The following recently-heard or -read sentences made us wince just a little here at Speak Previews®:
The sentences are not grammatically correct. Although when we speak informally the error they contain is not so objectionable, most presentations and documents require a more formal standard. And so we focus on the gerund, a handy kind of word formed by adding the suffix –ing to a verb.
The word then functions as a noun, one that indicates an action, process, quality, or state/condition. Under the guise of a noun, the gerund must be treated with noun-like care, the most overlooked of which is the need for the pronoun or noun that comes before it to be possessive.
Not every gerund is preceded by a pronoun or noun. "Spending a week in the Midwest changed Oliver's mind" is a perfectly good sentence. So is "Offering a reward seemed to be the best approach."
But the above "They seemed furious at us winning" does need a pronoun, and it must be a possessive one. Changing the "us" to "our" corrects the error, causing delight in the gerund world: "They seemed furious at our winning." Switching to possessive pronouns in the other two sentences, we further delight the gerund world:
- The likelihood of
him his being able to accomplish that in this environment is really slim until or unless he changes the name of the team.
- I plan on
them their staying healthy for years to come.
When you need to show specifically who or what performs or owns the action, process, quality, or state/condition that a gerund signifies, though, the gerund calls out for a noun, and it must be a possessive one.
"Delaying the decision lowered gross revenue" is grammatically correct; the gerund "delaying" is the subject of the sentence. But if it's important to the sense of the sentence to assign responsibility for the delay and thus for the loss, you need to indicate who or what owns the delay. You can do this by placing a possessive noun such as "the committee's" or "management's" before the gerund "delaying." The result? "The committee's delaying the decision lowered gross revenue." The sentence now indicates that delaying caused the cut and that the committee caused the delaying.
What you cannot do is precede the gerund with a non-possessive noun, as in, "The committee delaying the decision lowered gross revenue." While that sentence is also grammatically correct, the non-possessive noun "committee" has now become the subject of the sentence, a change that alters its meaning. The phrase "delaying the decision" now modifies "the committee," identifying which of two or more committees lowered gross revenue instead of being the cause of that lowering.
Using gerunds correctly helps you express meaning clearly. And causing delight in the gerund world—or any other—enriches communication.