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(1) I regretted [his leaving the firm].

(2) I regretted [him leaving the firm].

(3) I regretted [leaving the firm].

(4) He didn’t bother [giving me a copy].

Regarding the above sentences The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 1190) has this to say:

If (1) and (2) are analysed as quite different constructions, with only (2) a clause, then which of the constructions would (3) belong to?

This problem would be particularly difficult to resolve with those gerund-participials where it is not possible to include an NP before the verb, as in (4). We avoid these problems by treating the optionality of the initial NP as simply a matter of the optionality of subjects in non-finite clauses.

Here, CGEL is basically arguing that the bracketed construction in (1) is no less a non-finite clause (with his as its subject) than that in (2) is (with him as its subject).

So, CGEL is basing this argument on the presumption that the bracketed portion in (2) is a non-finite clause. But I wonder why that has to be the case.

PROBLEM of CGEL's APPROACH

CGEL's approach cannot explain the potential semantic difference between (1) and (2), as explained in Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (as quoted in this Language Log):

The accusative pronoun is used when it is meant to be emphasized.

Because CGEL's approach analyzes (1) and (2) as the same construction only with some difference in register (formal vs. informal), I think it fails to accommodate the semantic difference shown above.

SUGGESTED APPROACH

What if we considered the verb 'regret' as taking two complements in (2), one being him and the other being leaving the firm, where the former is construed as the semantic--but not syntactic--subject of the latter?

In this approach, him in (2) would be a raised object of the verb 'regret', whereas the verb 'regret' in (1) would be analyzed as taking only one complement, a non-finite clause shown in the bracketed portion.

Then, (1) and (2) would be "analysed as quite different constructions".

This way, there would be no "problem" analyzing (3) or (4).

More importantly, the suggested analysis treats (1) and (2) as different constructions, thereby possibly accommodating the semantic difference quoted in the Language Log (shown above).

QUESTION

I'd like to know what others think of this suggested approach vis-à-vis CGEL's, and if any existing grammar employs something like the suggested approach.

  • To what does "it" refer in "The accusative pronoun is used when it is meant to be emphasized"? – TRomano Mar 7 at 14:28
  • Would you make the same two-complement argument for the verbs champion and stand behind? – TRomano Mar 7 at 14:29
  • @TRomano I think "it" refers to "the accusative pronoun". For example, him in (2) is meant to be emphasized, compared to his in (1). – JK2 Mar 7 at 15:28
  • @TRomano As for champion and stand behind, you'd have to give me examples. – JK2 Mar 7 at 15:35
  • Perhaps some speakers who have both him leaving and his leaving in their idiolects might differentiate in that manner, where "his leaving" could be paraphrased "the fact that he left" and "him leaving" could be paraphrased "the fact that he in particular left". I don't think it's a general rule, and I know tens of thousands of speakers who would never use his leaving under any circumstances; the possessive was long taught as the "proper" form and him was flagged as substandard, and these speakers never learned that dubious "rule". – TRomano Mar 7 at 18:42
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Take the analogous case of the transitive verb 'like'.

(1) I like his (x),

(2) I like him

(1) requires a NP in the argument position of 'like', a position that is modified by the possessive pronoun. (2), however, is perfectly well-formed.

The point is this. In your example, the fragment [leaving the firm] in the first case becomes a noun phrase, and that phrase is modified by the possessive. In the second case, the NP position is fulfilled by 'him'.

In other words, 'his' - and not 'him' - binds [leaving the firm]. This fact is also suggested by the fact that *[I regretted his] is syntactically ill-formed, but [I regretted him] is not, assuming a liberal universe of discourse / relevant anaphor conditions.

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