Oh my: gerunds and possessives

Pretend you just got on the bus and the only open seat is next to a woman who sat her enormous purse on the empty seat. You want to ask politely if she could move her purse so you could sit beside her. Which question would you ask:

Do you mind me sitting here?
Do you mind my sitting here?

The second sentence is correct. If you picked the first sentence, don’t stress. People make this mistake so frequently that the correct way can often sound wrong.

But why is the second sentence correct? To understand, we first have to learn about gerunds.

What is a gerund?
A gerund is a word that looks like a verb (because it ends in –ing) but acts like a noun. In the example above, sitting is the gerund.

Here are more examples. In these sentences, the gerund is in italics.

The waiting is the most difficult part.
His chattering is driving me crazy.
Your quizzing him is helping his test grades.

Gerunds and possessives
Because gerunds act like nouns, a possessive (my, your, his, her, their) goes before them. Think about regular nouns and how they use possessives.

my hat
your cat
his bat

Gerunds work the same way. Let’s look at the gerund dancing:

My dancing won first place.
Your dancing won second place.
Her dancing won third place.

Miscommunication
When you don’t use a possessive in front of a gerund, there can be a miscommunication. Let’s go back to our bus scenario. If you asked, “Do you mind me sitting here?” the emphasis is placed on me instead of the act of sitting. Essentially, you would be asking the woman whether she minded you personally. However, if you ask, “Do you mind my sitting here?” the emphasis is placed on sitting and not on you.

Likewise, look at this example:

You snoring makes me want to poke my eyes out.
Your snoring makes me want to poke my eyes out.

In the first sentence, it sounds like you, personally, are why the speaker wants to hurt herself. In the second sentence, it sounds like it’s the snoring, and not simply you, that is causing the annoyance.

Remember
Gerunds look like verbs ending in –ing, but they act like nouns. Like a noun, a possessive goes before a gerund.

More examples:

I appreciate your taking the kids to school.
I think my vacationing was a good idea.
Do you mind my staring at you?

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One thought on “Oh my: gerunds and possessives

  1. I’m interested in Gerund usage.Anyone can tell me which sentence is correct?Thank’s.1) I am worried about his handling the matter 2) I am worried about his handling of the matter.

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