When A Gerund Becomes A Noun, You Need To Get Possessive

Young adult students In classYou might have to envision yourself sitting in high school English class to recall what a gerund is: a word ending in -ing that becomes a noun:

running  |  talking  |  swimming  |  painting  |  dreaming

Reminder: a noun is, in general, a person, place or thing. It also can be an action.

Using a gerund as a noun in a sentence usually is pretty straightforward:

Running is his favorite form of exercise.
Talking is difficult because of his sore throat.
The water is too cold today for swimming.
She took up painting to release stress.
Does dreaming imply that we’re sleeping more soundly?
I spend part of every day writing.

But it gets tricky when the gerund is used with a pronoun such as he, him, you, their or me.

Which would you say:

I appreciate you announcing the meeting time.
I appreciate your announcing the meeting time.

How about:

Do you mind me asking about your job duties?
Do you mind my asking about your job duties?

In each case, the second example — using the possessive your and my — is correct.

If the statements sound odd to you, it’s likely because gerunds seem more like verbs than nouns — and because so many people make the wrong choice.

How do you know when an -ing word, a gerund, should be treated as a noun? If you can substitute a noun with a meaning close to the -ing word, pair it with a possessive.

Consider these examples with him/his, you/your and they/their:

Tell the coach him / his shouting is unnecessary. (his loud voice)
I appreciate you / your letting me know. (your notice)
She liked him / his calling her every evening. (his call)
You / Your saying he did nothing wrong is incorrect. (your statement)
Them / Their arguing was not a good sign. (their disagreement)

These examples demonstrate the difference between me and my:

I hope me / my reminding you about the deadline isn’t annoying. (my reminder)
I think me / my leaving solves the problem. (my departure)
Please make your bed without me / my having to remind you. (my need)

Gerunds as nouns are tricky, and their misuse demonstrates that something ungrammatical does not always lead to misunderstanding.

Yet those who want to be recognized as careful writers and speakers pay attention to detail.

Have friends or colleagues who pride themselves in paying attention to detail? Share this post!

Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers to follow standard, accepted usage per The Associated Press Stylebook. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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