Which one is grammatical?

"Wow! Nice! I smelled you baking cake!"
"Wow! Nice! I smelled your baking cake!"

Both of them are acceptable, maybe?

  • The second one sounds tricky. But I think it's okay because I feel it's similar to patterns of my+ gerund I've come across recently. I think it's a bit formal?
    – learner
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 13:18
  • You know that I am not given to giving answers!
    – learner
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 13:18
  • 1
    Both are correct, though the second is awkward because while both are referring to 'baking' as an object, or at least part of an object phrase, the second refers to an action being owned, which while unusual, is still correct. The first is generally preferred. Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 15:53
  • 1
    Your first version sounds fine, but your 2nd version sounds off to my AmE ear. Perhaps this is related to a tidbit in CGEL, page 1238, [49] (about the catenative "smell" not allowing a genitive as subject in the -ing clause), maybe. :)
    – F.E.
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 16:49

2 Answers 2


These are idiomatic:

I smelled you smoking out in the tool shed, you little twerp. I'm going to tell Dad on you. An eight-year-old shouldn't be smoking.

Did I smell you burning dead leaves last night? The breeze brought the scent in our window.

I smelled you frying fish.

I would not use "your" with any of those actions. But I'm not sure why. Because the transitive verb smell demands a smellable object? A noun phrase like "your frying fish" is, as a kind of possessive abstraction, inherently unsmellable, whereas "you frying" is closer to "raw" reality? Just a half-baked conjecture.

  • Would you mind explaining how these structures are different? *I smelled you baking cake!" AND "I saw you running hard!"
    – Maulik V
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 5:08
  • I don't see any difference in the structure. Both are verbs of perception, both use "you" not "your".
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 12:41

Both of them are grammatically sound.

"Wow! Nice! I smelled you baking cake!"

Here you're referring to the whole action. For this reason, this is what would normally be said. The action of cake baking generates an aroma that fills the whole kitchen and that's what is being smelled.

If it wasn't cake baking but something else, it's possible that it would be interpreted as "I smelled you, whilst you were [doing action]". However, it's clear from context here that it's the cake baking that's being smelled.

"Wow! Nice! I smelled your baking cake!"

Here you're referring to the cake specifically. You might say it, for example, if the chef was out of the kitchen, you came in and smelled the cake, and then the chef came back in and you told them about it.

However, in general, the first form is more usual.

  • 3
    In the second example, where you have taken "the cake specifically" as the object: in the US we would say "I smelled your cake baking" rather than "baking cake".
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 14:14

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