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I read a lot of classical novels although I am not a native speaker, and in Jane Austen’s or Louisa May Alcott’s, I see a lot of sentences like these:

“I don’t like his insulting me” “I don’t feel comfortable with her being there.” “I hate her speaking to him.” “I forgave her being mean to me” “I don’t like your talking to me

Do these sentences make sense nowadays? Can we express ourselves this way or is it considered old-fashioned?

If we can’t use them anymore, what alternatives could we use instead of “pronoun, verb at the infinitive

Example: I hate his being there./ I hate him being there.

Thanks lots!

  • So if I understood, the formal way is “Do you mind my asking a question” since we have to use a possessive before a gerund. But the informal one is “Do you mind me asking a question”. I must use the former in essays and the latter in casual conversations? – Nina Jun 28 at 17:02
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    Thanks for (you/your) taking the time to answer? – Nina Jun 28 at 17:03
  • In informal speech, it would be him in modern English. In formal writing, his might still be more accepted (although I'm not certain of that), although it would likely sound odd outside of that context. But neither is wrong. – Jason Bassford Jun 28 at 17:03
  • So I must say “I enjoyed your answering my grammar question” if I want to be formal with you? – Nina Jun 28 at 17:04
  • You can also read "Do I Hate Your Singing or You Singing?". Personally, I'm fine with either. I'd likely use you, unless I was thinking about it carefully and trying to be precise. (There is actually a subtle difference in meaning, as that article discusses.) – Jason Bassford Jun 28 at 17:07
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The answer that Jason Bassford linked has a great explanation of the context in which to use possessive pronouns (eg. my/mine, your(s), his, her(s)) and objective pronouns (eg. me, you, him, her). I slightly disagree with the conclusion that using possessive pronouns before gerunds will "never get you into trouble" since they are usually jarring in spoken sentences, but they are a fairly safe choice for formal written English.

To answer your specific questions, the sentences

I don’t like his insulting me

and

I don’t like your talking to me

sound old-fashioned and somewhat stilted to me due to the use of possessive pronouns, and it would be unusual to hear this in modern, spoken English. The other sentences sound more natural because the possessive pronoun her happens to be identical to the objective pronoun her. If those sentences had instead used the possessive pronoun hers, they would also sound outdated.

If you have to write research papers or academic essays in English, using possessive pronouns before gerunds is acceptable and perhaps is still the standard form. However, you would not say "I enjoyed your answering my grammar question." in a paper or essay since those forms of writing typically do not use the second person.

The forms of writing where you would use the second person are letters, emails, and internet messages/comments, and in these forms it would be more natural to use an objective pronoun before the gerund, such as "I enjoyed you answering my grammar question." Using objective pronouns before gerunds in spoken English is also more natural-sounding than using possessive pronouns. However, this advice applies more to modern English than to English from even several decades ago.

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