To Possess or Not to Possess
by Cherie Tucker
Can you see what’s wrong with this sentence: They celebrated
with expensive champagne because of the team winning the
championship? If you went to parochial school and had the
nuns, you know that you must always use the possessive with the
gerund, but if you went to public school or were born after the
Beatles’ 1968 hit, “Hey, Jude,” you may not even know what we’re
I appreciate your singing at the wedding, even though you had a
A gerund is the –ing form of a verb used as a noun, such as “Seeing
is believing” or “Cheating could get you into
trouble.” When you use such a word, you must decide whether the
noun or pronoun before the gerund owns that word. Don’t go away; it
will all be made clear. Take these two examples:
I appreciate you singing at the wedding, even though you have stage
the first example you appreciate the singing. The person
performed despite the cold that might have affected the quality of
the performance. In the second example, you appreciated the you,
the person who hates to perform but did it anyway just for you. If
you’d had nuns or are pre-“Hey, Jude,” you may even have diagrammed
a sentence or two. In the first sentence the subject is I,
the verb is appreciate, and the direct object (the word that
receives the appreciation) is singing. The word your
merely shows whose singing it was.
the second example, the subject and verb are still I appreciate,
but the direct object, the word that is appreciated, is you.
Therefore, in the first sentence above, the correct wording should
be They celebrated with expensive champagne because of the
team’s winning the championship. (They are
celebrating the winning, not just the team, and that
apostrophe before the s indicates whose winning it was.)
Here’s another one: We admired John’s
working nights to put himself through school.
John is an amazing person, yes, but what
we admired was John’s working, not just John.
appreciate your trying to digest this rather complicated subject,
especially if you went to public school post-“Hey, Jude." It’s an
important one that separates the writer from the scribbler, so do
give it some thought.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits