Need-to-know Grammar: Possessive Forms and Gerunds

June 6, 2006

When a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund in a sentence, the noun or pronoun must be in the possessive form. A common error in colloquial speech, and one that is commonly seen on standardized examinations, is the use of the objective form of a noun or pronoun that precedes a gerund in a sentence.

A gerund is a verb ending in "-ing" that acts as a noun.

Eating cake is the best part of my birthday.

I like to visit my friend, but driving to her house can take a long time.

He enjoys listening to music.

When a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund in a sentence, it must take the possessive form. The possessive form of a noun includes an apostrophe and the letter "s" and the possessive forms of pronouns are my, your, his, her, its, our, their and whose.

My eating all that cake made me sick to my stomach.

Bob's driving is rather reckless.

His listening to loud music all night drove me crazy.

Examination questions may present a gerund preceded by a noun or pronoun in the objective form. Objective forms of nouns do not have an apostrophe and an "s" and the objective forms of pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, and whom. (Notice that the third person feminine pronoun is "her" in both the possessive and objective form.)

I attributed his stomach ache to him eating all that cake.

We appreciate Bob driving us to her house.

I cannot take him listening to loud music anymore.

These sentences are all incorrect because the noun and pronouns preceding the gerunds are in the objective case. Remember that gerunds are nouns and think of possessive pronouns as adjectives since they describe "whose [noun]."

  • my cake (or "my eating")
  • Bob's car (or "Bob's driving")
  • his music (or "his listening")

Objective pronouns act as objects or objects of prepositions; they are never adjectives. Look at how silly the use of objective forms can be:

  • me cake (so it should never be "me eating")
  • Bob car (so it should never be "Bob driving")
  • him music (so it should never be "him listening")

These are the corrected versions of the above sentences:

I attributed his stomach ache to his eating all that cake.

We appreciate Bob's driving us to her house.

I can't take his listening to loud music anymore.

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8 Responses to “Need-to-know Grammar: Possessive Forms and Gerunds”

  1. Pat Says:

    Thank you for your clear, thorough explanation!
    This was very helpful.

  2. Trillion Says:

    I purchased a greeting card that failed to take this rule into consideration just so I could take a red pen to it.

    I don’t understand how so many native English speakers did not get the memo on this.

  3. Pat Says:

    I am aware of the rule and use it properly, but my speech seems stilted to others. I am sometimes embarrassed by the proper use of English!

  4. Alfred Tsang Says:

    Is the word “driving” a gerund in the following sentence?

    “He sucks at driving.”

    If at is a preposition, can it be preceded by a gerund?

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