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I am confused over whether the following sentence contains a gerund and, therefore, whether I can precede that gerund with a possessive pronoun:

"I can't prevent your being offended."

Is "being" functioning as a gerund here? I'm starting to wonder if it's a present participle because "you" could work instead of "your" and when I type the sentence into Grammarly or Google Docs, it is flagged up as incorrect. But I think it's a noun that's the direct object of the verb "prevent"; it's the person's state of being offended that I can't prevent.

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    What's preventing you from asking those software platforms why their algorithms don't like what you've written? You should make them tell you what they want you to write. You can't ask us to solve software issues.
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 15:51
  • There are at least two orthogonal questions here: (1) Is "I can't prevent your being offended" good English, and (2) is "being" a gerund. Plus (3) Why doesn't Grammarly like it? There are plenty of examples indicating it's valid. "Prevent" can be followed by a verb phrase or a noun ("I can't prevent your departure") so maybe that's confusing Grammarly. You could even have "I can't prevent your being overriding my potential", and I'd love to know what Grammarly makes of that.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 15:52
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    There's no gerund. "Your" is a genitive case NP, but it's not a determiner -- it's the subject of the "offended" clause. Note that it can be replaced by nominative "you" with no change in meaning or loss of grammaticality.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 15:54
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    @JJ_Doogal Traditional grammar classifies it as a present participle. Modern grammar simply lumps both ing forms together, calling them 'gerund-participles".
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 16:50
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    @JJ_Doogal No, it's not wrong. As I said, the genitive pronoun "your" in your example does not express possession as it would if it were a determiner in NP structure. Here it functions as subject in the clause "your being offended", where it is interchangeable with the nominative case pronoun "you". The choice depends on style, with genitive "your" being characteristic of a fairly formal style.
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 17:47

1 Answer 1

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The sentence in question

  • I can't prevent your being offended.

is certainly grammatical, and, as @Billj points out, it's grammatical whether or not the subject of being offended is you or your. So that's one of the questions answered. Forget Google Docs and Grammarly; they're not competent at English grammar, let alone authoritative.

The other one is whether "being is functioning as a gerund here." Being is an auxiliary verb in the present participle verb form (the one that's inflected with {-ING}), and it's followed by the predicate offended, which is the main verb of the clause, and in the past participle verb form (the one inflected with {-EN₁}). A form of be is required as an auxiliary verb for both the Passive construction

  • He was offended by the show, but he calmed down quickly

and a predicate adjective

  • He was never happy, always offended; he died of terminal glowering.

In this case, you can't tell the difference, and it doesn't matter anyway, since be is the auxiliary either way.

The form of being does make a difference, though. It's not correct to say that being is a gerund. Gerunds are clauses, not words. So the question should be whether the whole clause is a gerund clause.

Even though some might say this isn't a gerund, I would. English gerunds are complement clauses with certain characteristics.

(Incidentally, I use the word complement only for argument noun clauses;
always clauses, always noun clauses, always argument nouns. That's my usage.)
They're one of four English complement clause types:

  1. Gerund (untensed)
  2. Infinitive (untensed)
  3. That-clauses (tensed)
  4. Wh-clauses (tensed)

The gerund construction is marked by one of two Complementizers, called

  • POSS-ing (which means "Possessive subject plus {-ING} verb form", like your being offended)
  • ACC-ing (which means "Accusative subject plus {-ING} verb form", like you being offended)

Either form is correct, and yes, you can call the whole clause your being offended a gerund clause, if it matters to anyone. Though it's incorrect to say that being is the gerund here -- being is only the verb that bears the {-ING} gerund complement marker. The whole clause is the Gerund, and the whole Gerund clause is the direct object of the main verb can't prevent.

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  • If I say: Playing is fun. Is the word "playing" a gerund clause? I cannot wrap my head around the idea that a single word is a clause.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 18:19
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    @Lambie That's not a gerund, it's a noun: Careful playing is allowed. Gerunds are only ever verbs, so if you want a gerund, you'd need Playing cards irresponsibly is fun — which is not to be confused with Pretty playing cards are hard to come by nor with Carefree playing children are happier that way.
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 18:26
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    Quite often you can't tell whether a word represents a phrase or a clause without further evidence. Language has no meaning in itself, especially language that's only written. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 20:06
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    Yes, that's the way you meant it and heard it and typed it; but as soon as it's written it's silent and anybody else can hear it differently. So we often aren't understood the way we intend to be. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 20:14
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    "Playing" in "Playing is fun" is strictly speaking ambiguous between a verb and a noun, but verb is the more salient interpretation (“To play is fun”). Noun interpretation can be forced by adjectival premodification, as in "occasional playing".
    – BillJ
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 6:28

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