My or me + verb-ing? Possessive Gerund

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Jose asks about the possessive gerund in my Free Grammar Questions,

Which is correct?
(1) She doesn’t approve of (me) or (my) gambling.
(2) They insisted on (me) or (my) staying with them.
My answer is the possessive ‘my’.

The short answer is, for English grammar purists, that Jose is correct. The possessive pronoun “my” should be used with a gerund (a verb with -ing that is acting as a noun.) You don’t really call it the possessive gerund; it’s a gerund following a possessive pronoun.

Here’s what I told Jose:

In both cases, I agree with “my.” The reason is that the -ing word is a gerund, a verb used as a noun. So “gambling” and “staying” are both things, like a car or a hobby.

If you wrote the sentence as “She didn’t approve of my car” you would see it makes sense. If you wrote “She didn’t approve of me car” it would clearly be wrong.

However, it can get complicated. Some would argue that the pronoun “me” or “my” is the object of the main verb in the sentence, “approve.” Without an indirect object, the sentence would be “She didn’t approve of me.” This seems perfectly correct, so why the confusion?

In fact, only grammar purists worry about me or my in this situation. If you have a really strict teacher, then you need to worry about it, too. But regular folks understand what you mean whether or not you use me or my. This is one of those cases where you might say it’s formal versus informal usage.

The possessive gerund isn’t always correct

In some cases, whether you use the possessive or objective form of the pronoun can affect the meaning of the sentence.

I love them singing.
I love their singing.

In the first sentence, it’s the action that’s being emphasized. I love it when they sing. The singing may or may not be good. I may love my daughter practicing piano because I know that she’s going to get better some day, but for now, I tolerate it with cotton stuffed into my ears.

In the second sentence, it’s the thing that’s being emphasized. I love listening to the music.

There’s a great discussion thread here.

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Parts of speech in questions

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Sometimes it can be difficult to identify the parts of speech in a question because the syntax (word order) can be changed.

Andrew asks the following:

Can you diagram this sentence for me, please? I’m specifically trying to understand the direct and indirect object.
“What do you want me to say?”

I agree this is tricky.

I found this site that diagrams interrogative sentences:

They suggest turning the sentence around to a declarative form:
You want me to say what.

This is an unusual way to express a desire in English, but it makes more clear which actions belong to which subjects.
The main subject is “you.” The main verb is “want.” The action of the sentence you wanting. It’s the same as “You want lunch.”
So the direct object is “me.”

The part that people have difficulty with is finding the indirect object. The indirect object is the object of the verb that is not the main verb. That means the main verb is having an action on another verb, and that verb is having an action on an object.

The indirect object is “what. This is similar to a sentence like: “You want me to play golf.” The subject is “you.” The main verb is “want.” The object of the main verb is “me.” But now the second verb is “play” and the object of the second verb is “golf.”

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Audiences or audience? Plural nouns

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Audiences or Audience?

Barry asked a question involving the word audience. Although his question was about verb tense, part of it included the sentence “Some audiences thought it was a special effect.”

I pointed out to Barry that in this case, audience is a collective noun, which means it’s a singular noun representing all the people watching the performance. Barry disagreed. He wrote:

Is it really wrong?
Here is an example from the Cambridge Dictionary:
She lectures to audiences all over the world.
The word audience takes a plural form in this sentence.
Is the case different from the original sentence I have above?

All the people in one theater at one time are an audience. Groups of people in multiple theaters at different times (or the same time) are audiences.
She lectures to audiences all over the world = she travels and lectures to different groups of people at different times. At a single lecture, she speaks to a single audience.
The example provided involved a single theater. Therefore, the use should be singular: audience.

If there were an explosion in the theater at each showing, and at some showings, the audience thought it was a special effect while at other showings, the audience thought it was real, then you could say “Some audiences thought it was a special effect.”

The use of “audiences” in your question is a grammatical error because your words do not match your intended meaning (one audience at one time).

Staff or Staffs?

A similar error is in the use of the word “staffs”. The staff of a business consists of all employees. Each employee is a staff member. The only way the word “staff” should be plural is when you have groups of employees from several businesses.

The staff of Acme Industries challenged the staff of 345 Enterprises to a challenge.
The staffs of the two businesses got together for a friendly baseball game.

Research or Researches?

The word “researches” is never used. Although research refers to both the activity and the product, the sum of a number of studies is still “research.” If we need to refer to a number of projects, then we use the words “research studies” or simply “studies.”

These are common errors for people who are writing in English as a Second Language. They use the word “audience” to refer to a single member of the audience when it means everyone watching the show. If you’re writing in English as a Second Language, use my proofreading service to avoid such errors.

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Confused about grammar?

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I love it when people ask me grammar questions. Here are a few recent questions along with their answers.

How many children did there used to be in class?

How many children there used to be in class?
Should I add “did”?

The correct way to phrase this is “How many children did there used to be in class?” The main verb is “be.”

The auxiliary verb “do” is necessary when we form some sentences as a question because we change the order of the words.

You went to the store.
Did you go to the store?
We can’t write “Went you to the store?” Nor can we write “Did you went to the store?” So we use the auxiliary “do” to form this type of question. It’s the same with the imperfect tense (ongoing action in the past).
We form the imperfect with the auxiliary “used to”. To form a question in the imperfect, we use the auxiliary “do” along with the auxiliary “used to.”
A student spent 30 minutes on the fall test and 44 minutes on the spring test.
Which would be correct?She spent 14 fewer minutes on the spring test.
She spent 14 minutes less on the spring test.

Standard usage is to use “fewer” for countable nouns; however, there is plenty of evidence to support the use of “less” in this context. My preference is to go for the standard usage to avoid triggering a panic response in individuals disposed to strict grammar conservatism.
When using an abbreviation like (etc.) in the middle of a sentence, does the following word need a capital letter as it is following a fullstop? As in the example below with the word ‘changed’
Example: Have mobiles, I pads etc. changed our lives?
No. An abbreviation in the middle of a sentence does not make the following word begin a new sentence; therefore, there is no capital required (although your word processor may automatically change the following word into one with a capital.)
Here’s a common example: I went to see Dr. Smith. Obviously, “Smith” doesn’t start a new sentence.
I prefer to edit out these anomalies and write something like “and other items” but in some cases the abbreviation is the best way to go.

In asking if someone mixed up me and another individual I said “Did you get Tim and I confused?”

I was told that it should be “Tim and me.” I’m not sure because if you take out the other noun, you are left with “Did you get me confused?” That seems to suggest something other than individuals being mixed up. Instead it seems more like I didn’t understand something. Is it I or me?

I understand there was more artful way to phrase the question, but now I’m just confused as to how it should be phrased!

It’s an interesting question because when you make it “me” instead of “Tim and me” you change the meaning of “confused.”

In your original question, the answer should be “me”. This is because “me” is the direct object of “confused.” In this case, the subject of the sentence is “you” and “you” is the person who is confused. Another way to phrase this that might be clearer would be “Did you get me confused with Tim?” You would never say “Did you get I confused with Tim?”
But if you get me confused (without mentioning Tim), then I’m the one who is confused. The state of confusion is in my mind. In this case “me” is the object of “get”, and “confused” is an adjective to describe “me”.
I hope my explanation doesn’t get you confused.

Not to or to not?

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24-HR-businessSmI was reading a New York Times article that used the sentence “He has managed not to alienate anyone.” It reminded me of the difficulty people have in using a negative with an infinitive.

To my ears, and to the ears of many other native speakers, it would sound better as: to not alienate… It’s like a negative infinitive, so the negative should go next to the actual verb, not the preposition. I associated the preposition with the preceding verb as if it were a modal. I hear it as “manage to” rather than simply “manage.”

But this is not the case. The verb “manage” does not require a preposition. It simply requires a direct object. Therefore, if the thing being managed is an action, it is a verb in the form of an infinitive.

This is not a case of obeying the old canard not to split an infinitive. That would apply to the use of an adverb. In this case the negative is placed before the verb, and the verb includes the preposition “to.”

I hope I have  managed to explain this clearly. I also hope I have managed not to offend.

Singular or plural?

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One of the most common grammar questions I get is: should the verb be singular or plural?

Today, the question went like this:

The line of girls (was/were) dancing.

What is confusing to many people is whether the verb (was/were) should agree with “girls” or “line.”

This is where an understanding of parts of the sentence is helpful. Every sentence has an action, that’s the verb. Every action requires an actor. That’s the subject. However, sometimes it’s hard to see the subject. For example if I look at you, point at the door, and say “Go!”, that’s a sentence, but the subject (you) is not explicitly stated, it is implied. Similarly, in a passive sentence, the subject may be hidden. In the famous line “Mistakes were made” the speaker does not provide the subject.

But in today’s question, we have a nice clear sentence. Who is doing the action? The line of girls. And yet, we’re stuck, as the questioner asks, with the choice between “line” and “girls” as the subject.

So, just as a mechanic takes things apart to see how they work, let’s take this phrase apart to see how it works.

Here are two options:

The line was dancing.

The girls were dancing.

Notice what happened? We lost “of”. This is the key to understanding. “Of” connects “girls” to “line”. In fact the words “of girls” tell us what kind of line it was.

The line of cars was idling.

The line of bus passengers was waiting.

The words “of girls” in our sentence is acting as an adjectival phrase. It describes the line.

So clearly, the answer, is “was.”

Using an elipsis . . . in quotations

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A reader asks about the use of an elipsis:

Do I capitalize the first letter of the word at it is the beginning of the quoted sentence even though it is the middle of the sentence in the original format? (the h of her)
“. . . her intellect was geared to her hymen, not her brain” (Welter 156).

Let’s start with what an ellipsis is.

An ellipsis is the three dots that indicate something has been left out of a quotation. Depending on the style, you may have a space before and after the ellipsis.

The opposite of the ellipsis is the square bracket [ ]. These are used to show where you have inserted words (or changed words/letters).

Chicago, MLA and APA styles all use a space between the periods: three periods for words missing within a sentence and four periods (the first indicates the end of the sentence) for words missing between sentences (APA 6.08; MLA use, Purdue OWL). Be careful: MS Word will automatically change three consecutive periods into an ellipsis character. However, if you are publishing your essay, an editor will change it back as part of the editing process if you specify the style.

It’s rare to use an ellipsis at the beginning or end of a quotation because clearly you are only citing a very short part of something and there must be more before and after the passage quoted.

Chicago Manual of Style is explicit: “Ellipsis points are normally not used (1) before the first word of a quotation, even if the beginning of the original sentence has been omitted; or (2) after the last word of a quotation, even if the end of the original sentence has been omitted, unless the sentence as quoted is deliberately incomplete” (13.50).

In this question, the original did not have a capital because it was in the middle of a sentence. The only reason we would need a capital here would be if it is the beginning of a sentence in the essay citing it. In this case, we could use a capital enclosed in square brackets: “[H]er intellect. . .” It would be better to use an introductory clause so the original grammar and capitalization would remain intact. In fact, it’s always best to try to construct your writing so as not to need to make changes to the passage you are citing.

On the other hand, the passage being cited may begin a sentence and begin with a capital. In this case, you would probably want to format the paragraph so the capital is kept. If you must insert the passage into another sentence, use a lower case with square brackets.
In the question posed, the quotation could be structured thus:
Welter suggests women were not capable of rational thought when she writes, “her intellect was geared to her hymen, not her brain” (Welter 156).
Here’s an awkward way to write it with a capital:
“[H]er intellect was geared to her hymen, not her brain” (Welter 156), although clearly Welter’s own intellect contradicted this opinion.
I really appreciate people who ask grammar questions like this. I learned a lot by researching the ellipsis.

When do you use a comma with as?

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The use of comma before the conjunction “as” is quite confusing. Are there any rules to use the comma correctly? Thank you.

Conjunction or Adverb?

Do not use a comma before “as” when using it in a comparison. In this usage, it’s an adverb. I’m as happy as a clam. It’s an adverb because it relates to the state-of-being verb. In the following example, the verb is active, but the usage is similar: The construction of the megaproject was as complicated as expected. (Notice here that “as” follows a verb; only use a comma after a verb for an appositive). Here’s an appositive form: The construction of the megaproject was complicated, as expected. Notice here that there is no longer a comparison, the whole phrase is adverbial, applied to complicated. In this case the usage is as a conjunction.

Use a comma with “As” as a conjunction

As a conjunction, “as” is equivalent to “because”. Do use a comma when “as” can be substituted with “because”. The megaproject went billions of dollars over budget, as the cost of cement was unexpectedly increased.

However, we do use a comma for the above when it’s written as an appositive.

Simultaneous time: The expense of the megaproject, as the government cut taxes, put a strain on the country’s finances.

Do not use a comma with “As” as an adverb

Do not use a comma when “as” is used for simultaneous time. This is an adverbial use. The megaproject went billions of dollars over budget as the government continued to claim it was successful.

Compound subjects with possessive

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Bob and Sally bought a house. Congratulations! Now they want to send out an invitation to their housewarming party. Should the invitation read: You’re invited to Bob and Sally’s housewarming party. Or: You’re invited to Bob’s and Sally’s housewarming party.
There is a clear rule for this. With a compound subject (two nouns joined by “and”) we only put the apostrophe on the second. If Bob and Sally want people to come to their party and not complain about grammar errors, then the invitation should read: You’re invited to Bob and Sally’s housewarming party.
However, if Bob and Sally had different groups of friends, some of whom didn’t like to mix, and others who got on quiet well and they decided to have separate housewarming parties, but with a single invitation for those invited to both parties, the single invitation would read, “You’re invited to Bob’s and Sally’s housewarming parties. (See what length grammar teachers will go to imagine a situation that fits the grammar rule we are trying to demonstrate?)
The great thing about language is that the rules exist to express any kind of hypothetical situation.

If I was or if I were…

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Someone asked me today to comment on this sentence:

Each individual is asked to sign for himself or herself, and if you are a married couple, it is requested that you do not sign Mr. and Mrs. Doe, but rather that each of you signs your respective name.

He wanted to know if the verb after “each of you…” should be “sign” or “signs.” As I quickly glanced at the question, I replied:

The word “each” is treated as singular. Therefore the verb should be “signs.”
In his further correspondence, he stated:
I should have added in my initial request that my colleague stated that the “if” creates a subjunctive which requires the use of “sign” instead of “signs”, but that did not seem correct to me.
Well, of course, his colleague was correct, and I was wrong. Indeed, the use of “if” creates the need for a subjunctive.
English seems to be losing the subjunctive. I’m often asked to answer “If I was or if I were…” and the answer is “were.”
Here’s what Wikipedia says about the subjunctive.
The English subjunctive is used to form sentences that do not describe known objective facts. These include statements about one’s state of mind, such as opinion, belief, purpose, intention, or desire. The subjunctive mood is also used for statements that are contrary to fact, such as If I were a giraffe, … (subjunctive), as distinguished from I was a child. Subjunctive statements often occur in dependent clauses, such as the subjunctive example in the preceding sentence. It contrasts with the indicative mood, which is used for statements of fact, such as He speaks English.The subjunctive is a strange verb tense (technically a mood) in which the third person singular does not employ an “s”.

Notice the “if” clause. That’s one of the clues that the subjunctive might be called for. The reason we don’t notice the subjunctive is that in regular verbs the only difference between the subjunctive and the indicative is in the third person singular, which in the indicative ends in -s or -es (in most verbs), but in the subjunctive does not.

In fact, the subjunctive is identical to the infinitive and the imperative, which means for the verb “to be” the subjunctive form is “be.” Thus we have sentences such as “Be it resolved…” or even “Here be dragons.” (And you thought pirates were just grammatically flawed; it turns out they used the subjunctive!)

Remember the key to using the subjunctive is when we are describing things that are other than objective facts. So this could be a matter of opinion.

When I recommend you take the bus, I’m using the subjunctive (however, it can’t be differentiated from the indicative, which is why we forget it even exists.)

However in the negative, we simply insert “not” (unlike the indicative, where we need the auxiliary “do” in addition to “not.”

I recommend he not take the bus. Now that looks wrong to me, and most native English speakers would say “I recommend he does not take the bus.” That’s incorrect, since “he does not take the bus” is a statement of fact.

So much for the present subjunctive. There is also a past subjunctive.

The only verb that uses the past subjunctive is the verb “to be”. It is “were” for all persons.

If I were…

If he were…

This is one reason why I always get the question “If I was or if I were…” Every other verb follows a different rule. We use the past perfect. If I stole some money… If I robbed a bank…

If you want to know a lot more about the subjunctive, follow the link to Wikipedia above. It’s a bit much, even for a grammar fanatic like me.