In the text below, should it be "Linda's starting" or "Linda starting"?

Linda changed her attitude in the middle of the second semester and started diligently memorizing new words and phrases. That, however, did not result in Linda's starting to make attempts to converse.

  • In the first sentence of the question, you use two identical terms—and ask which it should be. If I follow the title of the question, I believe (although I'm not certain) that you're asking if it should be Lindas starting. Without the apostrophe, it's talking about two or more people named Linda. It would be far better to compare Linda's starting with Linda starting, without an apostrophe or an s Jun 26 '20 at 7:26
  • @JasonBassford - Sorry! I will edit it right now.
    – brilliant
    Jun 26 '20 at 7:27
  • Using a pronoun instead of a noun makes no difference. In "That did not result in [him/his making attempts to converse]", the bracketed bit is a clause, with either "him" or "his" as subject.
    – BillJ
    Jun 26 '20 at 15:49
  • You want to start another thread here? :) What you've specified in brackets are phrases, not clauses.
    – brilliant
    Jun 26 '20 at 16:35
  • 1
    You have not chosen the right answer. Sorry to tell you that but it's quite simply the truth in this case.
    – Lambie
    Jun 26 '20 at 16:44

For the sake of having a visible case change, let's replace "Linda" with "Bob":

Bob changed his attitude.

1)  That did not result in his starting to make attempts.
2)  That did not result in him starting to make attempts.

Under a traditional analysis, gerunds and participles form phrases, not clauses.  They do not have subjects.  This is supported by the observation that "he starting to make attempts" is ungrammatical.

Above, we have two grammatically sound options.  In the first, the simple object of the preposition "in" is "starting".  The gerund phrase "starting to make attempts" is modified by the attributive genitive pronoun "his".  In the second, the simple object is "him".  The participial phrase "starting to make attempts" modifies the objective pronoun.

The question is which simple object, if either, is more sensible.  Which better represents this particular lack of result: the action associated with the man, or the man in that condition? 

To my sensibilities and in the absence of further context, the lack of action is more relevant.  This author made the same choice that I would be likely to make.

The simplest thing to do is to assume that the original is as it should be, that it expresses the author's intent, that the lack of action has the greater relevance in the author's mind.  The other option is just as valid grammatically, but it places the emphasis on a different constituent.

  • 1
    You've nailed it! I really could've not expected that using a masculine pronoun instead of the name would make things so clear.
    – brilliant
    Jun 26 '20 at 15:35
  • English is highly (and messily) analytic. It would be so much easier to see how these phrases function, if only the simple object of the preposition were somehow clearly marked as such. Jun 26 '20 at 16:00
  • But, @Lambie, you haven't addressed any difference between "his starting" and "him starting". You've simply endorsed the genitive case, without presenting either logic or substantiation. Jun 26 '20 at 16:54
  • Funny thing -- yeah, that was the question. OP understands that the apostrophe-s marks the genitive, and the question is whether that case should be avoided in the original context. The entirety of your answer is merely that the genitive case is usable. That's not a response to the question at hand. You've said nothing about when or why it should or shouldn't be used. Jun 26 '20 at 17:35
  • It is the reason for it. Your answer does not even address that at all and now you and she seem to be sharing something none of us can see. So be it.
    – Lambie
    Jun 26 '20 at 17:38

A usable grammatical pattern:

This follows the rule of the possessive pronoun plus a gerund

  • His borrowing the car was not a good thing.
  • Her leaving early was frowned upon.
  • My playing the game had been planned.
  • Their paying on time was the point of the bill.


Linda's is possessive, so: "Linda's starting to x" is right. This, is, therefore, a possessive.

[By the way, some people call these gerund-participles. Personally, I call them gerund nouns because they are also gerund adjectives.]

Of course, you don't have to use an apostrophe s but when you do, the above is why.


[1] That, however, did not result in [Linda starting to make attempts to converse].

[2] That, however, did not result in [Linda's starting to make attempts to converse].

These are both fine and have the same meaning except that [2] is more formal than [1]. In both examples, the bracketed gerund-participial clause functions as complement of the preposition "in".

The plain case "Linda" in [1] is just as correct as the genitive Linda's in [2] and functions as subject of their respective clauses.

There is no reason to consider the bracketed element in [2] a noun phrase; rather, it is better to treat the stylistic alternation between [1] and [2] as simply a matter of the case of the subject.

One reason for the clausal analysis is that if "Linda’s" really was a genitive determiner of the NP "starting ….", then it would not be freely replaceable with a plain case noun like "Linda", whereas it clearly is since [1] is unquestionably grammatical. The conclusion is that "starting" is a verb in both examples, and that "Linda" / "Linda's" is subject, with the verb phrase "starting to make attempts to converse" as predicate.

  • Yes, I would say this answer plus mine pretty covers it.
    – Lambie
    Jun 26 '20 at 17:49

The short answer is yes, you do need the possessive noun with the gerund. If you didn't, then it wouldn't be a gerund! Your example works either way, with the gerund or without.

A gerund is a verb as a noun, so it is treated as a noun in every way. You wouldn't say "Linda car" to show that Linda possessed a car. In your example "starting" is being used as a noun because it is a fixed event and spoken of as if it belongs to her.

Just remember that the 'apostrophe s' doesn't make the verb that follows a gerund. It could be a contraction, for example "Linda's eating the cake" means "Linda is eating the cake".

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