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Kristin: I just wanted to give you a call and ask how your Chattanooga trip was.

Susan: Oh, it was great. It was great. It was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Susan: You know, we took Ethan and be-, his being only eight, it was fun to watch him at different places and see him, y’know, enjoying the activities.

Why does Susan use "his being only eight" to refer to his age? Shouldn't it be "He is only eight"?

Source: A.J. Hoge, Effortless English, Real English Conversation (Lookout Mountain Conversation)

marked as duplicate by stangdon, Nathan Tuggy, Andrew, shin, James Aug 8 '18 at 9:48

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  • 2
    I think this is actually very similar to a question I answered the other day. Short version: He is only eight is a complete and separate sentence. His being only eight is a participial phrase describing something about the main clause. – stangdon Aug 2 '18 at 18:37

It's a way to stress that he is young. Presumably the listener already knows he is 8, so "He is only 8", besides being a complete sentence on its own, would not be said because it would not add anything meaningful to the conversation. Whereas his being only eight sets up the context for the rest of the sentence: "It was fun to watch him...".


"his being only eight" could be short for "his being only eight at the time".

Susan is describing a past event, taking Ethan when he was eight. It isn't clear from the excerpt whether he is still eight. That could be one reason for not saying that he is eight.

Beyond that, Jamie Clinton's answer explains why it would be set off in that way.


Native speakers would say

... him being only eight

... he being only eight

probably 80%/20% in favor of him being only eight, possibly 90%/10%.

You will probably find some older textbooks insisting that he being only eight is the proper form and him being only eight is non-standard or colloquial. You will find he in more formal texts, and him in conversational texts and in literary works that realistically reflect vernacular speech.

P.S. Since your example sentence includes y'know it would be no surprise to learn that the textbook expects him there.

P.P.S. What does not work there (with OP's sentence "as is") is his being only eight.


It's still light out, but him being only eight, we put him to bed.

He was booked on a manslaughter charge, but he being only eight, perhaps the DA will offer him a plea deal. Some hardliners want to know how his being only eight is relevant.

P.P.P.S. Now that we know it is a transcript of a conversation: his being only eight is IMO a "hypercorrection". Absolute phrases, which are sentence modifying clauses, are formed with the nominative + being or the accusative + being but not with the genitive + being. However, for many decades prescriptive grammar textbooks taught that accusative + being was wrong in certain patterns, and so now some speakers in all circumstances say his being instead of him being as a result, just as they always say "he and I" or "she and I" in situations calling for "him and me" and "her and me", because they've mislearned their grammar lessons; these are hypercorrections as well; they're not "natural".

  • Does it seem like a transcript of a conversation where Susan was going to say "being only eight" and corrected herself? " and be-, his being only eight" – ColleenV Aug 2 '18 at 20:43
  • @ColleenV: I didn't know quite what to make of be- but thought it might not be part of the conversation itself but a tag of some kind left by the author, to guide the student. It would complicate things unnecessarily to have examples where the speaker corrects herself mid-sentence, but who knows? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 2 '18 at 20:54
  • I found an audio clip of the "Lookout Mountain Conversation" - I'll edit it into the question. It appears to be a transcript of a real conversation complete with uhs and other stumbles. – ColleenV Aug 3 '18 at 2:32

You're correct, samsam. It should be "He is only eight". That would be the proper English construction of that sentence, but based on the rest of the context, it seems this is an informal setting. As such, the usage is more conversational, less formal.

It is a very sloppy way to speak, even in an informal setting, but you will find many English speakers will accept it and move on in the conversation.

  • Why do you say "That would be the proper English construction of that sentence", and what is your basis for saying "it is a very sloppy way to speak"? – stangdon Aug 2 '18 at 20:59
  • "...his being only eight.." is not proper English. When the OP asked, "Shouldn't it be "He is only eight"?" my response is, Yes. That's proper English construction of the sentence. Which would require the rest of the sentence to be properly restructured, because the original sentence was improperly structured due to this bad grammar. Bad grammar is sloppy, spoken or written. Just because it passes in daily conversation is irrelevant to the fact. – user9570789 Aug 2 '18 at 21:13
  • "...his being only eight" is not proper English - Yes it is. It's called a participial phrase. You can find many examples of this kind of structure. For example, "Despite his being only a novice..." – stangdon Aug 2 '18 at 23:26

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