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I have come across the following sentence (a bit modified) in a news article: "The opposition leader's bid for power failed to gain traction, and his claim to the presidency is rooted in his being the head of the current legislature." I wonder why the subject of the participle clause "'his' being the head of the current legislature" is "his", but not "him." Maybe, both "his" and "him" could be used in this particular sentence--I have no idea. Then, is there any differences between them in meaning, grammar or any other aspect? In my understanding, a participle clause can have its own subject, as is the case above. Most of the time, the "him" form is used, but also "his" can be found, albeit less frequently. I am particularly interested in differences in meaning between them when both forms are applicable, and in what kinds of rules are applied when determining which form to use. Thanks for your valuable knowledge.

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    The pronoun subject of gerund-participial clauses functioning as a complement can be either genitive case or accusative case, the former being characteristic of fairly formal style.
    – BillJ
    Dec 6, 2020 at 9:52
  • There's a similar question asked yesterday (He doesn't like my/me ordering Latte.). The sentence reads fine with both him and his. In the former case, the participial clause functions as an adjective modifying the pronoun him; in the latter case, the gerundial clause acts as the object of the preposition in. his in this case shows possession (whose being the head of the current legislature?). It could however be said that the his version is normally the preferred one.
    – user405662
    Dec 6, 2020 at 9:57
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    @user405662 That's incorrect. There's no modification or adjective involved. "My/me making Latte" is a clause with "my/me" as subject and the verb phrase "making latte" as predicate..
    – BillJ
    Dec 6, 2020 at 10:02
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    @user405662 Ignore it; it's garbage. People can put any rubbish on the 'Net!
    – BillJ
    Dec 6, 2020 at 10:18

2 Answers 2

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The opposition leader's bid for power failed to gain traction, and his claim to the presidency is rooted in his / him being the head of the current legislature.

The pronoun subject of gerund-participial clauses functioning as a complement can be either genitive case or accusative case. The only difference is one of style, with the genitive case being characteristic of fairly formal style. Syntactically, the pronoun "his / him" is subject and "being the head of the current legislature is a verb phrase functioning as predicate.

Note that when a gerund-participial clause is in adjunct function, genitive subjects are not permitted at all: the choice is between nominative and accusative:

She sought advice from Ed, he / him being the most experienced of her colleagues.

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  • You seem to have compounded the gerund and the participle in order to make your point, yet the nature of the -ing form, although often confusing, does have an effect on sentence structure.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 6, 2020 at 10:32
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    There's little point in distinguishing gerunds and present participles. The trend nowadays is to simply lump them together and call both -ing forms 'gerund-participles'. They are verbs, and that's what is important.
    – BillJ
    Dec 6, 2020 at 13:02
  • The trend nowadays is to simply lump them together and call both -ing forms 'gerund-participles'. I am aware of this but see it as a retrograde step that is helpful to nobody - the student still needs to know why one 'gerund-participle' does one thing, and another, another. Quirk's famous examination of the "-ing form" is a masterpiece of clarity, even though he lumps a couple of types together at the end. Rather than lumping together, more separating out is required. It will have crossed your mind that in "I was fishing" "fishing" could be an ungradeable adjective.
    – Greybeard
    Dec 6, 2020 at 19:48
  • @Greybeard There's no worthwhile difference for the student to know. Why would they need to know the difference between, say, Inviting the twins was a big mistake (gerund) and Those living alone are most at risk (present participle)? There's no justification for making an inflectional distinction between the two. They are both verbs belonging to a single inflectional category, and they both have the same function: head of a non-finite VP.
    – BillJ
    Dec 7, 2020 at 8:16
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Both his being and him being are valid in restricted contexts. Since English grammar is largely analytical, the judgement depends on the broader context, specifically the preceeding verb. Arguably, the claim is rooted in something of his, not in him. Conversely, had they opted for the verbal phrase come from, I think came from him would be more readily acceptable and being... could then be parsed as a present participle. Instead we have to read his being as a nominal gerund, which I find less optimal, given that being is not a substantive, but a process.

It's not a particularly fine example of formal register, overall, and appears more like out of a polemic letter written in the heat of agony, as it's meaning is barely understandable. wow, a real garbage fire.

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