November 13, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Pronouns and gerunds & graduate or graduate from

Posted in gerunds and pronouns, graduated college or from college at 8:32 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Pronouns and gerunds

I received this email the other day: ”Thank you. I appreciate you helping me this week.” Of course, I thought, I’m happy to help. Of course, I thought, I’d be happier still if the email were grammatically correct. Thus, our first tip.

Which of the sentences below is correct?

I really appreciate you coming.

or

I really appreciate your coming.

If you answered, ”I really appreciate your coming,” you are correct. This wording is correct because gerunds take possessive pronouns. Gerunds? Possessive pronouns? Oh no. It’s really not that bad. We all know what possessive pronouns are, right? They are pronouns that show ownership. Some stand on their own (mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs) and some are used with a noun (my, your, his, her, its, our, their). It’s the ones that are used with a noun that we care about right now because gerunds are simply verbs ending in ‘ing’ that function as nouns.

My favorite sport is competitive swimming. (Swimming is the gerund.)

Whining is not going to get you anywhere. (Whining is the gerund.)

The teacher chastised him for running. (Running is the gerund.)

The rule is: nouns take possessive pronouns. For example, let’s consider a simple example, the noun, table. You wouldn’t say, ‘‘this is me table” or ‘‘this is they table,” you would use the possessive form and say, ”this is my table” or ”this is their table.” Since gerunds function as nouns, the same rule applies. Therefore,

I thought it was you singing that scared the dogs is incorrect, and

I thought it was your singing that scared the dogs is correct.

We are proud of Harold winning the award. (incorrect), and

We are proud of Harold’s winning the award. (correct)

The rash was the result of him sitting in poison ivy. (incorrect)

The rash was the result of his sitting in poison ivy. (correct).

I understand you wanting to be the one to tell. (incorrect)

I understand your wanting to be the one to tell. (correct)

The rule is easy: gerunds take possessive pronouns. What makes it more of a challenge is that the possessive form does not always sound right when used this way. This is one of the very few times that I will say, ”Don’t rely on your ear; rely on the rule!”

Tip 2: Graduated medical school or graduated from medical school

This tip is dedicated to those writing and those reviewing career development award proposals. First a bit of historic trivia. It used to be that institutions did the graduating, not the students; hence, ‘Pitt graduated the class of 1977’ or ‘I was graduated in 1962′ were the correct forms. Times change, however, and now, happily, it is the students who are doing the graduating. You may come across an old-school stickler who insists on the latter usage. In that case, I recommend you tell the stickler, in the nicest possible way, to go stuff it.

So that leaves us with the question: which is correct:

I graduated college

or

I graduated from college?

I could give you a very long and long-winded explanation of the grammatical reasons for one phrase being correct and one being wrong. To do so, though, would involve terms much more complicated and confusing than ‘gerund’ or ‘possessive pronoun,’ so I won’t. I will cut to the chase and tell you that ‘I graduated college’ is incorrect, and ‘I graduated from college’ is correct.

In writing your background statements, don’t tell the reviewers that you graduated some place (‘James graduated Harvard’); they are apt to question your literacy. The correct form is ‘James graduated from Harvard.’

Don’t forget the ‘from.’

1 Comment »

  1. ana said,

    A French colleague just asked me whether “appreciate your +gerund” in a letter she received was correct, and why

    I told her it was correct but was entirely incapable of explaining why

    Thank you for making it so crystal clear!


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