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From a previous post, I’ve seen that both (a) and (b) are acceptable, the difference lying in the register (formal vs colloquial) each sentence conveys.

(a) She resented him being invited to open the debate.

(b) She resented his being invited to open the debate.

As a non-native English speaker, I find this sentence structure especially puzzling. Most of my concerns have already been answered in previous posts, except for the way this sentence should be pronounced. I have a vague feeling that him in (a) should sound stronger than his in (b), as if the stress of the dependent clause should fall on him in (a) and on being invited in (b).

…Or rather, as if there should be something like a short stop in the places indicated by the slashes:

(c) She resented / his being invited to open the debate.

(d) She resented him / being invited to open the debate.

To illustrate better what I mean, consider the following phrases:

(e) He’s counselling students.

(f) His counselling students.

Phoneme by phoneme, they should sound almost the same, but the prosody is certainly different. I feel that he’s should sound stronger than his, or that it should carry the sentence stress –if there is such thing– in (e), whereas students should carry the sentence stress in (f). So my questions are:

  • Are (a) and (b) pronounced the same, prosody-wise?
  • Should a (very) short stop be made in the places indicated with the slashes in (c) and (d)?
  • Is “him” in (a) comparable to “he's” in (e), and “his” in (b) comparable to “his” in (f), prosody-wise?
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  • If you wanted to stress either him or his, I think you would choose to say him. But you can also pronounce both of these with the same prosody if you don't put stress on the him/his. In that way, it's somewhat similar to your examples (e) and (f). Any word in those two examples could be stressed except his (and with some ingenuity, you might come up with a scenario that let's you stress his). Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 18:24

1 Answer 1

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[Note: Prosody and stress patterns vary between different forms of English, and this isn't a subject I've read a lot about. So the below is about my native form of English, that of the Upper Midwestern U.S.]

Are (a) and (b) pronounced the same, prosody-wise?

Yes. Both (a) and (b) have two normal, unmarked options for the prosody:

  • primary stress on invited.
  • equal primary stresses on him/his and on invited.

There may be a small frequency difference: specifically, I would hazard that for (a), both options are about equally likely, whereas for (b), the first option is somewhat more likely; but I'm not sure.

For both (a) and (b), of course, it's possible to strongly stress him/his to emphasize some sort of contrast. (In fact, it's even possible — with enough context — to emphasize the being, if the implication is that she wanted him to make the invitation instead of receiving it.)

Should a (very) short stop be made in the places indicated with the slashes in (c) and (d)?

I really don't think so, no.

Is “him” in (a) comparable to “he's” in (e), and “his” in (b) comparable to “his” in (f), prosody-wise?

I don't think there's much difference, prosody-wise, between the he's of (e) and the his of (f). Examples (e) and (f) have different prosody overall, because (e) stands alone whereas (f) does not; but in both cases, the stresses on counseling and students are much greater than that on he's/his (unless the speaker is specifically emphasizing the he's/his part).

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  • Regarding my 1st question, the thing 'his' cannot really be stressed (unless it's the speaker's intention to specifically point that out) while 'him' can pretty much answers my question. Regarding my 2nd question, I thought his can't be separated from being because the former is a determiner of the latter, while him can because that would be the object, and "being..." only a complement to that object. Regarding my 3rd question, what if I had said "He's counselling changes" vs "His counselling changes"? Then both would have a subject and a predicate. Would he's/his still be pronounced the same?
    – Yay
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 19:00
  • @Yay: Re: "'his' cannot really be stressed ([...]) while 'him' can": That is not at all what I said.
    – ruakh
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 19:03
  • @Yay: Re: "I thought his can't be separated from being because the former is a determiner of the latter, while him can because that would be the object, and 'being...' only a complement to that object": This is not true. In "She resented him being [...]", the object of "resented" is "him being [...]" -- not just "him". We can even say things like, "I hate there being nothing I can do" (meaning roughly "I hate the fact that there's nothing I can do" or "I hate it when there's nothing I can do").
    – ruakh
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 19:05
  • @Yay: Re: "He's counselling changes": I don't understand what this sentence is supposed to mean.
    – ruakh
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 19:06
  • You're right, I completely changed your words. However, you implied something like that by saying... option 1: stress on invited; option 2: stress on him/his and on invited (both equally primary)... option 1 is somewhat more likely for sentence (b) than for sentence (a)... Therefore, in sentence (a) him is slightly more likely to be stressed than his in sentence (b). I know you also said you weren't sure, and maybe I'm just subject to a confirmation bias so just ignore what I said regarding my first question.
    – Yay
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 19:10

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