Dealing with Pronouns and Gerunds

The rule concerning possessive pronouns and gerunds is broken so often that it may be a losing battle. However, the rule isn’t completely useless, like many of the other rules that people break. Moreover, this rule is actually logical. Some nouns that end in -ing are created from verbs.

When you put a pronoun in front of one of these nouns, you must be sure that the pronoun is possessive. Standardized test-makers love to check whether you know this fact. And now you do! Here are some examples:

Just because I once got a speeding ticket, my parents object to my taking the car for even short drives. (not me taking)
Lola knows that their creating a dress code has nothing to do with the fact that she recently pierced her toes. (not them creating)
Eggworthy’s wife likes his singing in the shower. (not him singing)
The goldfish accept our placing food in the tank so long as we don’t try to shake their fins. (not us placing)

Why possessive? Here’s the reasoning. If you put a possessive pronoun in front of the noun, the noun is the main idea. If you read

Lulu couldn’t stop talking about my

You don’t have all the information you need. You’re practically leaning forward, waiting for the next word. Contrast the previous example with this one:

Lulu couldn’t stop talking about me.

Now you can stop. You have all the information you need. The possessive pronoun sends you forward; an object pronoun stops you cold. Therefore:

My parents object to the taking of the car. They don’t object to me.
Lola knows something about the creating of a dress code. She may not know anything about them.
Eggworthy's wife likes the singing. She may not like him.
The goldfish accept placing food. They don’t accept us.

Some -ing words weren’t created from verbs, and some -ing words aren’t nouns. Don’t worry about distinguishing between one and the other. Just apply this simple test: You need a possessive if the meaning of the sentence changes radically when you drop the -ing word. Check out this example:

Roger loves me singing and always invites me to perform at his concerts.

If I drop the -ing word, the sentence says

Roger loves me.

Now there’s a radical change of meaning. Clearly the sentence is incorrect. The correct version is

Roger loves my singing.

Now the focus is on singing, not on me.

Which sentence is correct?

A. Stunned by my low batting average, the coach forbade my swinging at every pitch.
B. Stunned by my low batting average, the coach forbade me swinging at every pitch.

Answer: Sentence A is correct. The coach went on and on about my swinging at every pitch and never mentioned anything about my personal life. (In sentence B, he’s forbidding me, all of me.)

Try another. Which sentence is correct?

A. The boss hates you answering the phone with "Whassup, dude?"
B. The boss hates your answering the phone with "Whassup, dude?"

Answer: Sentence B is correct. The boss doesn’t know you enough to hate you (the meaning of Sentence A). Sentence B places the emphasis on answering. The possessive your puts it there. The boss objects to "Whassup, dude?" as a client’s introduction to the company.

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