him or his getting rich

timpeac

Senior Member
English (England)
Split from another thread - discussing which is correct -

I am envious of his getting rich or

I am envious of him getting rich

elroy said:
"Him," albeit ;) used colloquially, is incorrect in standard English. In a formal context, it should indeed be "his."

Well, I'm sure I have always said and written him - and no teacher has ever corrected it. Since there is no definitive list of rules that are "standard English" and not, just a kind of "feeling" perpetuated by teachers, perhaps this is just something that American teachers feel more strongly about than English ones.

Out of interest - on what basis do you say that this use of "him" is not standard, or indeed that "his" is standard usage?

Edit - in fact, take it to the 3rd person and the direct object seems even more appropriate - in

I notice the world spinning
I notice the world's spinning

I would prefer the former.

Equally

I see the cat and hear it purring
I see the cat and hear its purring

the first seems better (being careful not to confuse the second with "it's purring" which would be equally fine).
 
  • elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    timpeac said:
    Well, I'm sure I have always said and written that - and no teacher has ever corrected it. Since there is no definitive list of rules that are "standard English" and not, just a kind of "feeling" perpetuated by teachers, perhaps this is just something that American teachers feel more strongly about than English ones.

    Out of interest - on what basis do you say that this use of "him" is not standard, or indeed that "his" is standard usage?

    Edit - in fact, take it to the 3rd person and the direct object seems even more appropriate - in

    I notice the world spinning
    I notice the world's spinning

    I would prefer the former.

    Equally

    I see the cat and hear it purring
    I see the cat and hear its purring

    the first seems better (being careful not to confuse the second with "it's purring" which would be equally fine).

    In the original sentence, "him" is incorrect because it is the "getting rich" that you are envious of. Of course, you could say "I am envious of him" but if you say "I am envious of him getting rich" the "getting rich" is left hanging; its grammatical function is not clear. If "him" is the direct object, what is "getting rich" doing? Describing it? Hardly. If you think about it logically (regardless of what is "standard" ;)), you will also conclude that "getting rich" is the direct object here.

    Looking at the examples you mention:

    "I notice the world spinning" is ok because "world" is your object here. "Spinning" functions perfectly as an adjective. You are noticing the world, and it is spinning. You could also say "I notice the world's spinning," in this case laying the emphasis on the spinning, which happens to be the world's.

    Same goes for "I see the cat and hear it purring." The object is "it," and "purring" is an adjective. I hear the cat, and it is purring - as opposed to "I hear its purring," which would mean "I hear the purring, which happens to be the cat's."

    Of course there is no academy for the English language, but there are a set of rules that govern standard usage. I am fairly certain this is one of them. I'm actually surprised British usage does not agree with mine. :)
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    elroy said:
    In the original sentence, "him" is incorrect because it is the "getting rich" that you are envious of. Of course, you could say "I am envious of him" but if you say "I am envious of him getting rich" the "getting rich" is left hanging; its grammatical function is not clear. If "him" is the direct object, what is "getting rich" doing? Describing it? Hardly. If you think about it logically (regardless of what is "standard" ;)), you will also conclude that "getting rich" is the direct object here.

    Ah, maybe herein lies our difference. I don't agree with that. You can't be envious of "getting rich" can you? Or if you are I would say that is eliptic for being envious of someone who has got rich. It seems to me you can only be envious of someone, and in that case you are evious of that someone because they are getting rich. So yes - in a logical analysis I would say "him" is a direct object being described by the getting rich.

    In either case, I think you could argue it either way, so this would not be a strong enough logical argument to convince me of the "natural sense" of the rule.

    And yes - for us this is not one of those old "rules" you hear during your school days à la thou wilt not end a sentence with a preposition. I've always considered it a fairly neutral stylistic distinction.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    timpeac said:
    Ah, maybe herein lies our difference. I don't agree with that. You can't be envious of "getting rich" can you? Or if you are I would say that is eliptic for being envious of someone who has got rich. It seems to me you can only be envious of someone, and in that case you are evious of that someone because they are getting rich. So yes - in a logical analysis I would say "him" is a direct object being described by the getting rich.

    In either case, I think you could argue it either way, so this would not be a strong enough logical argument to convince me of the "natural sense" of the rule.

    And yes - for us this is not one of those old "rules" you hear during your school days à la thou wilt not end a sentence with a preposition. I've always considered it a fairly neutral stylistic distinction.

    Hm....I think you can, in fact, be envious of the "getting rich," as per "I am envious of his success." Elliptical or not, I think you can be envious both of people and of their qualities/achievements/possessions.

    The reason I can't swallow "getting rich" as an adjective here is that the "getting rich" is not simultaneous with the statement. In the examples you gave, the world was spinning and the cat was purring at the time that the statements were made. The sentence we have is more "after-the-fact," and that's why I think you can say "I envy him" (now that he is rich) or "I envy his getting rich" (that's the characteristic of his that I currently envy). "I envy him getting rich" would mean, strictly speaking, that I envy him as he is getting rich right now - and that's not logical.

    Anyway, that's my take on it. That's what I learned, and I'm convinced of the logic behind it. I'd be interested in hearing what others have to say about it. :)
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    elroy said:
    The reason I can't swallow "getting rich" as an adjective here is that the "getting rich" is not simultaneous with the statement.

    OK, I see your point here - so you would be happy with "I am envious of him having got rich" then (or "gotten rich" for you as an AE speaker I suppose)?

    Hmm, as I say I see your point but I think it is probably a bit much to expect the vast majority of people to make such a distinction consistently. It certainly wouldn't have occurred to me without all that dialogue above.

    I too would be interested to hear which sounds best to other BE and AE speakers. Who knows, maybe this usage is vilified consistently throughout England apart from at my old school and I have been constantly embarassing myself with my slovenly usage:p ;)

    Edit - I forgot to say - yes you can be envious of someone's success, his jewels, her good looks, the king's mountains, but note in each case someone must be involved. You can't be envious of mountains period - this is what leads me to believe that ellipsis is involved and the real object of envy is the person.
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I would say either
    I am envious of his getting rich
    I am envious of him for getting rich (I like this one better.)

    I understand Timpeac's objection to envious of ... getting rich. I'd probably use it anyhow; in that case, I'd be treating "getting rich" as the object, and it would be his action that got me all green.

    If I'm envious of him, which I agree is more likely, then I'd be envious of him for getting rich.
     
    timpeac said:
    Edit - I forgot to say - yes you can be envious of someone's success, his jewels, her good looks, the king's mountains, but note in each case someone must be involved. You can't be envious of mountains period - this is what leads me to believe that ellipsis is involved and the real object of envy the person.

    I'm not a native English speaker, so I just want to drop in my two cents as an outsider...

    I'm envious of his getting rich.

    Here the person IS involved because you're using the possesive adjective that shows whose getting rich you're envious of, so you're envious of that person because of having gotten rich. That's the way I see it. I don't argue the fact that the other way is more commonly used, but maybe as I'm not influenced by the colloquial usage I find that using the possesive adjective makes more sense.

    Regards.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    It seems as if we're all in general agreement: speakers of American English, speakers of British English, non-natives, and everyone in between. ;)

    Just to reply to Tim, though: no, I would not say "him having gotten rich," either. There's still no simultaneous description of "him." The problem with this structure is that it's almost as if you had a "double object." I think of an adjective as adding explanatory information, not directly related to the verb/preposition. For example,

    I am envious of him, strolling down the park in his new jeans.

    "Strolling down the park in his new jeans" is not what I am envious of. I am envious of him, for whatever reason (context would explain).

    Whereas:

    I am envious of his strolling down the park in his new jeans.

    would mean that I am envious of him for strolling down the park in his new jeans; i.e. I wish I could be doing that.

    At the end of the day, however, "him strolling..." is used colloquially; it's just not advisable in formal contexts.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    elroy said:
    At the end of the day, however, "him strolling..." is used colloquially; it's just not advisable in formal contexts.

    In your opinion!! I have never heard this from anyone but you...indeed no one else has chimed in to say they have heard the same rule, just one native speaker who like me would say either and a non-native who prefers the perceived "logic" behind "his" - but that doesn't make "him" wrong (and as outlined above I would question that logic, or at least present an equally valid (more valid in my opinion) argument for "him").
     

    elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    timpeac said:
    In your opinion!! I have never heard this from anyone but you...indeed no one else has chimed in to say they have heard the same rule, just one native speaker who like me would say either and a non-native who prefers the perceived "logic" behind "his" - but that doesn't make "him" wrong (and as outlined above I would question that logic, or at least present an equally valid (more valid in my opinion) argument for "him").

    It's unfortunate that others haven't chimed in. I really would be interested in hearing what more people have heard/learned/studied/used (if anything at all ;)). However, I don't think Kelly said she'd say either (Kelly, correct me if I'm wrong): she suggested either "his getting rich" or "him for getting rich," which are both acceptable to me. It's "him getting rich" that I find grammatically incorrect.

    I think what's happening is that because it sounds good to you (which is natural, since everyone says it all the time - even I do), you are tempted to place it in the same category as "I see the cat purring." When you think about it, though, I think you'll see that "getting rich" is not really adjectival in "him getting rich"; you are not adding explanatory information about "him"; indeed, the "him" and the "getting rich" are so intrinsically related (because they constitute the entity of which you are envious) that they express one idea: hence, "his getting rich."

    This exercise has highlighted the difference between colloquial English and the English to be used in formal settings. At the end of the day, I may not be able to convince you (or anyone else) of the "logic" behind the "his" construction, because it's very subtle and the "him" option is by far more common in colloquial English.
     

    E-J

    Senior Member
    England, English
    I will chime in and say that I believe elroy's assessment to be correct. However, as with the oft-debated who/whom, the grammatically "correct" option sometimes sounds so unnatural to our modern ears that it's avoided in everyday speech. I would pretty much always use "him" colloquially but "his" in careful written English.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Excuse me, Elroy, but I understand perfectly the logic behind your argument despite it being so subtle and I say so above. I also give another argument that would lend weight to the person being the object.

    I am not trying to be convinced by a logical argument that this usage is colloquial or standard becuase there is no such link. There are perfectly logical colloquialisms and illogical standard usages.

    I am trying to find out why you are so convinced this is a clear colloquialism. I have been through a fairly extensive education and although of course it is perfectly possible that I have a gap here I have never had this "rule" pointed out to me before so that naturally makes me wonder why and where it might come from - even if I 100% agreed with it being the only logical choice that would not convince me it was standard or colloquial, there is simply no connection.

    You keep stating that there is a clear standard/colloquial break between the two. Up until EJ's message here you were the only one claiming that. If there is a perfectly normal usage (by which I mean common) which you claim not to be standard usage then I think the onus is on you to explain why (for example "19th centuary grammarian xxxx disliked it in his book yyy" or "it is a common rule taught by American primary school teachers" "my mum told me when I was small" whatever as opposed to why you think it should be standard, which is what you keep doing above - and I repeat whether it should be standard due to its inherent logic is not relevant (as is whether I agree or not about it having any inherent logic)).

    I am perfectly happy to find out this is an unwritten rule, that's fairly common which I just haven't come across before, but I don't think there is much to be gained by trying to prove a usage's worth by how logical it is.

    E-J have you heard this rule before then?
     

    E-J

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Unfortunately I was kind (stupid) enough to give away the excellent book on English usage that I used to use for teaching, so I can't refer to it anymore ... but I've just found this online about the possessive-before-a-gerund "rule" (I'm using quotes there because ultimately the article doesn't resolve the debate ... it simply acknowledges that there IS one, but is quite interesting nevertheless):

    http://dianahacker.com/writersref/subpages_language/posgerund.html
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I can see both sides of the argument. :eek: I basically agree with elroy that the 'his' is more 'correct' because it's more logical and more grammatically satisfying (ooh baby!). The nuances he describes are useful (in my opinion) and in formal writing I would try and make sure I used the possessive where appropriate. But I also agree with Tim that the difference is moribund, if not dead already, in BE, and there aren't many people who would bother reading the obituary. (But maybe (hopefully?) others disagree.) I think older people would be careful to use the possessive, but not younger people. The 'him' form is a bit of a cuckoo that has displaced the other one in normal speech. I don't think it would strike any alarm bells if I heard it, and I wouldn't consider it incorrect.

    Having said that I would like to point out the unfairness of Tim's supporting evidence: 'I notice the world spinning' and 'I hear the cat purring' both involve verbs of perception, and they follow their own rules. (There, for example, you have another choice: 'I hear the cat purr' which has no equivalent in the 'envious' sentence.) How about some more sentences, such as

    'I am looking forward to him/his leaving home'

    or

    'I am intrigued by him/his going jogging in his underwear the other night'.

    I wouldn't use 'him' in the last sentence, but it would be OK in the first one. Why? Or, if you're really hungry for some grammar, the following sentence and the analysis that follows, taken from a French book about English grammar and translated (hastily and clumsily) by myself:


    She had a girlfriend at work she confided in one time about her husband--about his being on the sofa all the time. (R. Carver, Preservation)

    [...] The notional subject of the gerund, <he>, may appear as a genitive (his), but also as an object pronoun: about him being on the sofa all the time. The difference between the two constructions is often described in terms of register: the construction with him is often considered more familiar--and even incorrect by some. But there are other differences. It is possible, for example, to make a short pause after him which would not be possible after his. This points to the fact that there is no break between his and being, that they form a coherent, joined unit, as is always the case between a possessive determiner and its noun. The use of the genitive reveals that being on the sofa constitutes the theme of the statement. At that point the gerund brings a sense of process to this theme. It is this nature of process that is highlighted: the secret confided really concerns the process /BE ON THE SOFA/, not the agent of the process, <he>. With the object pronoun him, it is the pronoun itself that receives the focus (him as opposed to someone else). The sentence would mean that the secret confided concerns both the referent of him and the process that is identified with him. This is why such a construction would be a little unnatural in this context: the person who is the object of of the secret confided (her husband = him) has already been mentioned as such in the preceding clause. It is only the process that constitutes new information.
     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Aupick said:
    'I am looking forward to him/his leaving home'

    or

    'I am intrigued by him/his going jogging in his underwear the other night'.

    Aupick,

    if you taught 'I am intrigued by his going jogging in his underwear the other night' those students, if speaking in Britain, would sound not wrong but rather posh. In most society it would sound a little out of place. British speakers would use him even if, when questioned on it, they said that his was correct.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Ooh, I'm so unfair;) Exceptions always "follow their own rules" if they go against a rule you want to support.

    You say older people would be careful to use the possessive, yet according to E-J's source this usage has been going out of fashion for 300 years - they live a long time in your family!!:D
     

    Kelly B

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Elroy, yes, you understood me correctly.
    Aupick, thank you for articulating the argument so well. I agree completely, nearly point-by-point (except for the genitive bit, when my eyes glazed over, by which I do not mean I disagreed).
    Perhaps I can raise this post above the chat level by saying it doesn't appear to be an AE/BE issue....
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Kelly B said:
    Elroy, yes, you understood me correctly.
    Aupick, thank you for articulating the argument so well. I agree completely, nearly point-by-point (except for the genitive bit, when my eyes glazed over, by which I do not mean I disagreed).
    Perhaps I can raise this post above the chat level by saying it doesn't appear to be an AE/BE issue....

    No, I humbly agree that this is certainly an existing polemic I was unaware of. I have the feeling I was none the poorer for that unawareness though;) . It sounds like the "his" construction is less used in BE, for all the excellent explanations of the difference in nuance between the two Aupick does agree it is either moribund or dead in the UK, which probably explains why those teachers I had who would have complained about a misplaced "whom" never mentioned it.
     

    Auryn

    Senior Member
    France, French
    Which sounds more unnatural, my using the possessive before a gerund or me not using the possessive before a gerund?
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I've been reading this thread with interest since it started, and have scratched my head a wee bit over it, but have yet to chime in. Why? Well, a couple of reasons, but primarily because any grammar/style/usage book I could use for reference is packed away in a box. Shame on me, I know.

    In short, I greatly prefer and use the possessive construction. It seems a more "natural" fit to my ears. Perhaps it is an AE thing, perhaps it is a "me" thing. Regardless, "him getting rich" in the context given, just sounds "wrong to me."

    For what it is worth, here is how I would break it down grammatically. (Breaking down a bit more what Auryn mentioned).

    I think we can all agree that the following are correct in both AE and BE:

    I envy him. :tick:
    I envy his success. :tick:
    I am envious of him. :tick:
    I am envious of his success. :tick:

    However, the issue begins to get cloudy when you add an noun object that contains a gerund construction, i.e. getting rich.

    The question becomes the function of "getting rich." To my ears, and eyes, it functions as the object of the preposition of, and not as an object compliment to the object pronoun him.

    If we were to break down a few examples, this would be:

    I am envious of him. (him functions as "object of preposition" of)

    I am envious of [his (getting rich)] the entire object compliment includes possessive pronoun + possessive object

    I am envious of [him getting rich] How can you have an object compliment to a direct object pronoun? Objects don't have their own objects.

    Functionally speaking, if you were to change the object of the preposition "of" from a gerund to a regular noun object, you would have:

    I am envious of him. :tick:
    I am envious of his success. :tick:
    I am envious of him success. :cross:

    Now, which makes sense to you here?
     

    Eugens

    Senior Member
    Argentina Spanish
    I have a question...

    I dreamt about you being in a car accident.
    I dreamt about your being in a car accident.

    Do these sentences mean the same? I have the impression that the first means that you may never have been in a car accident but I dreamt (while sleeping) that you were in one, whereas the second I think it means that you actually were in one and then, I dreamt about that... Is this impression totally misguided?
    Thank you in advance.
     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Eugens said:
    I have a question...

    I dreamt about you being in a car accident.
    I dreamt about your being in a car accident.

    Do these sentences mean the same? I have the impression that the first means that you may never have been in a car accident but I dreamt (while sleeping) that you were in one, whereas the second I think it means that you actually were in one and then, I dreamt about that... Is this impression totally misguided?
    Thank you in advance.

    Yes, you are right.
     
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