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Rosie Right

Our language and how it works.


Me Using Gerunds?

Friend Essie Simms has written to ask about the following sentence she found in an Aug. 5 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

"Aides say they could not recall him addressing the issue as president." Ms. Simms asks: Shouldn't it be his addressing the issue?

This is an interesting question, and it points up the subtlety of the use of the possessive before a gerund. The possessive would be correct here, but so would be the objective pronoun. It is a matter of what we mean. What part of our sentence do we want to emphasize? Do we want to say we don't remember him? Or do we want to say we don't remember his action in addressing the issue.

I asked Ann Woodlief, who taught English at VCU, to help me with this one, and she pointed me to a wonderful online source for help with grammar: http://cctc.commnet.edu/grammar. At this Web site, I found a clearer example:

"Do we say 'I can't stand him singing in the shower,' or do we say 'I can't stand his singing in the shower'? Well, you have to decide what you find objectionable: Is it him, the fact that he is singing in the shower, or is it the singing that is being done by him that you can't stand? Chances are, it's the latter; it's the singing that belongs to him that bugs you. So we would say, 'I can't stand his singing in the shower.'"

This is a long way of saying that we have to be sure what we mean when we start toying with gerunds.


A reader and Buffy fan has called Rosie to task for her description of the meaning of the phrase five by five. He says: "Five by five is actually a term from two-way radio, meaning strength of signal by clarity of signal. And it was used by Faith the Vampire Slayer (Buffy's psychotic rival), not by Buffy."

Let Rosie hear from you by mail (Style Weekly, 1707 Summit Ave., Richmond, 23230); by e-mail rozanne.epps@styleweekly.com; or by telephone (804-358-0825).

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