2 April 2014

Possessive before gerunds

Question:

Shouldn't your be changed to you in the sentence Sarah was surprised at your leaving early?

Answer:

In the example your is correct. Your is the possessive form of you and acts as the subject of the gerund leaving.
In formal writing, when we want to show who or what is doing the action in a gerund (called the subject of the gerund), we use the possessive form of a personal noun or pronoun in front of the gerund:
Gord's winning the contest gives us all a reason to celebrate.
Natalie objected to my borrowing her hockey stick.
Your leaving early was a wise decision.
In informal writing, there is a trend toward dropping the possessive before a gerund. We often use a simple noun or an object pronoun instead:
We celebrated Gord winning the contest.
Natalie objected to me borrowing her notes.
Also, the possessive form may be important for clarity. Consider the difference between the two examples below:
Jorge is in favour of the candidate being interviewed Friday.
(Jorge prefers the candidate who has an interview on Friday)
Jorge is in favour of the candidate's being interviewed Friday.
(Jorge wants the interview to be on Friday)
If the possessive before a gerund seems artificial or too formal, simply reword the sentence:
Gord's success gives us all a reason to celebrate.
Natalie objected when I borrowed her hockey stick.
Your decision to leave early was a wise one.
Jorge is in favour of holding the interview Friday.

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