Is insisting on a genitive pronoun after "In the event of ..." pedantry or correct?

For example: "In the event of ..."

  • his/him winning the election
  • my/me dying
  • our/us leaving

For those who advocate the genitive, would you also write "In the event of Peter's leaving"?


Insisting on a genitive pronoun (my, his) + noun in such constructions would be sheer pedantry, but in practice we do overwhelmingly prefer it to the simple pronoun (me, him) + verb...

It's worth homing in on that "flatline" above...

What those charts show is that although there's still a marked preference for the genitive, the usage is in fact declining, whereas the simple pronoun + verb form has gained traction.

Also note that if a "standard" noun can follow the genitive (in the event of his death) that's what we prefer. But we'd still rather stick to the genitive even with a gerund (in the event of his dying). Relatively speaking, the pronoun + verb form (in the event of him dying) isn't a popular choice.

Having said all that, the preference for a genitive/possessive + [gerund] noun form only really applies with pronouns. Consider this earlier question, and these results from Google Books...

in the event of the king being (3,010 hits)
in the event of the king's being (7 hits)
in the event of the king dying (1,520 hits)
in the event of the king's dying (114 hits)

Although as pointed out, with 21,700 hits, in the event of the king's death is far more common than either of those last two.

TL;DR: The genitive form is still far more common with pronouns - but it's becoming less so, and grammatically speaking there's nothing wrong with the [pro]noun + verb alternative. Kudos to @tchrist's comment below for guiding me to this from CGEL..

Modern usage manuals generally do not condemn non-genitives altogether (as Fowler did in early work), though they vary in their tolerance of them, the more conservative ones advocating a genitive except where it sounds awkward, stilted, or pedantic [...]

  • 1
    Maybe it’s just me, but I try to avoid talking about people’s genitives in English. I prefer to call the my,thy,his,her,its,our,your,their set possessive determiners, and reserve to the mine,thine,his,hers,its,ours,yours,theirs set the term possessive pronouns. Now technically these are all personal not impersonal forms, since in the impersonal forms, there is never a difference in the determiner usage versus the pronominal one: one’s, anybody’s, someone’s. So pronominally: “Whose hat is that? It’s mine. It’s yours.” versus “It’s anybody’s. It’s somebody else’s.” – tchrist Apr 11 '14 at 15:32
  • 1
    You might want to read through this short blogue posting, particularly its antecedent, “Possessive with gerund: Tragic loss or good riddance?” and the paper it cites, “Pronominal Determiners in Gerundive Nominalization: A ‘Case’ Study” by Liesbet Heyvaert et al. in English Studies 86(1): 71–88, 2005. – tchrist Apr 11 '14 at 15:40
  • @tchrist Yes: if you call 's a "genitive" in English, then we really need a different term to refer to the genitive in languages that actually have an overt Case system...! – Neil Coffey Apr 11 '14 at 16:54
  • @Neil, tchrist: All true, but the specific context being queried is more about whether we're using the following -ing form as a "gerund noun" (with a preceding "possessive" form) or as "verb participle" (preceded by a simple noun or "object pronoun"). The one permutation we don't use is "[non-pro-]noun + [non-gerund] noun", so nobody ever makes plans for in the event of the king death. – FumbleFingers Apr 11 '14 at 17:09

I like the focus on descriptive grammar. Grammar is what grammar does, not what it should do. But "possessive descriptor"? C'mon, that's a stretch. How about plain old "possessive adjective"

E.g., ... in the event of his dying [ whose dying? HIS]

But I wouldn't soil my underwear if someone said "him dying". They are both acceptable to me.

  • I'm pretty sure that "possessive descriptor" is used in no answer or comment on this page but yours. Did you mean to say "possessive determiner"? – Sven Yargs Jul 23 '16 at 6:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy