Bill in Los Angeles wrote recently to ask about agreement issues.
“Which of these,” he asked, “is correct? 1. When women smoke, they may damage their fetus. 2. When women smoke, they may damage their fetuses. Joseph Williams’ ‘Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace’ gives No. 1 with the singular as the correct answer. What is the rule for this problem? To be honest, I’ve polled a dozen grammar experts across the country and received different answers. Each expert seems pretty certain that he or she is right.”
I find it very interesting that Bill has received different answers for this. I can’t imagine why someone would think the singular “fetus” would be preferable. (Then again, I’m writing this before I’ve had my coffee. So maybe that’s why.)