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I'd like to know if this type of construction has a name, and for that matter, if it's even grammatically correct. I can remember seeing it in certain formal texts, but not as much recently:

The dog began to growl, despite his continuing to wag his tail.

...

She still held out hope for good news, as shown by her checking the mail each morning.

Those are made-up; I can't find a good real-life example right now. But the way I explain it is that a continuous action like "checking the mail each morning" is made into a noun-like object and treated as a possession of a person. It seems somewhat stiff, and in most cases I think you could rewrite the sentence to use more direct phrasing. But is it valid? And what is it called?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Edwin Ashworth, Drew, Chenmunka, tchrist Mar 7 '15 at 23:47

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  • @Nicole, thank you for introducing me to the word "gerund"! This will help me make more sense of some grammar advice I was reading. – Jordan Rieger Mar 5 '15 at 22:32
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    @FumbleFingers I appreciate the distinction made by the answerer in the question you linked; he basically says that the possessive is not always needed, and the non-possessive ("accusative") form is often OK, though possibly less formal. – Jordan Rieger Mar 5 '15 at 22:32
  • We get quite a few questions about accusative vs genitive in such constructions - many of which have been closed in favour of the one I linked to. The answer to your "Is it valid?" question is obviously Yes, and for the What's it called? question I don't think you'll do better than possessive gerund structure as used by the OP himself there. – FumbleFingers Mar 5 '15 at 22:40
  • Be very wary when reading the term 'gerund'; it is used in ways that conflict greatly. I'd recommend a look at the noun - verb gradience of ing-forms suggested by Quirk and discussed elsewhere on ELU. Also posts containing poss-ing and acc -ing. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 5 '15 at 23:13
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There's no single word for it; it's just a gerund with a possessive case. Get It Write Online has some good example sentences and explanations of why this construction can be useful. Here's one example:

  • Whitaker did not like the woman standing in front of him at the parade.

  • Whitaker did not like the woman’s standing in front of him at the parade.

The first sentence means that Whitaker did not like the woman who was standing in front of him. The second sentence means that he did not like the fact that a woman was standing in front of him.

  • It's called an action nominalization, following Robert Lees' The Grammar of English Nominalization. It is, as you say, a gerund with a possessive case, and is sometimes also referred to as a POSS-ing nominalization. Notice that your example Whitaker did not like the woman standing in front of him at the parade is ambiguous. – Greg Lee Mar 5 '15 at 22:10
  • I'm skeptical about the questions in the linked article that contain gerunds that are supposedly invalid without being made possessive. E.g. An emergency technician had recorded vital signs prior to the patient receiving medical care. vs. the patient's receiving medical care. It seems to me that the meaning is clear without the possessive. An action (recording vital signs) can't take place prior to an object (the patient) but only prior to another action (the patient receiving medical care) so there is only one possible meaning for the reader to understand, same as with a possessive. – Jordan Rieger Mar 5 '15 at 22:20
  • I dispute your distinction, "I don't like my son shouting" doesn't imply that of all my sons, the one I don't like can be identified by the fact that he's shouting. By the same token, Whitaker in your first example was probably exactly the same as in the second - he didn't like [the fact that] the woman [was] standing in front of him, even though he had nothing against her personally - just the action she was associated with. – FumbleFingers Mar 5 '15 at 22:29
  • To echo Greg Lee and FF, 'Whitaker did not like the woman standing in front of him at the parade' can be, as you say, an identifying pp-clause, but it can also mean 'Whitaker did not like [her] standing in front of him at the parade'. The acc-ing construction, more obviously so with 'Sue did not like him standing in front of her at the parade' – Edwin Ashworth Mar 5 '15 at 23:18

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