Possessive Verbs

Posted on Posted in journal, language - it's a beautiful thing

At the moment I'm studying for a diploma in editing and book publishing. (If any of you have noticed I don't tend to post on Fridays, that would be because it's course day, and the course is in Sydney.) Yesterday's course notes included an article, Rules for Using the Possessive with Verbal Forms by Mary Stoughton.

Stoughton summarises:

Although these books all agree the possessive should be used with a gerund but not with a participle, a gerund and a participle both use the -ing form and therefore look the same, despite the fact that they function differently.

Now, I've studied more grammar than most english-speakers of my acquaintance, and still my head always starts to vibrate slowly when the concept of verb forms comes up. Even when it's stuff I know. But using the possessive in front of a verbal form? Maybe I know it, sub-consciously. When I read on, I found Stoughton slightly clearer:

Ultimately, then, it all comes down to a question of meaning: What's objectionable, the woman herself or the fact that she happens to be wearing pearls? If it's the former, no possessive is required. [I object to the woman wearing pearls.] If it's the latter, it takes the possessive to make the meaning clear. [I object to the woman's wearing pearls.] If the emphasis is on the noun, no possessive is used. If the emphasis is on the phrase or the thought, the possessive is used.

Okay, I thought. I think I understand what she's driving at. I can do this.

Nope. After the article was a test: ten example sentences, and I had to decide whether it was correct as written, or whether the possessive was required. I managed to be convinced they were all correct as written (and the simple fact I thought all of them were correct did lead me to think something was awry, yes).

The real number that were correct as written? One.

And I thought I knew some of this grammar stuff.

9 thoughts on “Possessive Verbs

  1. Well, I suppose I could always claim I was interpreting the sentence intentions differently. Therefore I was right.

    Somehow, I don't think my teacher will share the same view of that.

    I know some stuff about grammar, but this particular aspect is new to me entirely. (And how do you know nothing about grammar? Don't (didn't?) you speak German? Surely you learnt some stuff about grammar in the process of learning German!)

  2. I was just going through this whole 'possessive' thing the other day. In the end, I stormed out of the study muttering a string of: "*@&)&!^&#@!&@^&@^&*^&@!@!@@&%!@*(&@!!!!" Yes, I can now speak in symbols. But more importantly, I discovered that certain grammar rules suck the big one.

  3. Indeed! One of my main problems is the terminology used in trying to explain the new rules to me. Seriously. I learnt most of my grammar informally; it's only fairly recently that I understood what the "gerund" form of a verb actually is. English is teh suck. πŸ™„

  4. Urgh, I think my head exploaded.

    I would have thought the same as the first commenter: intent of the sentence… I mean, some might obiously be wrong, but between the two that were up, I'd have said either of those worked for me. :S

  5. Hi Jodi! Welcome to the blog. I agree, either of the two example sentences work, but I also see the point the article was making: objecting to the woman (who happens to be wearing pearls), or objecting to wearing pearls, is two different scenarios. Unfortunately, the example sentences in the test weren't as clear for me to wrap my head around.

  6. 😯 *thinks about it. gets headache*

    I'm suddenly remembering an old Bloom County where Opus ran around screaming "I object! I object! By golly I object!" You can probably tell what kind of grammarian I am by the fact that after thinking it over, I decided to hell with both the woman and her wearing pearls. πŸ˜€

    Then I started wondering what the rule was if you specifically object not 1)to her, precisely, or 2)to the idea of wearing pearls, but 3)precisely tothe idea of her wearing pearls. Like she's dandy fine, and wearing pearls is dandy fine, but not her wearing them for some reason. But that way lies madness…

  7. D'you know what I can't believe? I was hesitating over posting this, 'cause I thought, "who cares about grammar? not everyone's weird in the head like you, deb." And now it's the post with the most comments. Go figure.

  8. By learning german, I learned, say, the difference between a verb, a noun, a pronoun, adjective, adverb, etc etc.

    You started talking aboug gerunds. Totally different species of gerbil.

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