Who’s Doing What: Possessive Adjectives to Modify Gerunds

Both of these photographs show something balancing. In the first photo, rocks are balancing. In the second, a ballerina is balancing. We can change these subjects into modifiers of the gerund (balancing) by making them possessive.

preposition-rocks-balance-gerund-noun-possessive-esl-english

The rocks’ balancing seemed impossible. Their balancing amazed me.

preposition-ballet-ballerina-dance-person-art-feet-shoes-balance-gerund-noun-possessive-esl-englishThe ballerina’s balancing took great skill. Her balancing was lovely.

Look at these pairs of sentences. How does adding the possessive adjective change the meaning of the second one?

I don’t like being late. I don’t like your being late.

He enjoys singing. He enjoys her singing.

Driving scares me. His driving scares me.

In each case, adding the possessive adjective changes who is acting. I’m not late; you are. He’s not singing; she is. I’m not driving; he is.

Look at how this works when changing a clause to a prepositional phrase.

Because he was so pushy, people didn’t like him.

Because of his being so pushy, people didn’t like him.

A prepositional phrase cannot be followed by a S + V. We can change the subject to a possessive and the verb to a gerund while keeping the meaning the same. Notice too, that the subject of the two clauses is different. This means we must use a possessive to modify the gerund so we know who is doing the action. If we don’t modify the gerund, we think the subject in the main clause is doing it, which isn’t true. (He’s the pushy one, not the people).

Even though she loves her dog very much, the dog can’t sleep on her bed.

Despite her loving her dog very much, the dog can’t sleep on her bed.

Practice One: Change the meaning of the sentence by modifying the gerund with a possessive. (Possible answers are below)

  1. I don’t like cooking ___________________________________________
  1. Writing interests me. __________________________________________
  1. I enjoy dancing. ______________________________________________
  1. Working is a good thing. _______________________________________

Practice Two: Change the dependent clause to a prepositional phrase. Remember to change the subject to a possessive and the verb to a gerund.

  1. Because she is shy, we don’t make her speak in public.

Due to __________________________________, we don’t make her speak in public.

  1. Even though it was cold, he wore a t-shirt.

Despite ____________________________, he wore a t-shirt.

  1. After the boss having a tantrum, none of us spoke.

After ____________________________________, none of us spoke.

Answers:

Practice 1

  1. I don’t like my mom’s cooking.
  2. Your writing interests me.
  3. I enjoy Beyoncé’s dancing.
  4. My son’s working is a good thing.

Practice 2

  1. Due to her being shy
  2. Despite its being cold.
  3. After the boss’ having a tantrum

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