I assume that the following sentences are all acceptable:

  • He resents your being more popular than he is.
  • Most of the members paid their dues without my asking them.
  • They objected to the youngest girl’s being given the command position.
  • What do you think about his buying such an expensive car?
  • We were all sorry about Jane’s losing her parents like that.

I’m still getting used to this “possessive with 'gerund' ” structure. It sounded so weird to me at first.

Is this structure used in both formal and informal contexts, both oral and written alike? Are there any alternative structures that result in the same meaning and are more frequently used?

(Examples taken from Grammar Tips: Possessives Precede Gerunds)

  • 9
    It's one variant, and falutes slightly higher, but with pronouns there are many idioms. Gerund clauses have two complementizers: the normal Acc-ing complementizer (without him telling me), and the Poss-ing complementizer (without his telling me). Both are correct, both are common, but Acc-ing is somewhat more common in practice. Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 18:10
  • 1
    @John Lawler Professor Lawler, I wasn't able to find "falute" as a verb in M-W U or in other dictionaries. It might be in the OED. Your meaning here seems to be "being pretentious," but I'd appreciate your take on it. Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 10:01
  • 7
    Look up "high-faluting" and apply a morphological filter. Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 2:48
  • 5
    @JohnLawler As far as the UK is concerned, the "poss -ing variety (albeit perhaps less common) is certainly associated with a better educated and more erudite individual. For that reason I would always encourage any young person to prefer it to the alternative. Though I certainly use both forms myself, and the choice of which, as with many expressions, could well depend on whom I am talking to.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 17:56
  • 2
    @WS2 being perceived as "better educated and more erudite" is not always desirable for any given linguistic intercourse. If one's interlocutors are speaking in basilect, use of highfalutin grammar may not serve your communications purpose. The advice I would give is to choose the form that best matches the formality level of the discourse.
    – nohat
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 0:38

5 Answers 5


When I first heard about this usage in a grammar lesson in middle school, it sounded weird to me, too. As in the linked page in your answer, my teacher taught us that using possessive pronouns (also known as genitives) is the only grammatical way to mark subjects of gerund clauses. While that way is more traditional and formal, using object pronouns (accusatives) is also quite common.

In chapter 14, section 4.3, of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, entitled “Non-finite and verbless clauses”, the main thrust lays waste to the traditional distinction between gerund clauses and present participle clauses, by arguing they all belong to a single inflectional category; namely, gerund-participles. However, there is a paragraph explaining the use of genitives with gerunds:

There is one respect in which ‘gerund’ and ‘present participle’ clauses differ in their internal form: with ‘gerunds’ the subject may take genitive case, with plain or accusative case a less formal alternant, but with ‘present participles’ the genitive is impossible and pronouns with a nominative–accusative contrast appear in nominative case, with accusative an alternant restricted to informal style. Compare then:
[39] i. She resented his/him/*he being invited to open the debate.
       ii. We appointed Max, he/him/*his being much the best qualified of the candidates.

In other words, gerunds (as in example 39i) can take either the genitive (his) or the accusative (him) as subject, with genitive being more formal and accusative less formal. The nominative (he) is not possible as the subject of a gerund.

In participial clauses with a subject (as in example 39ii), there is a similar situation: both the nominative (he) and accusative (him) are possible, again with accusative being less formal, but the genitive (his) is not possible.

The page of “grammar tips” linked in the question confuses informal style with incorrect grammar, a common problem in grammar advice. The versions of the examples with accusative instead of genitive (e.g. What do you think about him buying such an expensive car?) are perfectly grammatical and simply a less stuffy style.

You will find many examples of gerunds with accusative subject—even in formal academic writing—so you should feel free to use whichever of the two formulations seems natural.

  • 2
    Great explanation! I had wondered about this too. Btw, do you agree with Steve about examples 3 and 5?
    – Jonik
    Commented Sep 6, 2010 at 19:52
  • 15
    There actually can be cases where the two forms are semantically distinct. "I hate John driving" means that you hate the idea of John driving, while "I hate John's driving" means that you hate John's style of driving. Just an interesting added factoid — I don't really have a good analysis of it.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Sep 6, 2010 at 22:49
  • 2
    @Jonik, the only one where I might use the genitive form would be #1. All the rest I would almost certainly use the accusative with. On editing, though, I might change them to genitive. Old habits inculcated by strict teachers die hard.
    – nohat
    Commented Sep 7, 2010 at 0:06
  • 5
    I will throw in a link to the wonderfully informative Language Log entry that was published two weeks after this question (and your answer) had been posted: Possessive with gerund: Tragic loss or good riddance?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 12, 2010 at 11:50
  • You might like this reference, which follows up to @RegDwigнt's reference with a bit of corpus analytics.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 16:29

It is perhaps worth adding the contrast identified in the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’:

When the possessive alternative is used, it focuses attention on the action described in the ‘-ing’ clause. In contrast the regular Noun Phrase form puts more emphasis on the person doing the action.

  • 3
    +1 I always thought this was the primary distinction, not an additional feature -- that there indeed is a distinction.
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 6:24
  • 6
    @Kris: For it to be a primary distinction would require that most competent speakers normally make that distinction consciously, which I think is highly unlikely. Commented May 16, 2013 at 2:56
  • 2
    @WS2: As John so charmingly puts it, [the possessive] falutes slightly higher. So I might make the same distinction as you for the same reason, but to be honest I'd be as likely to deliberately flout that "convention" just because I can. There's no danger of being misunderstood, unless you include the possibility that the history professor might mistakenly suppose I don't know how to use English properly (in which case I'd be gleefully thinking Bring it on! You ignorant pedant!). Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:26
  • 1
    @WS2: There's clearly an implication from your not especially incorrect that you genuinely feel there's at least some degree of possible "incorrectness" in this area. Whilst I accept John's "high falutin'" distinction without question, and I'm fully prepared to accept that Barrie's distinction could apply with some exceptionally Lit-Crit-minded speakers (definitely with some literary writers), I give no credence whatsoever to the idea that either form is more syntactically correct. It's just petty pedantic one-upmanship for those who want to play that particular game. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:52
  • 2
    ...I always think "good" use of language is that which maximises the chance of the other person understanding exactly what you're trying to convey, not that which more closely adheres to often-outdated syntax rules. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 18:55

Just to comment on common usage (in British English, at least):

Examples 1, 2 and 4, which use possessive pronouns, look OK, but are somewhat formal. I'd be more likely to use the accusative forms, namely:

He resents you being more popular than he is.

Most of the members paid their dues without me asking them.

What do you think about him buying such an expensive car?

I can believe that examples 3 and 5, which use nouns, may be grammatically correct, but they look wrong, and I do not recall seeing or hearing that particular construction used. I would drop the "-'s" in both cases.


This would be my "common usage" (and non-formal) take:

  • He resents your being more popular than he is. (either your-you)
  • Most of the members paid their dues without my asking them. (my preferred)
  • They objected to the youngest girl's being given the command position. (girl only)
  • What do you think about his buying such an expensive car? (either his-him)
  • We were all sorry about Jane's losing her parents like that. (Jane only)

I'm not an expert on all usage, but these are based on my "formality-detector" radar working. Pronouns are easier to work with - if the possessive of the gerund is called for ("Jane's", etc) it needs to be treated with some care, so as to not sound overly correct.

  • Why only young girl , but not Young girl’s in third sentence Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 4:07

By using a direct object and not possessive pronoun, the gerundive (adjectival) clauses describe the subject of the sentence, which is not what you intend to do in your examples.

For example, these sentences have a completely different meaning than your original ones (punctuation and word order changed to illustrate this):

  • He [e.g., Joe] resents you, [Joe] being more popular than he [e.g., Bob] is.
  • Most of the members, asking them, paid their dues without me.
  • They, being given the command position, objected to the youngest girl.
  • What do you, buying such an expensive car, think about him?
  • We, losing her parents like that, were all sorry about Jane.
  • It's been largely addressed here. I didn't realise there had been a precursor. The ACC-ing v POSS-ing issue has received a lot of coverage. Commented Nov 12, 2020 at 16:21

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