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What is the difference between

Do you mind closing the window?


Do you mind my closing the window?

Does the first sentence mean that the speaker asked the listener to close the window? Does the second sentence mean that the speaker asks whether he/she can close the window? Does the difference lie in that the action, "close the window", is done by different person?

Thank you very much!

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Yes, the first sentence implies that the person you speak to will close the window, the second implies you will close it. It is the same difference as "Could you close the window, please?" versus "Shall I close the window?". –  oerkelens Jun 12 '14 at 11:19

2 Answers 2

In OP's first example there's an implied your (or you) after mind...

1: “Do you mind [your] closing the window?”
2: “Do you mind [you] closing the window?”

...corresponding to...

3: “Do you mind my closing the window?”
4: “Do you mind me closing the window?”

Note that 4 has becoming increasingly common over recent decades, particularly in BrE. Syntactically, everything after the word mind is a noun phrase. As a general principle, using the possessive form (my, your, his) in such contexts is "dated", but it survives more in "Do you mind [NP]" because it's a relatively formal construction anyway (and people tend to stick to older forms in formal contexts).

Also note that we tend not to use mind in this sense unless it's part of a question ("Does your husband mind our/us meeting like this?") or a negation ("I don't mind your/you phoning so late at night"). That's to say although "I mind your/you smoking while I'm eating" is grammatically "valid", most native speakers simply wouldn't say it.

Let's consider the more general context and introduce another syntactically similar verb...

5: I like ice-cream
6: I like your kissing me
7: I like you kissing me
8: I don't mind your kissing me
9: I don't mind you kissing me
10: He doesn't mind our meeting like this
11: He doesn't mind us meeting like this

I've included 5 there as a clearer example of a simple "noun phrase". Although currently most native speakers (particularly, AmE) still use possessive my in OP's example (because semantically as well as grammatically, it's a formal usage), they're much more likely to use the accusative/object forms in 7/9/11 above, rather than 6/8/10.

In light of this ongoing shift away from the possessive in constructions of this general form, I think it's probably more useful to interpret OP's first sentence as a "cut-down" version of my example 2, and the second one as a slightly dated version of my example 4. You'll still encounter the possessive in various contexts, but I don't think you ever need to produce it yourself.

EDIT: In the interests of "balance", it's well worth considering StoneyB's answer to a very closely-related question, where the final "advice to learners" paragraph recommends using the possessive. I'm not going to disagree with that, provided you wish to master "formal" usage, and bearing in mind that it would be slightly "dated, odd" to use the possessive in informal contexts such as example 6 above.

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+1 See also this. –  StoneyB Jun 12 '14 at 13:11
@StoneyB: Oh dear! It's a bit unfortunate that our "closing advice" paragraphs make precisely opposite recommendations! I think I'd better add the link and a disclaimer. –  FumbleFingers Jun 12 '14 at 13:16
I think this reflects our different senses of our audience. You think of them as wage-earners in an Anglophonic market, and consistently recommend what will be the most natural use in ordinary intercourse; I think of them as students at an Anglophonic university and consistently recommend what will be preferred by their professors. That might be a good question for Meta. –  StoneyB Jun 12 '14 at 13:28
@StoneyB: You're absolutely right! Though I would say that I don't recall any of my university professors ever criticising my use of English (I'd probably have thought it was a damned cheek if they had! :). In fact, I rather doubt my "sixth-form" (age 17-18) English teachers at school would have nit-picked over my preference for an informal register. But anecdotally I get the impression pedagogs ( both senses! :) specialising in other disciplines are more inclined to do this (which just goes to show a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, imho). –  FumbleFingers Jun 12 '14 at 13:47
I have no doubt that your teachers at all levels were so grateful at encountering literate use of the language in any register that they handwaved your colloquialisms as ultra their vires. Less graceful writers are not so fortunate. ... By the way, the quote is even more apposite in its original form, a little learning... –  StoneyB Jun 12 '14 at 13:54

As indicated by @oerkelens the difference is in the type of request.

“Do you mind closing the window?” Is a request for action from a second party.

“Do you mind my closing the window?” Is a request for permission from a second party.

Incidentally the latter could be more comfortably phrased as "Do you mind if I close the window?"

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A second party ("you"), not a third party (others), is being asked to do something, or for permission. –  Phil Perry Jun 12 '14 at 16:57
Not only are you right but you taught me something today :) Obvious once you think about it, but 'second party' isn't a phrase I've knowingly run into before! –  Nathan Hornby Jun 13 '14 at 16:16
If there's a "third party" ("them"), wouldn't it stand to reason that there must be "first" and "second" parties ("I", "you") around somewhere? –  Phil Perry Jun 13 '14 at 16:21
"Obvious once you think about it, but 'second party' isn't a phrase I've knowingly run into before!" –  Nathan Hornby Jun 17 '14 at 9:22

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