when the possessive is NOT possible before a gerund

KHS

Senior Member
I have reviewed several threads that deal with whether to use the possessive or object form of a noun/pronoun before a gerund. For the most part, they say that it is more formal to use the possessive form, more informal to use the object form. However, take a look at the following example:

-----------------------------
I am sending a text file with some sentences (with both the written form and the elided pronunciation written down). Along with that is an audio file with me pronouncing the different sentences.
------------------------------


I think that, in this example, you CANNOT use the possessive form:
...an audio file with *my pronouncing the.... (bad)
(Does anyone think that that is acceptable?)


Yet, you can say:
He agrees with John's/your/my submitting the proposal.


Perhaps it is the relationship of the pronoun to the preposition. That is, you can (more or less) omit the noun or pronoun in the second example (He agrees with submitting the proposal.)

However, you CANNOT omit the pronoun in the first example:
* ...an audio file with pronouncing the sentences...


So, in the second example, the gerund phrase appears to be the object. Perhaps in the first it is essentially the pronoun ME which is the object (ie, reduced from the idea of "with me, who is doing the action of pronouncing...")


Any other ideas on this that would indicate an overall pattern?
 
  • Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I think that, in this example, you CANNOT:tick: use the possessive form:
    ...an audio file with *my pronouncing the.... (bad)
    (Does anyone think that that is acceptable?):cross:

    Yet, you can say:
    He agrees with John's/your/my submitting the proposal.
    He agrees with John submitting the proposal (much more natural)
    If you're using possesive here, it makes me want to add "of the...", which doesn't sound correct in the sentence.

    However, you CANNOT:tick: omit the pronoun in the first example:
    * ...an audio file with pronouncing the sentences...
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I use the word gerund to refer to "verb-ing" forms only when they function as nouns.

    In your sentence, I would call "pronouncing" a participle that is functioning as an adjective, describing "me". The recordings are of you - you when you are pronouncing. That is, I agree with you that it is essentially the pronoun ME which is the object, and so would not refer to "pronouncing" as a gerund.
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    Alex - I'm glad you agree with my assessment of not using the possessive form.

    However, a bigger question for me is WHAT THE PATTERN IS that prohibits the possessive before the gerund in this and (some) other sentences, while in others the possessive is simply more formal but quite acceptable (and even preferable, depending on the context).
     
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    KHS

    Senior Member
    I use the word gerund to refer to "verb-ing" forms only when they function as nouns.

    In your sentence, I would call "pronouncing" a participle that is functioning as an adjective, describing "me". The recordings are of you - you when you are pronouncing. That is, I agree with you that it is essentially the pronoun ME which is the object, and so would not refer to "pronouncing" as a gerund.
    thanks for the idea, Cagey...but I don't think that we are saying that the sentences are "pronouncing sentences," as we would say "interesting sentences" - especially with an article in between the verb-ing form and the noun (pronouncing the sentences).

    I don't know - perhaps you look at it a different way when deciding if it's functioning as an adjective?
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    No, pronouncing describes "me". You say "me pronouncing the sentences", as you might say, "a picture of me standing by the Grand Canyon." These participles modify the nouns (or pronouns) in the same way their equivalent clauses would: me when I am pronouncing the sentences; a picture of me when I am standing by the Grand Canyon.

    I call these "participle phrases". When participles have objects, they tend to follow the noun they modify.
     
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    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I concur with Cagey.

    The structure here is similar to the following:
    This is a photograph of me smiling at the camera.
    I heard them singing in the rehearsal room.
    We saw him walking in the garden.


    The use of the participle is not the same use that is seen here:
    The teacher was offended by my smiling at his explanation.
    The director criticized their singing of the chorus.
    The property owner objected to his walking in the garden without permission.

    If the sentence given were slightly reworded to make the act of pronouncing, rather than "me", the object of the pronoun "with", you could use "my":
    Along with that is an audio file with my pronouncing of the different sentences.

    This would not be as natural as "... my pronunciation of the different sentences", but it would mean the same thing, and would not be ungrammatical.
     

    Grumpy Old Man

    Senior Member
    In addition to the original example there are numerous cases where the possessive form is not possible for the subject of a gerund for the simple reason that some words are not used in the genitive:

    He insisted on English being spoken.

    This isn't a problem as gerunds are not complete nouns anyway; rather, they are a cross between a noun and a verb.
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    Oh, so Cagey and Green White Blue, you are actually agreeing with my hypothesis in the original post?

    I was confused because I thought you were proposing a new reason, but you were actually just restating my idea in a somewhat different way? (or am I misinterpreting again?)
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Oh, so Cagey and Green White Blue, you are actually agreeing with my hypothesis in the original post?

    I was confused because I thought you were proposing a new reason, but you were actually just restating my idea in a somewhat different way? (or am I misinterpreting again?)
    I thought, KHS, that you were saying that in some cases one couldn't use the possessive with the gerund, while we were taking the view that in your examples you weren't dealing with a gerund at all, but a pronoun moderated by a verbal adjective. These views strike me as different. Have I missed a point somewhere?
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    I thought, KHS, that you were saying that in some cases one couldn't use the possessive with the gerund, while we were taking the view that in your examples you weren't dealing with a gerund at all, but a pronoun moderated by a verbal adjective. These views strike me as different. Have I missed a point somewhere?
    Ah. I think I've got it. My hypothesis (at the end) was correct, but my terminology was lacking?
     
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    dj4x1z

    New Member
    USA, English
    Can someone clarify Grumpy Old Man's point for me?

    For example, I once came across the sentence:
    I don't plan on hooking up my telephone, so don't count on this being a good way to get a hold of me.

    Would 'this' be an example of a noun that has no genitive case to use before the gerund, like 'English' in Grumpy's post? Stylistically, I would prefer avoiding such a phrase in favor of "He insisted that everyone speak English" or something like that. But is it grammatical?

    Thanks in advance
    dj
     

    Grumpy Old Man

    Senior Member
    Can someone clarify Grumpy Old Man's point for me?

    For example, I once came across the sentence:
    I don't plan on hooking up my telephone, so don't count on this being a good way to get a hold of me.
    My pleasure. :) There is no historical justification to consider a gerund a noun. It is just as much a verb as it is a noun. The object form has been used as the subject of a gerund for centuries:

    I insist on him/his going there.

    On, being a preposition justifies him; going, being a gerund, justifies his. There has been vacillation for centuries. In recent decades it has become increasingly common to consider the possessive form the only correct one. This stems from the misconception that gerunds are nouns and therefore require a possessive form to be used.

    A gerund can have an object: Speaking English is easy. Nouns can't have objects!

    All nouns can have adjectival attributes. Examples:
    old furniture
    an old woman
    merry old England
    We saw a sad Susan.

    If a gerund were a noun, it could have an adjectival attribute as well:
    Correct speaking English is easy.

    Most people consider the above sentence wrong. However, the fact that we can put a possessive form before a gerund is an example of its nounlike character. A gerund can also be used in the plural, which is another similar property: I'm not interested in his doings. In this case his is a must.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] There is no historical justification to consider a gerund a noun. It is just as much a verb as it is a noun. [...] ... the misconception that gerunds are nouns [...]
    GOM, you seem to be referring to all -ing words as gerunds :confused:. As cagey shows in posts #3 & #6, and GWB in #7, the present participle (or a participial phrase) functions adjectivally, whereas the gerund functions as a noun. Some dictionaries declare that a gerund is a noun, or 'verbal noun'; others give it as a 'verb form functioning as a noun'.

    [...] The object form has been used as the subject of a gerund for centuries:

    I insist on him/his going there. [...]
    In "I insist on his going there", "going" is a gerund.
    In "I insist on him going there", "going" is a present participle, modifying the object pronoun "him".

    [...] A gerund can have an object: Speaking English is easy. Nouns can't have objects! [...]
    But nouns can be placed in apposition! E.g. "my friend Sue" (Which friend? – Sue). Here, "Speaking" is indeed a gerund (noun form) and "English" is a noun in apposition (Speaking which language? – English)

    [...] If a gerund were a noun, it could have an adjectival attribute as well:
    Correct speaking English is easy.

    Most people consider the above sentence wrong. [...]
    The gerund can have an adjectival attribute: "The correct speaking of English is easy".

    Ws:)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Absolutely, GWB, and those are some great examples of 'adjective + 2 nouns in apposition' that illustrate the 'noun status' of the gerund: the same examples could be imagined with "bicycle construction" or "ballet choreography" substituted for "...riding" and "...dancing" respectively.

    PS. I guess that was "safe bicycle-riding" rather than "safe-bicycle riding" ;)

    Ws:)
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Along with that is an audio file with my pronouncing of the different sentences.

    This would not be as natural as "... my pronunciation of the different sentences", but it would mean the same thing, and would not be ungrammatical.
    Not only would that not be as natural, but it wouldn't work, in my opinion. "My pronouncing" refers to the act/process of pronouncing, which is not what the audio file contains. The audio file contains my pronunciation of the sentences (the product of the act of pronouncing).

    Whether or not it's ungrammatical, the sentence simply would not be used with that meaning (at least not in the English I speak :D).
    In "I insist on him going there", "going" is a present participle, modifying the object pronoun "him".
    In theory, yes, but in practice that doesn't make sense. I do not insist on him, who happens to be going there. What I insist on is that he go there (= his going there).
    But nouns can be placed in apposition! E.g. "my friend Sue" (Which friend? – Sue). Here, "Speaking" is indeed a gerund (noun form) and "English" is a noun in apposition (Speaking which language? – English)
    No, that is not true. An appositive follows a noun or pronoun and renames it; English does not rename speaking. It is indeed an object of speaking. Grumpy Old Man is right. Gerunds exhibit features of both nouns and verbs; they can take objects just as verbs can.
     

    Grumpy Old Man

    Senior Member
    The gerund can have an adjectival attribute: "The correct speaking of English is easy".
    Much of the confusion and disagreement - or "disagreement" - arises from the fact that terminology varies somewhat in various parts of the world.

    I have no objection to people considering going a participle in I insist on him going there even though I prefer to call it a gerund. As to The correct speaking of English is easy, I regard speaking as a full-fledged noun in that grammatical context, not a gerund. In my native language it is called verbaalisubstantiivi, a verbal noun, which means a noun derived from a verb by means of the ing-ending or inflection. I do know that even some serious grammarians consider speaking a gerund in this sentence, though.

    Those who think gerunds are nouns also think that nouns can have tenses, I suppose? Here's a gerund in the perfect tense:
    He admitted having made a mistake.

    I wonder how other nouns could be used in the perfect tense? Having furnitured? Having catted?

    Furthermore, a gerund can be used in the passive voice. Here is a passive gerund in the present tense:
    He isn't exactly crazy about being seen in my company.

    A passive gerund in the perfect tense:
    He wasn't exactly crazy about having been seen in my company.

    Being furnitured and having been furnitured don't sound good to my ear. Nouns are not used in the passive voice.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Grumpy Old Man, you're not being fair.

    Gerunds can be isolated (as in Reading is an enjoyable activity) or they can be part of a gerund phrase. A gerund phrase consists of a gerund plus modifiers and/or objects (because, as I said above, a gerund - being a verb form - can take adverbial modifiers and/or objects), and the whole gerund phrase functions as a noun.

    For example, in He admitted to having stolen the money, having stolen the money is a gerund phrase functioning as the object of the preposition to. Within the gerund phrase, the money functions as the object of having stolen, which is a perfect gerund.
     

    Grumpy Old Man

    Senior Member
    Grumpy Old Man, you're not being fair.

    the whole gerund phrase functions as a noun.
    I'm trying to be as fair as I possibly can, believe me! :) This is another case of confusing terminology - at least confusing for me. I completely agree with your reasoning. I am just not used to calling a phrase a noun. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, it just isn't done in the grammatical terminology I am familiar with.

    I have encountered lots of similar problems over the years but it would be off topic to dwell on them here. Students from all over the world probably have the hardest time when they have to try to make sense of what some call gerunds and some others call participles!:)

    I appreciate your comment, but what you call unfairness on my part is merely due to our different ways to analyze language.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Elroy, thanks for your enlightening post #20. It seems that, in my enthusiasm to balance Grumpy Old Man’s post #14, I extrapolated some base definitions a bit too far. My defence of the gerund’s noun status was no doubt conditioned by something once said by one of my English teachers, who was adamant about using the possessive (“his going”, never “him going”). He said “A gerund is not a verb in noun’s clothing; it is a noun born of a verb”.

    [...] No, that is not true. An appositive follows a noun or pronoun and renames it; English does not rename speaking. [...]
    I had never learnt the “renames” part of the definition. (Maybe I should have done the advanced course ;)). Blowing the dust off my old school-notes, I find apposition as “a grammatical construction in which two or more nouns or noun phrases are placed side by side, as attributive or adjunct terms, with one serving to define or modify the other.” Hence my interpretation of “Speaking English”.

    So OK, I retract my suggestion of apposition. Perhaps, instead, I should have suggested a similarity with compound nouns : “Coffee pots are essential” >> “English speaking is easy” >> (maybe) “Speaking English is easy” ... or maybe not, in case I’m extrapolating again.:eek:

    [...] In theory, yes, but in practice that doesn't make sense. I do not insist on him, who happens to be going there. What I insist on is that he go there (= his going there). [...]
    ... which seems a very good reason to use “his going there” (or “that he go there”), and nothim going there”!

    My ‘participle/gerund’ explanation would have worked better with, for example, “I saw him coming” / ”I saw his coming”. But you’re right, it doesn’t really work with “insist on”.

    So if the ‘participle’ argument is fragile, but in my view so is the argument of ‘object pronoun as a subject’, then it’s hard to justify “him going there” grammatically at all.

    By the way, I think there's a context where “him” would be the object of “insist on”, with “going” as a participle : “I insist on him going there, not the other guy”. You could leave out “going there” and it would still make sense : “I insist on him, not the other guy”.

    Ws:)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] As to The correct speaking of English is easy, I regard speaking as a full-fledged noun in that grammatical context, not a gerund. In my native language it is called verbaalisubstantiivi, a verbal noun, which means a noun derived from a verb by means of the ing-ending or inflection. I do know that even some serious grammarians consider speaking a gerund in this sentence, though.
    I think I see where some confusion is coming from. The blue text (colour added by me) sounds to me just like the definition of a gerund! I guess Finnish has a different definition of 'gerund'. Translating grammatical terms from one language to another (when grammatical structures can be so different) is a risky business.

    A gerund can have an object: Speaking English is easy. Nouns can't have objects!
    Although initially I suggested an alternative interpretation of the status of "English" here, I wasn't saying that a gerund can't have an object. For example, in "Running the shop is easy", I do hear "the shop" as the object of "Running" (perhaps the presence of "the" makes it ring differently to my ears?). But as a gerund is a noun :p;), the concept still bothers me.

    So I ran it past a friend who's in linguistics research. She suggested (not confirmed, not her specific area) that the modern form "Running the shop" might be a contraction of "The running of the shop". In the 'full version', the gerund "running" is clearly a noun form (verbs don't have definite articles!), so the question of an object doesn't arise. The shorter form would have been easily accepted because of the similarity to a 'verb + object' structure. But it would in fact be a defective form, and so would defy simple grammatical analysis — or, one might argue, would require any such analysis to take into account the missing elements, thus removing the apparent contradiction of nouns having objects. Well, it's just a theory. Maybe someone out there has done the appropriate historical research?

    Ws:)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Whoo!

    One thing previous discussions here have taught me is that there are two sorts of gerunds/verbal nouns in -ING.

    One is more "verby" and can take a direct/indirect object:
    Telling her the story was the wrong thing to do.

    The other is more "nouny" and can take a definite article:
    The recounting of the story was a mistake.

    Looking back at KHS' original question, it seems to me that there are two different answers.

    (1) where it is possible to construe the construction as an object pronoun plus a participle - with the meaning me/you/him/her/it/us/them when doing - then you don't use a possessive;

    (2) When we have the combination possessive/pronoun plus gerund, the possibilities depend on the type of gerund:
    My telling her the story was the wrong thing to do: formal
    My recounting of the story was a mistake: exceedingly formal.

    Me telling her the story was the wrong thing to do: probably ungrammatical in standard English.
    Me recounting of the story was a mistake: decidedly ungrammatical in standard English.

    The situation changes, though, depending on the role the gerund plays in the sentence:
    She didn't like my telling her the story: formal
    She didn't like me telling her the story: informal
    She didn't like my recounting of the story: formal
    She didn't like me recounting of the story: ungrammatical in standard English.

    I guess that when we are talking about possessives and gerunds, the object pronoun only works when it might work as a pronoun-plus-participle construction.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Loob, you're a gem. Here we all are debating "Is it a verb? — Is it a noun? —Is it Superman?"

    You have the perfect solution: verby gerunds and nouny gerunds. Now we can all keep our own ideas of what a gerund is; and whatever that is, it can be verby or nouny. Love it.

    Ws:)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I think it depends on what we mean to say and how ambiguous we want to be. To me, all these sound fine on first reading except B1:

    A1. We didn't agree on telling the story in that way.
    A2. We didn't agree on me telling the story in that way.
    A3. We didn't agree on my telling the story in that way.
    A4. We didn't agree on my telling of the story in that way.
    A5. We didn't agree on the telling of the story in that way.

    B1. She heard telling the story in that way.
    B2. She heard me telling the story in that way.
    B3. She heard my telling the story in that way.
    B4. She heard my telling of the story in that way.
    B5. She heard the telling of the story in that way.

    B2 to me is the "odd man out" because the telling seems to be a participle there but a gerund in all the others.

    A2 may sound ungrammatical to some up against A3, but I think A2 means "We didn't agree that it would be me to tell the story in that way" but A3 means "We didn't agree that that would be the way I would tell the story".

    "The story" is the direct object of both the gerund and the participle.
     

    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    I think it depends on what we mean to say and how ambiguous we want to be. To me, all these sound fine on first reading except B1:

    A1. We didn't agree on telling the story in that way.
    A2. We didn't agree on me telling the story in that way.
    A3. We didn't agree on my telling the story in that way.
    A4. We didn't agree on my telling of the story in that way.
    A5. We didn't agree on the telling of the story in that way.

    B1. She heard telling the story in that way.
    B2. She heard me telling the story in that way.
    B3. She heard my telling the story in that way.
    B4. She heard my telling of the story in that way.
    B5. She heard the telling of the story in that way.

    B2 to me is the "odd man out" because the telling seems to be a participle there but a gerund in all the others.

    A2 may sound ungrammatical to some up against A3, but I think A2 means "We didn't agree that it would be me to tell the story in that way" but A3 means "We didn't agree that that would be the way I would tell the story".

    "The story" is the direct object of both the gerund and the participle.
    I agree, except I think A2 is analogous to B2, because me is the head of the whole noun phrase: me telling the story in that way. The non-finite subclause telling the story in that way acts as a post-modifier. You can remove the whole subclause without making the sentence ungrammatical: She heard me :tick:

    A3 and B3 are different from A2 and B2 in that here, telling the story in that way must be the 'head' because my cannot stand on its own: She heard my:cross: i.e. my is a determiner for the subclause, telling the story in that way.

    Just think of what we heard or agreed on: in A2/B2, we heard/agreed on a person doing something, while in A3/B3, we heard/agreed on someone's action being performed.

    /Wilma
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree, except I think A2 is analogous to B2, because me is the head of the whole noun phrase: me telling the story in that way. The non-finite subclause telling the story in that way acts as a post-modifier. You can remove the whole subclause without making the sentence ungrammatical: She heard me :tick:

    [...'
    I'm not with you here, Wilma, because what you agreed on probably was not me but me telling the story. We didn't agree on me is far from the original meaning - unless the sentence means, as it might, we didn't chose me, as opposed to we didn't agree on me telling the story in that way, rather than telling it in other ways.

    What she heard was me telling the story, me as I was telling the story. Had I been doing other things she might well not have heard me.

    I agree with Forero on this, unless A2 has the particular meaning I specified above.
     
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    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    I was assuming here that the 'important' issue that differentiates A2/B2 from A3/B3, is that in A2/B2 the object is a person doing something, and in A3/B3 the object is someone's action.

    /Wilma
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I was assuming here that the 'important' issue that differentiates A2/B2 from A3/B3, is that in A2/B2 the object is a person doing something, and in A3/B3 the object is someone's action.

    /Wilma
    Well, I wonder how many BE speakers would agree with you on that. I certainly wouldn't.

    I think Forero makes an important distinction between A2 and B2, which is the same as the one I was making, though I stupidly didn't notice that at the time.

    Whether or not B2 is a grammatical way of saying B3 is a familiar battleground for people who argue about English grammar. I'm not clear what difference of meaning they might have, unless different stresses are placed on in that way, which Forero presumably included to give the gerund a clear verbal function.
     
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    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    Well, I wonder how many BE speaker would agree with you on that. I certainly wouldn't.

    I think Forero makes an important distinction between A2 and B2, which is the same as the one I was making, though I stupidly didn't notice that at the time.

    Whether or not B2 is a grammatical way of saying B3 is a familiar battleground for people who argue about English grammar. I'm not clear what difference of meaning they might have, unless different stresses are placed on in that way, which Forero presumably included to give the gerund a clear verbal function.
    I think we have to agree to disagree, as I don't see any great difference between pattern A2 and B2. I'm not going to argue, though, as the use of objective or possessive pronoun before a gerund has already been made quite clear by all the previous posts, and I'd hate to confuse anyone.

    If the issue comes up in a future grammar class, I might pick a fight with my teacher... :D

    /Wilma
     

    Grumpy Old Man

    Senior Member
    I think I see where some confusion is coming from. The blue text (colour added by me) sounds to me just like the definition of a gerund! I guess Finnish has a different definition of 'gerund'. Translating grammatical terms from one language to another (when grammatical structures can be so different) is a risky business.
    I'm sorry I wasn't wordy enough to say that I meant grammar books written by Finnish linguists dealing with English grammar. The Finnish language does have a complicated grammar but it does not have a gerund.

    We will all probably be happy for the rest of our lives with our own definitions of the gerund.:) I'll just briefly reiterate what my idea of the gerund and the verbal noun is based on.

    All nouns can have an adjectival attribute, in other words, an adjective can be placed before all nouns in the English language. Whenever this is possible with a word derived from the infinitive of a verb, I consider the derived word a noun because it behaves grammatically like any other noun:

    The correct speaking of English is easy.

    The above sentence has three characteristics peculiar to nouns:
    1. The is used before nouns.
    2. Adjectives are used before nouns.
    3. What Finnish grammarians of English call the of-genitive, some others call it the of-structure, is possible with nouns: The correct address of the sender...

    None of these three is possible with a gerund: Speaking English correctly is easy.

    The above sentence has two characteristics peculiar to verbs:

    1. Verbs take objects - nouns don't.
    2. Adverbs are used with verbs, not with nouns.

    Furthermore, a gerund can be in the passive voice and has two tenses, unlike nouns.
     
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