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I largely learned most of my English from a handful of people in and outside school. One of them is Mrs. E. Rao, who had a very animated way of teaching us, and I think most of my knowledge of grammar rules comes directly from her. In fact, I can still recite two poems from memory because I still remember the day she taught us those: Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead and The Charge of The Light Brigade. And it was this wonderful woman who corrected in me something that almost everyone else messes up in speech or writing. Of course, I haven’t made the mistake since, and hopefully, after you are done reading this post, neither will you. And I have my fingers crossed here, because I am telling you what I was told a good 19 years ago.

There is a significant difference in the following two sentences:

I heard your screaming.
I heard you screaming.

The difference in the two sentences lies in the leading word or direct object. If “screaming” is the direct object of the sentence, the first sentence is correct. A logical follow up can be, “I heard your screaming, and came running.” But, if the leading word is “you”, then the first sentence will not work, or give a false outcome. In the second sentence, “you” is the direct object and a logical follow up to prove this can be: “I heard you screaming over all the din.”

Likewise, in the following two sentences:

I hate you making yourself comfortable in my home.
I hate your making yourself comfortable in my home,

the first sentence does not make sense. Do I hate you? Probably not. Do I hate your action? Most definitely yes. A simple way to remember this is, when your -ing word is taking up the noun role or becoming the direct object, you make your noun possessive. So, in the above example, “making” is our direct object, and therefore, to make a meaningful sentence, we use the possessive “your” instead of the “you”.

Grammatically speaking, this is an example of the fused participle, where the progressive form of a verb (ending in -ing), in addition to its primary function, may serve as either a noun or an adjective, in which case it is called a gerund or a present participle, respectively. One often faces a choice between these two usages. For example, when a gerund is modified by a possessive pronoun or noun and appears as the object of a verb or preposition, the modifier may in some cases be replaced by its objective form. The gerund is thereby transformed into an adjectival participle, and the meaning of the sentence changes accordingly.

However, if the noun or pronoun itself is taking up the role of the noun in the sentence and becoming a direct object, do not use the possessive. So in a sentence like,

I saw the man distributing the fliers,

I am talking about how I saw the man, not his distributing. The ‑ing verb distributing is clearly adjectival (describes the man) and modifies man.

I realised halfway in the post that I was aiming too high. Mrs. Rao’s shoes are too big for me to fill and I probably didn’t do justice to the little lesson she gave me outside the staff room that day. So if you are unclear about my explanation here, please comment and ask questions, and I will try my best to explain this further.

PS: There is no image with this post because Fused Participles seem too dry for the best minds in Grammar Cartoons also.