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possessive with gerunds

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A gerund is a verb form ending in ing, such as being, doing, having, going, reading or writing. Although it is a verb form, a gerund does not act as a verb. Instead, it acts as a noun and can do whatever a noun can do. For example, a gerund can be the subject or object of a verb or the object of a preposition:

  • Leaving was a wise decision. [Leaving is the subject of the verb was.]
  • We celebrated winning. [Winning is the object of the verb celebrated.]
  • Natalie objects to borrowing. [Borrowing is the object of the preposition to.]

Using the possessive before a gerund

We often put a noun or pronoun in front of a gerund to show who or what is doing the action in the gerund. This noun or pronoun is called the subject of the gerund. In formal writing, the subject of the gerund should be in the possessive form:

  • Your leaving early was a wise decision.
  • We celebrated Gord’s winning the contest.
  • Natalie objected to my borrowing her hockey stick.

Note: In informal writing, there is a trend toward dropping the possessive before a gerund. We often use a simple noun or an object pronoun instead:

  • We celebrated Gord winning the contest.
  • Natalie objected to me borrowing her hockey stick.

However, in formal writing, the use of the possessive form before a gerund is still preferred. Also, the possessive form may be important for clarity. Consider the difference between the two examples below:

  • Jorge is in favour of the candidate being interviewed Friday. [Jorge likes the candidate who has an interview on Friday.]
  • Jorge is in favour of the candidate’s being interviewed Friday. [Jorge wants the interview to be on Friday.]

Rewording to avoid the possessive

If the possessive before a gerund seems stilted, simply reword the sentence:

  • Your decision to leave early was a wise one.
  • We celebrated Gord’s success.
  • Natalie objected when I borrowed her hockey stick.
  • Jorge is in favour of holding the interview Friday.