Thursday, March 01, 2007

Today's English lesson

From the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

I love learning
about Gerunds!!

Gerunds are verb forms ending in -ing that act as nouns. They can be the subject of a sentence:
Skiing is her favorite sport.
the object of a verb:
She enjoys skiing.
or the object of a preposition:
She devoted her free time to skiing.
Gerunds can be modified like nouns:
That book makes for difficult reading.
But they can also act like verbs in that they can take an object
Convincing him was never easy.
and be modified by an adverb:
Walking daily can improve your health.
gerund and possessives (fused participle). Some people insist that when a gerund is preceded by a noun or pronoun, the noun or pronoun must be in the possessive case. Accordingly, it is correct to say
I can understand his wanting to go
but incorrect to say
I can understand him wanting to go.
But the construction without the possessive, sometimes called the fused participle, has been used by respected writers for 300 years and is perfectly idiomatic. Moreover, there is often no way to “fix” the construction by inserting the possessive. This is often the case with common nouns. Thus you can say
We have had very few instances of luggage being lost.
but not … of luggage’s being lost.

Sometimes syntax makes using the possessive impossible. Consider the sentence
What she objects to is men making more money than women for the same work.
Changing men making to men’s making not only sounds awkward, but it requires women’s at the other end to keep the sentence parallel, and women’s simply does not work. Perhaps for these reasons 53 percent of the Usage Panel finds the phrase men making acceptable in this sentence, and another 36 percent find it acceptable in informal contexts. Only 11 percent reject it outright.

However, when the construction is more complicated so that a word or phrase intervenes between the noun and the gerund, the panel is less sanguine. Only 25 percent accept the sentence
I can understand him not wanting to go.
where the negative not intervenes between the pronoun and the gerund. Thirty-one percent say this sentence is acceptable in informal contexts, leaving 44 percent who are naysayers. Panel acceptance drops even further when the syntax gets more complicated. Only 16 percent accept the sentence
Imagine a child with an ear infection who cannot get penicillin losing his hearing.
where both a phrase and a clause intervene between the noun child and the gerund losing. And only 17 percent find this sentence acceptable in informal contexts, so that 66 percent reject it roundly.

Be aware that sometimes nouns ending in -s can be confused with a singular noun in the possessive. Thus
I don’t approve of your friend’s going there.
indicates one friend is going, and
I don’t approve of your friends going there.
indicates that more than one friend is going.

No comments: