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I Enjoy You/Your Singing–Pronouns With Gerunds

This past weekend my blog was down, and I only found out because a loyal reader named Lori let me know. Lori and I exchanged several messages about the blog and the cause of the problem. My final message to Lori included this sentence:

I appreciate you letting me know about the blog being down. 

I thought it would be my final message to Lori. But as someone interested in writing correctly, she wrote back immediately to ask about my use of you (rather than your) before the gerund letting. I happily promised to discuss it here. 

First, a definition: A gerund is an -ing verb used as a noun. Some people call gerunds "verbal nouns."

These sentences start with gerunds:

  • Smoking is hazardous to your health.
  • Whining is an unattractive habit.
  • Listening gets you more information than talking. (Talking is another gerund in this sentence.)

The grammatical question Lori was asking is whether the object pronoun (you) is correct before the gerund letting, as in "you letting me know."

The normal rule is to use a possessive form before a gerund:

  • Dad's smoking upsets Margie. (Not "Dad smoking upsets Margie.")
  • Your whining is driving me crazy. (Not "You whining is driving me crazy.")
  • My supervisor's listening makes me feel valued. (Not "My supervisor listening makes me feel valued.")

To understand the choices above, you can look at what they do not mean:

  • Dad upsets Margie–not true. His smoking upsets her.
  • You are driving me crazy–not true. Your whining is.
  • My supervisor makes me feel valued–not exactly true. His or her listening does.

Back to the sentence I wrote to Lori:

I appreciate you letting me know about the blog being down.

I intended to convey that I appreciated Lori after getting to know her through our exchange of messages. That is why I chose "I appreciate you letting me know" rather than "I appreciate your letting me know." Both choices are correct, although I admit that sirens may go off in a grammarian's mind when reading "you letting."

I consulted Garner's Modern American Usage before writing this post. I share one of Mr. Garner's excellent comparisons:

  • Is John in the shower? Yes, I heard him singing.
  • Is he talented? Yes, I heard his singing.

The first item makes sense with him: I heard him. That is how I know he is in the shower.

The second item requires his: I heard John's [his] singing. That is how I know he is talented.

Lori did not ask about the second gerund in my sentence: "the blog being down." Why didn't I write "the blog's being down"?

Garner describes "nonpersonal nouns" as ones in which "there's typically no choice of construction." We normally do not use a possessive form with them. He provides this example:

He was responsible for the luggage having been lost. [Not "the luggage's having been lost."]

Garner's example makes sense to me not only because luggage is a nonpersonal noun, but also because we can say "He was responsible for the luggage." And I can say "Lori let me know about the blog."

Sometimes it makes sense to restructure a sentence when it sounds awkward. For example:

  • Raoul's signing the document is required. (slightly awkward)
  • Raoul's signature is required. (clear and concise)

Test yourself on these examples:

  1. His/Him leaving early will not be a problem.
  2. Nadia is upset about you/your forgetting the meeting. 
  3. Jeff/Jeff's driving has worried his partners.
  4. I am pleased about Grace/Grace's taking over the division.
  5. Doreen is concerned about her daughter/daughter's having forgotten her keys.


Here are my solutions, along with brief explanations:

1. "His leaving"–the focus is on the leaving, not on him. Besides, him sounds bad at the beginning of the sentence.

2. "Your forgetting" seems more likely. However, if Nadia is upset that you of all people would forget the meeting, "you forgetting" is correct.

3. "Jeff's driving"–Jeff's driving has them worried, not Jeff himself.

4. I believe either choice could be correct, depending on one's emphasis. Both "I am pleased about Grace" and "I am pleased about Grace's taking over" are possible.

5. "Daughter's having" is correct, but the sentence is cumbersome. A better version is "Doreen is concerned that her daughter forgot her keys."

The title of this post is "I Enjoy You/Your Singing–Pronouns With Gerunds." Is you or your correct in that example?

I believe "your singing" is more likely to convey the meaning. But situations do exist in which "you singing" would be correct.

Do you agree with my rather liberal view of pronouns before gerunds? I welcome your commenting comments.

Thanks to Lori for inspiring this post.

Syntax Training 


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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