Subject of Gerund Phrase

Guides to Identify Subject of Gerund Phrase

The SubjectOpens in new window of a GerundOpens in new window or Gerund phraseOpens in new window very often refers to a person or a living thing.

The Subjects of Gerundial phrases consist in the following observations:

  • Making mistakes is so human.
  • There is nothing demeaning about being a menial worker.
  • Writing in these walls is strictly prohibited.
  • They commended Kyles for undertaking such a difficult task.
    (In this sentence the subject of the gerundial phrase (in bold) is “Kyles”, and also the object of the main verb “commended”.)
  • Meeting him alone is not advisable. I suggest you go with some one.
    (Obviously, the subject here is “you”)
  • I suggest postponing a decision till a later date.
    (here, the subject of the gerund phrase is “we”)
  • Anita resented her younger sister’s getting more attention than she did.
    (younger sister as subject of the gerundial phrase)
  • The idea of his junior colleague’s being promoted over his head was anathema to Ram.
    (junior colleague as subject of the gerundial phrase)

Speaking of possessives, we use the possessive form only in formal context. In informal context, the non–possessive form of the noun or personal pronoun is used, the object form in the case of the personal pronoun:

  • Anita resented her younger sister getting more attention than she did.
  • The idea of him being passed over and his junior colleague being promoted was anathema to Ram.

However, in cases where the gerundial phrase functions as subject of the sentence, the possessive form is a must use both in formal and informal contexts:

  • His being passed over and his junior colleague’s being promoted was an affront to Ram.
  • The girl’s risking her life to save a friend from drowning was widely admired and commended.
  • I remember him behaving like a child (instead of “I remember his behaving like a child …”).
  • In those days we never minded our teachers being strict with us (instead of “In those days we never minded our teachersbeing strict with us”); we rather expected it.
  • Who could imagine him (instead of “his”) doing a *volte–face like that?

Note that such gerundial phrases may occur as objects of main verbs, as in the examples above, or as objects of preposition, as in these:

  • I object to him serving as our spokesperson.
  • I thoroughly disapprove of my son moving in such company but I can’t stop him.

All such phrases are best treated as object complements considering that they are so closely related to the object nouns or pronouns. However, conservative grammarians object to these constructions and insist on the possessive forms being used, especially with the personal pronouns. They may pass, grudgingly, a gerund phrase with a non-possessive noun like:

  • I object to the man serving as our spokesperson.

But not a gerundial phrase with a non–possessive pronoun like:

  • I object to him serving as our spokesperson.

According to them (the grammarians), it should be:

  • I object to his serving as our spokesperson.
  • We don’t like the Head of State getting embroiled in an argument with the Prime Minister.
    (Here, the “subject” of the gerundial phrase is “the Head of State”, “of State” serves as the modifier)
  • Fancy the captain of a leading cricket team being in the *doghouse!
  • They continued with their exploration of the jungle despite its being unsafe.
  • We had no notion of there being a bandh in town.