Possessives Precede Gerunds
by Tina Blue
September 26, 2003
What is a gerund, and how does it differ from a present participle?*
The present participle is the ing form of a verb used as an adjective: running shoes; breaking story; losing game; reading assignment.
A gerund is the ing form of a verb used as a noun. The gerund form of a verb looks exactly like the present participle, but they function differently in a sentence. The gerund will fill a noun slot (subject, direct object, object of preposition, etc.), but the participle will be either an adjective or part of a verb phrase:
~Running is good exercise. (gerund)
~Are those new running shoes? (participle)
~He is running his last race today. (participle)
~Don't even think about buying that dress! (gerund)
~This is the new buying guide for used cars. (participle)
~I won't be buying a new car until I can save up a decent down payment. (participle)
Why is a gerund supposed to be preceded by a possessive?
A noun or pronoun linked immediately with a gerund should be in the possessive case. Because a gerund acts as a noun, that means that if a noun or a pronoun precedes it, that noun or pronoun must be in the case that will allow it to modify another noun--i.e, the possessive case. For example, the noun "book" would not be preceded by the objective case of a pronoun or the plain form of a noun: ~This is me book. ~This is Jane book. ~This is him book. ~This is them book.
You would use the possessive forms of the nouns and pronouns to modify the noun:
~This is my book. ~This is Jane's book. ~This is his book. ~This is their book.
Since a gerund is a noun, just as "book" is a noun, the same rule applies: Use the possessive form to modify the gerund.
Here is a simple example to help you see the difference between a present participle, which may be preceded by the objective case of a pronoun or by the plain form of a noun, and a gerund, which needs the possessive form to modify it: ~I saw Jim swimming.
("Swimming" is a participle describing Jim.)
~I admired Jim's swimming.
("Swimming" is a gerund, acting as the direct object of the verb admired: What did I admire? I admired his swimming.)
Here are some examples of gerunds that are wrongly preceded either by the objective case of a pronoun or by the plain form of a noun: INCORRECT: ~He resents you being more popular than he is. ~Most of the members paid their dues without me asking them. ~They objected to the youngest girl being given the command position. ~What do you think about him buying such an expensive car. ~We were all grateful for Jane taking on the responsibility for the party. Here are the correct versions, with the possessives in their proper place before the gerunds: CORRECT: ~He resents your being more popular than he is. ~Most of the members paid their dues without my asking them. ~They objected to the youngest girl's being given the command position. ~What do you think about his buying such an expensive car? ~We were all sorry about Jane's losing her parents like that.