November 23, 2014

Gerunds and the Possessives that Love Them

If there isn’t enough to worry about in creating a decent piece of writing, the twisted gods of grammar give us gerunds and possessives to deal with.

Wait! I know you probably have no idea what a gerund is. You are not alone. But don’t give up. You need to know this. Stick with me. You can handle it.

Let’s start at the beginning: A gerund is the form of a verb ending in “ing” that acts as a noun. For example, consider the following sentence:

Calling someone you do not know after 9:00 p.m. is not the best choice.

“Calling” is not a verb; it is a form of the verb acting as a noun (a gerund) – in this case the subject of the verb “is.”

For most writers that particular bit of knowledge is useless UNTIL it comes time to using them correctly in a sentence so let’s get to it.

Gerunds and Possessive Nouns

When a gerund is modified by another noun, that noun must be possessive. In effect, making it possessive makes it a modifier rather than a stand alone noun.

Don’t worry if you are starting to hear a high-pitched buzzing in your ears. That happens when grammar terms start flying around. But, the hang in there. The only way to understand this is to do a little bit if grammar slogging.

First Stop: Gerunds and Proper Nouns:

Consider this sentence:

Larry thinks Tim arguing all of the time is annoying.

  • Subject: Larry
  • Verb: thinks
  • Object: ?

Now take a deep breath and think: Does Larry think Tim is annoying or does he think arguing is annoying? He thinks a particular action (arguing) is annoying. But, it’s not just the action that annoys him. It is a particular person’s action.

Ooh… there it is: a person’s action. Tim’s action.

So, the sentence should read: Larry thinks Tim’s arguing all of the time is annoying.

Okay, back to the slog.

Second Stop: Gerunds and Common Nouns:

Consider this sentence:

Do you enjoy politicians discussing the economy?

  • Subject: You
  • Verb: do enjoy
  • Object: ?

Think now… The question is not, do you enjoy politicians? (does anyone?), but do you enjoy a thing they do? This “thing” they are doing is “discussing the economy.”

Once again, the gerund (discussing) needs to be modified by, not simply accompanied by, a noun. And the way we make that noun modify it is, you guessed it, make it possessive! So, politicians becomes politicians’ (assuming you are talking about more than one.)

The sentence should read:

Do you enjoy politicians’ discussing the economy?

Okay. Last stop.

Gerunds and Pronouns:

You making the correct choice is the best your parents can hope for.

Subject: Making

Verb: is

This one is actually pretty easy. Think about it. The thing/action is “making the best choice.” The question is whose action is it? It’s yours. Not you, yours.

Got it?

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Comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Question about a particular (and awkward) construction:

    The hand’s being used to stop the fall led to the elbow injury.

    OR

    The hand being used to stop the fall led to the elbow injury.

    Thanks!

  2. The first is correct, but in reality the entire structure is too awkward to tolerate :)
    I would rework as: Using hand to stop the fall led to the elbow injury.

  3. A. Collier says:

    Are these two sentences correct? 1) The robber’s not wearing a mask during his break-in and robbery at the store caused his eventual arrest by the police; 2) The robber, not wearing a mask during his break-in and robbery at the store, caused his eventual arrest by the police.

  4. Robert Simms says:

    The second sentence, though grammatically correct, doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t explain what the robber did that caused his arrest. Setting off the middle part of the sentence by commas changes the relationship of “not wearing” to “The robber” and thereby deletes the connection of the ideas.

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