I been listening to the freakonomics podcast and there's one episode where the guest said she could tell people's emotions when they are using their smart phone and the host asked her "So what does sadness look like on an iPhone, in terms of my using it?"

I am not familiar with this usage of Possessive Nouns in terms of my using it? Why isn't it to be "in terms of me using it?"

  • Both are possible, though the genitive "my" is often considered more formal than the nominative. The pronoun is subject of the clause "me/my using it".
    – BillJ
    Jan 28 '19 at 11:23
  • why are we using Possessive Nouns as the subject of the clause "me/my using it". Is there a grammatical term to describe this?
    – Joji
    Jan 28 '19 at 19:33
  • No, there's no special term. but it's perfectly OK to use a genitive pronoun as subject.
    – BillJ
    Jan 29 '19 at 7:30
  • You're right that it should me "in terms of me using it" The other is poor grammar.
    – RonJohn
    Mar 6 '19 at 23:23
  • The phrase is not about me, it's about using. Which using? My using. — I expected the question to be about in terms of, which nowadays usually means “I am too lazy to decide what preposition belongs here.” Apr 6 '19 at 21:16

The subject of a gerund is often (but not always) written in the possessive form.

A gerund is a noun made from a verb, they end in "ing". So "using" is a gerund. Phrases with a gerund don't always have an explicit subject, but when they do, the subject can be written as a possessive. In some way, the subject "owns" the action described in the verb. If the "verb" is actually a gerund, and so more like a noun, it makes some sense for the subject to be written as possessive.

So we have:

[Eating a hotdog] made Mark feel sick (the noun phrase in brackets has a gerund with no explicit subject. Implicitly the subject is "Mark"

John eating a hotdog made Mark feel sick. (Explicit subject "John", written as plain noun)

John's eating a hotdog made Mark feel sick (Explicit subject in possessive form)

My eating a hotdog made Mark feel sick (Pronouns have special possessive form)

Both the possessive form and the plain form are possible, but the possessive is somewhat more formal.

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