Possessives Before Gerunds: Best of the Grammar Diva

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This post was originally published June 1, 2013, in the early days of this blog. I was going to publish a new blog this week — a test on the confused words of last week –but I am in the process of moving and too tired to write a new post… so that will be next week!

So for now, enjoy this post:


Which one of these sentences are you most likely to say?

“I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your car.” Or

“I hope you don’t mind my borrowing your car.”

Notice that the only difference is me versus my.  My is the possessive form of the pronoun I or me. For example, “my book” and “my idea” are possessives. The book and the idea belong to me.

The second example is correct—the sentence that uses the possessive my. Why? Because you use a possessive before a gerund, and borrowing is a gerund.

Let me explain. A gerund is a word that used to be a verb (action) and is now being used as a noun, or thing. Nouns are used as subjects and objects in sentences. Gerunds end in -ing.

We are swimming in the pool. In this sentence, are swimming is the verb, or action. (By the way, the are helps determine the tense and is called a helping verb.)

Swimming  relaxes me. In this sentence, relaxes is the verb, or action word. Swimming is the subject of the sentence, or the thing performing the action (relaxes). You can tell swimming is a noun because you can substitute other nouns here and the sentence makes sense. For example: Chocolate relaxes me. In this sentence, chocolate is a noun and is the subject.

When you use a noun or pronoun before a gerund, that noun or pronoun should be possessive. Here are some examples:

Your swimming is really improving.

I enjoy your singing.(I is the subject, enjoy is the verb, and singing is the object and a gerund.)

I don’t like my son’s riding a bicycle without a helmet.

I am punishing you for your eating in the computer room.

OK. But now we hit a snag (of course). 

There are some other words that look like gerunds—in other words, they used to be verbs, are not being used as verbs, and end in -ing. But instead of functioning as nouns, they are functioning as adjectives (which describe nouns).  They are called participles. Here are some examples of participles:

I know the woman wearing the hat. (Wearing describes woman. Which woman? The one wearing a hat.)

I hear you singing in the shower. (Singing is an adjective describing you. I hear you. You are singing in the shower.)

There is a bunny hopping in the back yard. (Hopping describes bunny. Hopping bunny.)

See if you can tell which is a gerund and which is a participle:

I see the cat chasing its tail.

Chasing its tail is fun for the cat.

Chasing is a gerund (or noun) in the second sentence. It is the subject of the sentence and a noun. In the first sentence, chasing is a participle (or adjective) describing the cat.

RULE: Use the possessive before a gerund, but not a participle.


I know the woman wearing a hat.  In this sentence, wearing describes the woman. It is the woman whom you know. Which woman? The one wearing a hat. The focus here is on the woman, the noun. Wearing the hat simply tells which woman.

I don’t like the woman’s wearing a hat inside the house. In this sentence, the focus is on the wearing. It is the wearing you don’t like. The wearing belongs to the woman. It’s not the woman you don’t like. Here, wearing is a noun, or gerund, and you use the possessive (woman’s).

Here are a few more examples to (hopefully) make this a little clearer.

I know his reading every night has helped him pass the test. (possessive and gerund – focus is on reading)

I see him reading in the library every evening. (reading, a participle, describes him – focus is on him)

I hope you don’t mind my staying with you next week. (possessive and gerund – focus on staying)

I hear you calling my name. (calling,  a participle, describes you – focus on you)

As you can see, there is sometimes a fine line between the two, so do the best you can!! And let me know if you have any questions, please!

Please check out my teleseminar as I talk with Stephanie Chandler, president of the Nonfiction Writers Association!