Why is the pronoun "his" used in this sentence?

"Did you enjoy his playing the violin?"

  • 2
    What scenario do you think the sentence describes?
    – KillingTime
    Mar 4 at 18:11
  • Yeah. It is a rather strange way to ask the question. Which "playing of the violin"? Normally one would say Did you enjoy his song/solo/concert?, or if you were concentrating on his talent instead of the addressee's enjoyment, How did you like the way he played? Mar 4 at 21:28
  • 1
    Look up “gerund”
    – Anton
    Mar 4 at 22:19

1 Answer 1


"His" is the subject of the gerund "singing." Typically the subject of a gerund is written as an accusative:

Did you enjoy him playing the violin?

However, formal usage guides and overzealous English teachers will insist on using the possessive:

Did you enjoy his playing the violin?

  • Yes. There's two complementizers for gerund clauses, called ACC-ing and POSS-ing, because the pronouns are either accusative (him) or possessive (his). There's no difference, just a speaker's choice. Mar 4 at 19:04
  • Did you enjoy his violin playing? Mar 4 at 19:16
  • @WeatherVane In "his violin playing," "playing" is a deverbal noun rather than a gerund. For instance, only gerunds can be modified by adverbs: "him excellently playing the violin," but not "his excellently violin playing." This is because "violin" is a noun adjunct, which cannot modify a verb, so "violin playing" forces the deverbal noun interpretation of "playing."
    – alphabet
    Mar 4 at 20:24
  • I did not say it was a gerund: 'violin playing' is a noun phrase. Nor did I use an adverb. Mar 4 at 20:28
  • Yeah, I was just clarifying to avoid confusing the asker.
    – alphabet
    Mar 4 at 20:46