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Example 1

Having a gaming computer makes my cousin get hooked on playing games.

This means my cousin has a gaming computer and that makes my cousin get hooked on playing video games.

Example 2

Having a gaming computer makes my cousin come to my house and play video games.

This implies that it is me that has the computer. But doesn't this mean Example 1 can have a different meaning as well? It can mean "(Me) having a gaming computer makes my cousin get hooked on playing games."

So, when the subject of gerund is omitted, how do we interpret it?

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    I would never read either of these as "I have a computer, therefore...", and I don't think that #2 does imply that it's me who has the computer. In general, you can't omit the subject of the gerund/participle/modifier without risking severe confusion about who or what it applies to.
    – stangdon
    Jul 20, 2023 at 11:52
  • To make someone do/get something sounds like your cousin had no choice in the matter, or that he was forced to do something against his will. I think you should probably consider changing the construction, unless you actually mean that.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 20, 2023 at 17:57

2 Answers 2

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When a passive gerund is used in English, its subject is determined by context.

In other words, in your sentence, the grammar does not determine who owns the computer - the listener must fill in this information from context.

Compare:

"I own a computer. Having it is making my cousin get hooked on video games."

"My cousin's family owns a computer. Having it is making my cousin get hooked on video games."

Notice that the implied subject of the verb in the second sentence is different in each example ("I", "My cousin's family"), but the words in the second sentence are unchanged. So, it is up to the listener to determine the subject from context.

Without any prior context, the implied subject can default to the object of a related clause, as in your example, or to the speaker, as in the example:

"Having a computer is really making work easier!"

In this last example, without any context, we assume that the speaker owns the computer in question. However, a little bit of context in a previous sentence can change this:

"I consult with a small accounting firm, and recently updated their office. Having a computer is really making work easier!"

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  • I just made a small "non-edit" so I could cancel my original upvote. I don't think your final example is convincing. It's true that the nearest noun phrase to the "dangling" gerund having is in fact their office, but we normally look forwards rather than backwards. This is a slightly unusual context because there's no credible referent later in the same sentence - so I have to go back to the preceding sentence as a whole, and start reading it from the beginning. And the first word is the subject there, so it's natural for me to link the next sentence back to that. Jul 20, 2023 at 14:02
  • ...So I just end up thinking your final example is badly phrased, and that second sentence should start with Them having a computer... Jul 20, 2023 at 14:03
  • None of what you wrote above makes any sense. "nearest noun phrase", "looking forwards", "credible referent", etc, etc. You're making up terms, none of that is real or is explained in a comprehensible way. This is overthinking in a grossly idiosyncratic way; you are confusing both yourself and others that might read your comment. I am a native speaker, and after your comment vetted each of my examples with native speakers of SAE, AAVE, RP, and MLE who have studied English grammar formally. All understand the sentence and agree that "having" tags "small accounting firm" as the subject.
    – BadZen
    Jul 25, 2023 at 1:22
  • Further: "Them having a computer is really making work easier is really making work easier" is terrible diction, you'd be marked down in a college course. Instead, say: "Having a computer is really making their work easier." Simply google for the general principle if you do not understand the language well enough to intuitively grasp its truth - "the subject of a passive gerund is determined by context" is a basic grammar rule and you'll find many more examples in a textbook or online.
    – BadZen
    Jul 25, 2023 at 1:45
  • @Balzen: You're starting to feel like a troll to me. Ease off, willya? Jul 25, 2023 at 14:00
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I think the "grammar" (the actual words, rather than the meaning) normally does resolve any ambiguity in such contexts. Consider...

1: Having a smartphone means I contact my brother more often
2: Having a smartphone means my brother contacts me more often

I believe the default readings there are that in #1 it's me who has the smartphone that makes the difference (it's contextually irrelevant whether my brother's phone is a smartphone, "dumb" mobile phone, or a landline phone). But in #2 the default reading is I'm talking about my brother's smartphone.

That's to say, as in many other contexts where the referent of some text element is ambiguous, the default parsing should normally be the nearest credible1 referent (in my examples, I or my brother).


1 When I use credible in such contexts, I mean the nearest referent that makes sense (it may not actually be the right choice, but it's "believable" that it could be).

The OP thinks his second version "makes more sense" if we assume it's the speaker who has the gaming PC, but I agree with @stangdon's comment that both versions imply it's the brother's machine (because in both cases the only credible noun phrase actually present is my brother).

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    To a native / fluent English speaker, your #1 is correct, and your #2 is not - the second example is ambiguous. Neither of these contradicts the principle that context determines the subject of a gerund in passive voice, you simply provide context in both sentences here (and it is insufficient to determine your meaning in the second - a native speaker would need to ask you if it were an important distinction.)
    – BadZen
    Jul 25, 2023 at 1:42

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