≡ Menu


Trippy. I was just talking shop with an English teacher the other night, and the subject of gerunds came up.

Are you using them correctly?

A gerund is a present participle used as a noun. The word itself means “to bear” or “to carry on.” In English, gerunds end in -ing. Being a noun, a gerund can be used as (1) the subject of a verb {complaining about it won’t help}; (2) the object of a verb {I don’t like your cooking}; (3) a predicate nominative or complement {his favorite hobby is sleeping}; or (4) the object of a preposition {reduce erosion by terracing the fields}. Seems pretty straightforward…but read on and see if you are using gerunds correctly in your writing.

A noun (or more commonly a pronoun) followed by a gerund may take the possessive form in contexts where, if a pronoun was used, it would be in the possessive case. This practice, elegant if followed appropriately, requires caution. In the first two examples below, the possessive form is clearly needed.

  • Stuart’s revealing his feelings about the venue resulted in some light laughter.
  • Matthew’s assuming the role of husband impressed the crowd of well-wishers.

In the following three examples, the possessive form (given in parentheses) might sound pedantic to some. In the fourth, however, use of the pronoun their is unlikely to seem so.

  • He was worried about his daughter (or daughter’s) going there alone.
  • I won’t put up with Jefferson and Franklin (or Jefferson’s and Franklin’s) being denigrated.
  • The problem of authors (or authors’) finding the right publisher can be solved.


  • The problem of their finding the right publisher can be solved.

In the following two examples, where “Kate” and “Guests” could not be replaced by “her” and “Their,” the possessive would clearly be incorrect.

  • We listened to Kate singing a solo.
  • Guests wishing to park in the grocer’s lot next door can expect a visit by the tow truck.

Sources: Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary, Chicago Manual of Style.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Next post:

Previous post: