I wrote a sentence just now and after I'd pressed 'send' I began to wonder whether what I had written was correct.

The sentence read

They were ineligible due to their not being citizens

An alternative - it seems to me - could be

They were ineligible due to them not being citizens

but that sounds a little clunky.

Is there anything wrong withe the first one ?

  • "not being" is a gerund phrase, i.e. it acts as a noun
    – user180089
    Jul 26, 2016 at 22:24
  • Yes, it is. "Not being citizens" is a gerund phrase, which means it's a noun. "Their" is a determiner that takes possession of that noun. It is perfectly grammatical. "Them not being citizens" is not grammatical. The only other grammatical option is "they not being citizens."
    – user184292
    Jul 26, 2016 at 22:42
  • I better re-write might be "They were ineligible because they are/were not citizens."
    – TrevorD
    Jul 26, 2016 at 23:00
  • 4
    @BenjaminHarman: "due to they not being citizens"? You can't mean that!
    – TonyK
    Jul 27, 2016 at 0:34
  • 2
    @TonyK. I agree with you; a nominative pronoun like "they" would be completely impossible as subject of a subordinate non-finite clause like " their/them not being citizens". Only genitive "their" and accusative "them" are possible.
    – BillJ
    Jul 27, 2016 at 7:24

3 Answers 3


The gerund in this case is used in a possessive sense. 'Not being' belongs to them. So what you have written is correct.

There are some usages about which we should be careful. For example:

I hate him playing foot ball. This means that I hate him for playing foot ball. How he plays, does not matter.

I hate his playing foot ball. This means that I hate the manner in which he plays foot ball. My hatred is not about his playing foot ball. (This usage, however, is not possible in the sentence under consideration.)

For more details please see: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/gerunds.htm

  • 3
    "I hate his playing football" does NOT mean "I hate him ..." - it means I hate it when he plays football; or I hate the fact that he plays football. Also "I hate his playing football." does NOT mean "I hate the manner in which he plays football" - it means exactly the same as the first sentence.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 26, 2016 at 22:58
  • @TrevorD I agree. If you wanted to talk about the way he plays football you could say "I hate his football playing". Jul 27, 2016 at 8:14

You are right. Non-finite gerund-participle clauses as complement can take both genitive and non-genitive subjects - in the latter case accusative form only.

So it has to be:

They were ineligible due to their/them not being citizens.

Note that nominative pronouns as subjects of non-finite clauses are impossible, and hence * ... due to they not being citizens would be completely ungrammatical.

In your example, the choice between genitive and non-genitive depends on style, the genitive being characteristic of fairly formal style.

  • +1 from me. I see your pet downvoter must still be following you around. Sep 27, 2016 at 13:13

Since gerunds act as nouns, it is only grammatical to deploy adjectives or adjectival determiners. My understanding is that them is a pronoun( third person plural object)...they is the subject form of them. A pronoun cannot qualify a noun, only an adjective can. That is why possessive adjectives like my, your, his, their , our and its should be preferred. Do you mind my coming...not me or I coming. their not being citizens sounds more grammatical... them not being or they not being might just be informal colloquialism.

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