.e., “We tailor our clients’ portfolios to meet their investment objectives.” However, that construction loses some of the connotation that each portfolio is individually constructed for each client. Please help!

A. Although your colleagues are using bad grammar, that construction is very popular and tough to fight. The use of “their” replaced the use of “his” as the latter pronoun came to be considered sexist. “His or her” can get annoying if used frequently. Writers of lengthy books or articles can use “his” in some passages and “her” in others. That’s not an option if you are writing a short document or a slogan, but rephrasing (often by changing the subject to a plural) is almost always possible. Since you don’t want a plural subject, you could say, “We tailor each portfolio to meet the client’s investment objectives.” For more ideas, see our “nine techniques for achieving gender neutrality” (CMOS 5.225).