I've got a question which comes from my possible not understanding the following sentence.

He hated using his hands, and he hated bending down, which was always liable to start him coughing.

In this sentence there's "he" who starts coughing when he bends down. So bending down makes him start coughing. In author's words: bending down is liable to start him coughing.

It is my first time I see "liable". Is it correct to think about "make sb do sth" as synonym of "be liable to do sb sth"? I don't really know if my feeling about this sentence is connected with "liable" or a strange usage of "start". I don't think "start sb do sth" is a very common construction, in fact I don't even know if it exists and if it's correct.

There's also a third thing which I maybe misunderstand. I know we can say "I don't mind your starting your job at 5am". Here it's "your" and not "you", but in the primarily quoted sentence they wrote "him", not "his". Why?

All in all, I can see three paths of research when it comes to trying to understand this sentence and I don't know which path I should take. Could you help me figuring it out? I mean grammar, because I think I understand perfectly this sentence semantically.

  • 1
    You don't appear to have understood the meaning of the word liable. Have you looked it up in a dictionary?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 11:33
  • @ColinFine Well, there is more than one meaning according to my dictionary. I understood this "liable" as "responsible for" - bending down is responsible for his cough.
    – musialmi
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 12:50
  • 1
    No. That is liable for. Liable to (verb) means likely to (verb), or having a tendency to (verb).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 13:59

1 Answer 1


"Liable" is used correctly in your example, just as words such as "likely" would be used the same way. It is there to show the likelihood of the cause producing the effect.

Secondly, "cough" and "coughing" can be nouns or verbs, for example:

I am coughing / I am about to cough (verb)

His coughing is very loud / He has a cough (noun)

In your example, coughing is being used as a noun to refer to his medical condition, which is why is uses the possessive "his". You could easily change it to "him" and it would carry almost the same meaning but use "coughing" as a verb. If the cough is a long-standing medical condition rather than just a reaction to bending down, it makes more sense the way it is.

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