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I'm completely fine with both these sentences:

I am sure of my brother's passing the exam.

I am sure of my brother passing the exam.

So I suppose it's OK to use "his + Ving" or "him + Ving" in this kind of sentences.

However, when it comes to the following:

(a) The advantage of college students taking a part-time job is ...

(b)The advantage of college students' taking a part-time job is ...

Sentence (b) sounds extremely weired to me.

However,

The advantage of my car is...

sounds completely fine, but doesn't it have the same sentence structure as (b)?

Is (b) correct?

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    There's some informative discussion on ELU. Grammatically there seems to be little distinction (in both cases the clause works fine as a gerund), and if anything, the weirdness is just a result of taking an already somewhat uncommon construct and applying it to a more elaborate sentence. Jan 10 at 17:37
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    Also, for some reason I much prefer including of in the gerunds after the possessive (my brother's passing of the exam, college students' taking of a part-time job), but I have no idea why and can't find much support for it. Jan 10 at 17:42
  • There has been an extremely similar question in this very forum, if I recall correctly. It might be helpful to refer to that one as well, although I apologize that I can’t quite recall the exact question. Feb 19 at 11:15

3 Answers 3

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As a native speaker, I consider B completely correct and analogous to your first example which you favoured. It just has the noun in the plural, but this doesn’t make it sound ungrammatical.

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  • Thanks for your answer and welcome to ELL! Going forward, it may be helpful to make sure you address as many points to their question as possible, because it may help their thought process flow more smoothly. Cheers! Feb 19 at 11:27
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Sentence (b) is not only correct, but the more grammatically correct way to express it. It might help to examine why you feel that it sounds strange. Is it because “students” is plural, while “brother” is not? It won’t make a difference in pronunciation (at least I usually don’t make a distinction, as it sounds a bit awkward to pronounce the “s” twice).

However, I don’t believe sentence (b)’s grammatical structure is analogous to your last example there. In fact, to give your last sentence more context, I’ll try to give an example:

The advantage of this model of car is that it has a more powerful engine than the others.

  • I will note that “advantage” is not usually used in this context; it’s more often used as “I have an advantage in…” or “I am at a disadvantage when it comes to…”

To get back to my main point, you can see that no possessive was needed in that sentence to connect it to a gerund. Recall that in this context, the form Ving is simply used to make a verb into a noun; thus, the possessive form simply serves to attribute that “noun-ified verb” back to its subject. In your last example, “my” is literally used as a possessive to indicate who the car belongs to. It doesn’t connect to a verb. For direct comparison:

The advantage of my car is that it’s faster than yours.

The advantage of my car’s having four-wheel drive is that I can control it better.

The advantage of my having two cars is that it’s much more convenient than having one.

See how “my” plays a different role in the first two sentences than in does in the last.

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I am sure of my brother's passing the exam.

Example (1) largely means 'I am sure that my brother would pass the examination' and expresses what one probably intends to say here.

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I am sure of my brother passing the exam.

Passing the exam is a participle phrase modifying brother.

Example (2) largely means 'I am sure of my brother' and is probably not what one intends to say in this context. I am not sure of the prevalence of such uses in informal context, but I would normally use the possessive case, as in (1).

(a) The advantage of college students taking a part-time job is ...

Similar to (2) above, taking a part-time job is a participle phrase modifying students. 'The advantage of college students is' is what this example largely means and is probably not what one intends to say in this context.

(b)The advantage of college students' taking a part-time job is ...

This is similar to (1) above. 'The advantage of taking a part-time job is' is probably what one intends to say in this context.

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The advantage of my car is...

Example (3) has a different construction from the earlier ones as it does not have the noun-gerund or noun-participle pairing.

grammarbook explains more and also on when an object case-participle pair may be preferred over a possessive-gerund pair: when we wish to place greater emphasis on the actor instead of the action.

The mysterious woman departing from the meeting early almost went unnoticed, but Jackie saw her go.

In using the object case-participle pairing, we should check that the resultant sentence conveys our intention.

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