Do I Hate Your Singing or You Singing?

Using possessives with gerunds.

Rob Reinalda, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #192

Sometimes there’s a topic that doesn’t quite defy explanation but certainly gives one pause in the undertaking. Lucky us—that’s where we find ourselves today. “Why gerunds take a possessive before them.” Oy.

What's a Gerund?

Let’s start with what a gerund is. It’s a verb form that resembles an adjective or adverb but is actually a noun. It’s one of the “-ing” forms of a verb. In other words, it's a noun that's trying to trick you into thinking it's a verb. The other “-ing” forms are those that are part of a complex verb form (the present progressive), and those that are participles.

So a verb ending with “-ing” can be one of three things: part of the present progressive, a participle, or a sneaky, dirty gerund.

Present Progressive

First let's dispense with the present progressive “-ing” form of any verb. It's important to understand the verb forms so you don't confuse them with the gerund—the noun form. Here's an example using the present progressive:

Ignatz is mowing the lawn.

It denotes a current, ongoing process. The subject is “Ignatz.” the verb is “mowing,” and the direct object is “the lawn.” “Mowing” is a verb. Done.


A participle is what we call a verb such as “crying” when it is used as a modifier. It can be an adjective, as in,

The crying man’s co-workers comforted him with apples.

Here, the adjective “crying” modifies the noun “man”: “the crying man.”

A participle can also be used as an adverb, as in,

The man ran crying out of the cinema.

Here, “crying” modifies the verb “ran,” describing how he ran: “the man ran crying.”


Now that we have the verbs out of the way, let's move on to gerunds. Here's an example of a sentence with a gerund:

Crying can relieve stress.

Here, “crying” is the subject of the sentence. You can see that it's acting like a noun because you can replace it with something that is more obviously a noun: “dogs.” “Dogs are clearly nouns, and you could say, “Dogs can relieve stress.” See how you can replace “dogs” with “crying”? “Dogs can relieve stress,” and “Crying can relieve stress.” “Crying” is a gerund; a thing that looks like a verb but is acting like a noun.

Gerunds and Possessives

OK, so now you understand gerunds. Let's build on that knowledge and figure out how to deal with possessives before a gerund. People ask about this a lot.

Here's an example of a correct sentence:

That baby’s crying is getting on my nerves.


About the Author

Rob Reinalda, Writing for Grammar Girl

Rob Reinalda, winner of ACES' 2019 Robinson Prize for excellence in editing, is the founder and principal of Word Czar Media. He is the author of "Why Editors Drink."

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