Whenever you use a noun or pronoun followed by an ‑ing verb, you must figure out whether the issue of the fused participle even arises. Figure out what noun function you need in your sentence. Is it a direct object? An object of a preposition? A subject?
Focus on the noun or pronoun. Then you must make one of three decisions about the use of the possessive:
1. Does the noun or pronoun serve that noun function and convey your meaning, and does the ‑ing verb therefore just modify the noun or pronoun? If so, do not use the possessive.
2. Does the ‑ing verb serve the noun role? If so, use the possessive.
3. Does the combination of the noun (or pronoun) and ‑ing verb state your meaning? If so, use the fused participle (don’t use the possessive form).
Here are the three situations, along with their solutions:
1. Noun or Pronoun Serves the Noun Role (Direct Object) If so, don’t make the noun or pronoun possessive:
She saw the woman running down the street.
Here she saw the woman, not the running. The ‑ing verb running is clearly adjectival and modifies woman.
Does everyone see that this is not a fused participle? We’re not using the combination woman running. We’re using woman as the direct object and running down the street as an adjective modifying woman.
2. The ‑ing Verb Serves the Noun Role (Direct Object)
If so, make the noun or pronoun possessive:
They hated OUR digging up the yard.
Here they hated the digging, so we use the possessive case our to force the ‑ing verb to serve the role of the noun. We hope they didn’t hate us. Hence, we avoid using the objective case us, which would produce this:
Many will question the wisdom of government departments straying into competitive commercial areas. Quoted in New Fowler, p. 610.
Here the Noun Combo government departments straying is what many are questioning the wisdom of. The structure—the fused participle—acts as the object of the preposition of.
Chart Showing Possibilities
From the experts, we can glean some categories of situations where one structure (possessive noun or pronoun) or the other (nonpossessive noun or pronoun) tends to dominate. Mr. Burchfield, the editor of New Fowler, has identified various examples of current practice. He notes, however, that the choice is often a personal one. I would note, however, that the choice should primarily depend on grammatical analysis, which will reveal your meaning.
Fused Participle - Solutions
|Word Before -ing Verb||Use Possessive?||Use Non- possessive?||Example|
|proper name||Yes -ing verb = noun||He wondered if he should be angry about Nancy’s having failed to call him on time.|
|personal noun (e.g., brother, baby, son)||Yes -ing verb = noun||He did not like his son’s driving with beer in the car.|
|nonpersonal noun (e.g. house, tree)||Yes fused participle||They enjoyed talking about the house being haunted.|
|plural nonpersonal noun||Yes fused participle||They expressed no opinion about the jewels losing their value.|
|personal pronouns (practice is evenly divided, but analyze grammar and meaning)||Yes fused participle||I do not understand him making that mistake.|
|Yes -ing verb = noun||We appreciate your standing in line to buy our tickets for us.|
|indefinite pronouns (e.g., something, everyone, anyone)||Yes fused participle||These facts are a symptom of something going wrong with the banking system.|
|Yes fused participle||Is there a problem with everyone leaving now?|
|personal pronoun as first word in sentence||Yes (always) -ing verb = noun||My interrupting the class confused the professor. Not: Me interrupting the class. . . . Not: I interrupting the class. . .|
This topic is not an easy one to discuss. But it is definitely worth discussing, for in America today, many people do not seem to know that a noun or pronoun in its possessive form is often necessary to enable them to say exactly what they want to say. If they aren’t careful, they might ending up smelling their moms frying chicken.
You need a fairly high degree of grammatical knowledge to get through this discussion. Your reading the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech should equip you with the necessary concepts.
You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.
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