Can I use "his" instead of "him" in this sentence?

"Can Tom play the piano? I have never heard him playing."

The sentence is from "English Grammar in Use" by Raymond Murphy.

If I use "his", would it be the same construction as in the sentence below?

"If you think our son should be told the truth, how do you feel about my taking him to visit his father in jail? "

I read that in an informal style object forms are used. Is this the same construction? 1."Do you mind me smoking?" 2. "I saw him getting out of ths car." 3. "She was angry at Lina lying to her." These examples are from "Practical English Usage" by Michael Swan. In the jail example, my and me both work, but according to Swan's book, possessives aren't used with "feel", "see", "hear" and "watch".

1 Answer 1


This is a very subtle difference.

With ‘I never heard him playing,” the emphasis is slightly more on the person rather the activity.

With I never heard his playing, the emphasis is slightly more on the activity.

This becomes clearer with

I never heard him playing Chopin etudes


I never heard his playing of Chopin etudes.

  • 2
    But you couldn't say that without "of", could you? ("I never heard his playing Chopin etudes", without "of", sounds dubious.) By contrast, "my taking him to visit his father" is fine (it doesn't have to be "my taking of him"). So maybe Swan is right that verbs of perception such as "hear" behave differently from other verbs.
    – rjpond
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 15:49
  • 2
    I agree that the “of” is necessary is necessary in “playing of Chopin etudes.” But this reinforces my point rather than contradicting it. With “his,” the focal point becomes what is being played. In short, the choice of pronoun is not a matter of grammar but of intended meaning. Commented May 24, 2021 at 16:22

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