'And': Conjunction Reduction Redux By Barry Schein (linguist) has this passage:

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How natural does whose sound?

Can you use who or whom instead?

If this were a personal pronoun, the nominative wouldn't be possible:

*He being a person contains the events of his career.

And either the accusative or possessive would be possible:

His being a person contains the events of his career.

Him being a person contains the events of his career.

Even though we need not a personal pronoun but a relative pronoun here, I wonder if the same case treatment is in order, i.e., if the nominative who is banned and only the genitive whose and the accusative whom are allowed.


In case the meaning of the sentence containing whose is difficult to grasp from the given quote, the metaphysics known to the speaker is this:

Just because you're involved in some isolated events where you act like one doesn't mean you're a superhero. You're a superhero only if you make a career out of being involved in all such events. And the same is the case with being a reporter.

  • Have you been playing with SciGen???
    – Jim
    Apr 27, 2020 at 5:14
  • @Jim If you mean the quote is somehow fake, it's not. Go google it, if you don't believe me.
    – JK2
    Apr 27, 2020 at 5:19
  • No, I believe it’s real, but I think one might have to read a bit more from before the portion you quoted to make sense of it. We don’t know what (21) and (19) are and the whole superhero/reporter analogy probably started earlier. By the time I get to “interpolates a continuous spatiotemporal region between them— and the metaphysics of being a reporter” I’m saying, “whhaaaaat now?!?”
    – Jim
    Apr 27, 2020 at 5:28
  • @Jim I've added the edit. Hope that helps.
    – JK2
    Apr 27, 2020 at 6:05

2 Answers 2


Whose being a person seems to be - possessive adjective + gerund + NP.


  1. "His being a person and Fido’s being a dog meant that neither of them was allowed to live in the cats’ home.”

  2. "His leaving the business in spring led to the trouble it suffered in the summer."

That said, I strongly advise that you write to Barry Schein and ask him to review the paragraph as it is all but incomprehensible.

  • Is it incomprehensible because of the use of whose or because of something else?
    – JK2
    Apr 27, 2020 at 7:49
  • Also, you didn't address my question of whether 'whom' or 'who' is possible.
    – JK2
    Apr 27, 2020 at 7:51
  • The whole structure is truly awful! It needs proofreading and editing. As an obvious example, Mr Stein makes excessive and confusing use of inversion, (and I am not sure at all that he is using "reportage" correctly.)
    – Greybeard
    Apr 27, 2020 at 7:55
  • address my question of whether 'whom' or 'who' is possible If you ask "Is 2 + 2 equal to 4 or 5?" and I reply that 4 is correct, it is not necessary to state that 5 will be wrong.
    – Greybeard
    Apr 27, 2020 at 7:57
  • Well, in both your examples, I'd say Him and Fido would also work. So it's not exactly a math question.
    – JK2
    Apr 27, 2020 at 8:03

The entire sentence sounds highly unnatural because of the very complicated and technical point that it is trying to express.

I had to read through the passage and sentence a few times to understand the structure. After doing that, I grudgingly find whose acceptable here.

Whom seems completely unacceptable to me. As you know, English does not truly use whom as a regular "accusative case" form of who; the form who is typically used for both "nominative" and "accusative" functions, with whom showing up in more or less artificially learned constructions (or in "hypercorrect" contexts). I don't think it makes sense to assume that there is a strong correlation between the acceptability of him and the acceptability of whom in a sentence: the idea that they function the same way is a prescriptive rule, not a natural part of English grammar.

In any case, "Him/his being a person contains the events of his career" sounds very odd itself, even if it is not truly unacceptable.

Who also seems unacceptable to me.

In normal speech, I would not expect to see a verb phrase being used as the subject of a relative clause like this. I'm wondering a bit whether the use of whose here only seems possible to me because of the influence of relative clauses starting with whose that look similar on the surface but that have a noun phrase instead of a verb phrase as the subject. Maybe I'm mentally converting the verb phrase "being a person" into a nonce compound noun "being-a-person".

  • So, whom isn't possible. What about whose? I take it that it's what the sentence is trying to convey, not its syntax itself, that you find unnatural. If you're saying that the use of 'whose' in that kind of syntax is principally possible, can you come up with a non-technical sentence in which 'whose' is used as subject of a gerundive clause? Also, what about using who in such a construction?
    – JK2
    Apr 27, 2020 at 6:55
  • Whose being a person = possessive adjective + gerund + NP. Compare "His leaving the business in spring led to the trouble it suffered in the summer."
    – Greybeard
    Apr 27, 2020 at 7:33
  • @Greybeard: I forgot to mention it in earlier drafts of this answer, but I'm not saying whose is impossible here. I would not call it an adjective. The term I use is "genitive pronoun"; it has a nominal function here (subject of a verb phrase), and even when used with a noun whose doesn't behave that much like an ordinary adjective (it behaves like a determiner, which some grammars have called "adjectives" but which are usually treated as a separate thing in modern linguistic sources that I've seen).
    – herisson
    Apr 27, 2020 at 7:44
  • Thanks for the update.
    – JK2
    Apr 27, 2020 at 7:50

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