"What the hell?!" He said with surprise when he noticed my coming up the water.

Do we use my or possessive pronouns in such sentences? Or should it be

… he noticed me coming up the water"?


7 Answers 7


In the expression "...when he noticed me coming up the water" the participle clause "coming up the water" has ambiguous relation: was I coming up the water or was he coming up the water at the time of "noticing"? The use of possessive pronoun resolves this ambiguity. "My" only relates to the following noun [phrase] (or gerund in a noun role, as here).

  • 1
    Since you asked, I've undeleted it. Yes, there is more to be said about participle clause vs gerund, but I don't feel qualified; besides, the links in the comments by StoneyB and choster are good sources for the information. Sep 5, 2015 at 12:09
  • You don't think it's a duplicate, then? Sep 5, 2015 at 12:18
  • Victor Bazarov, There is no ambiguity about "coming up the water". If you put a possessive adjective o pronoun before a gerund, the gerund refers to the person denoted by the possessive adjective or pronoun. For example: He insisted on my/me reading the book (Oxford University Press - Practical English Grammar).
    – Khan
    Sep 10, 2015 at 7:01
  • 1 Do you mind my smoking? - more formal
  • 2 Do you mind me smoking? - more everyday speech

The Oxford Guide to English Grammar by John Eastwood (par. 130) formulates it this way:

A subject can come before a gerund.

  • We rely on our neighbours watering the plants while we're away.

  • I dislike people asking me personal questions.

The subject can be possessive, especially when it is a personal pronoun or a name:

  • It's a bit inconvenient your/you coming in late.

  • Do you mind my/me sitting here?

  • I'm fed up with Sarah's/ Sarah laughing at my accent.

The possessive is more formal, and it is less usual in everyday speech.

Remark: I would prefer the formulation " A logical subject can come before a gerund. A noun can be in possessive case or object case. The logical subject can also be a possessive adjective (my, your) or the personal pronoun in object case (me, you, him).

Eastwood adds: At the beginning of a sentence we are more likely to use a possessive

  • Your coming in late is a bit inconvenient.

  • Sarah's laughing at my accent is getting on my nerves.


What the hell?! He said with surprise when he noticed my coming up the water.

First off, remember that my is a possessive pronoun and me is an objective pronoun.

Second, it's correct grammatically to use either he objective pronoun "me" or the possessive pronoun my" in this sentence. Furthermore, you can also use the bare infinitive (come) after the objective pronoun: He said with surprise when he noticed me come up the water.

Though it's common to use an objective pronoun before a present participle in such sentences in informal English, grammarians usually emphasize the use of a possessive pronoun instead treating the -ing verb as a gerund, especially in formal English. I think it's not true in case of all verbs. In case of verbs of perception such as see, listen to, watch, hear, notice, etc. you can freely use an objective pronoun followed by the -ing form or even the bare infinitive of these verbs, which is equally correct in informal or formal English. In addition, there are some verbs such as find and smell, etc. that are usually followed by objective pronoun + present participle; for example "I found him working in the garden". I found him eating in the kitchen. I think it will be awkward if we say "I found his working in the garden/i found his eating in the kitchen".

Last but not least, according to grammar, the gerund/present participle in such sentences refers to the possessive or objective pronoun, not the subject. Look at the following sentence:

Beware of that dog! I often see it barking at every passer-by.

  • It's called an "interrobang" and the use is perfectly fine. It's not formal but it's actually used quite perfectly in this sentence.
    – Catija
    Sep 8, 2015 at 16:14
  • Catija, Thanks for correcting me. This has added to my knowledge.
    – Khan
    Sep 8, 2015 at 17:02


1. He noticed my coming up the water.

2. He noticed me coming up the water.

Both the sentences are grammatically correct. Yet the objective form is more common, for, in my opinion, it's much more logical. You notice the person doing it. Even if you want to see their action you will see them doing it.

[It would make more sense if you read it after going through the LONG ANSWER -

He noticed my coming up the water.

Here my coming up the water is a GERUND PARTICIPLE and my is the subject of the GERUND PARTICIPLE. Here the GERUND PARTICIPLE - my coming up the water - is a direct object of the verb - notice.

He noticed me coming up the water.

Here me is the direct object of the verb - catch and coming up the water is just a second complement.

But using my here is not that common.]


Before we discuss further we need to know about GERUND PARTICIPLES. A verb in gerund participles ends with -ing. verb+ing doesn't only occur in gerund participles. Let's look at the following examples -

3. She had witnessed the breaking of the seal. [Gerundial Noun]

4. Their is no point in breaking the seal. [Gerund Participle form of verb]

5. They were entertaining the troops. [Gerund Participle form of verb]

6. an entertaining show [Present-Participle Adjective]

Now we need to distinguish the subject of the Gerund Participle. Consider the following examples -

7. I regretted his leaving the firm.

Here his is the subject of the Gerund Participle.

When a pronoun is the subject of a Gerund Participle, either subjective or objective form occurs.

8. I enjoyed his reading of the poem. [Using him is incorrect here. reading is a noun. So subjective form required]

9. I caught him reading my mail. [Using his is incorrect here. Him is the object of the verb - caught. So we need the objective form. reading my mail is just a second complement]

10. I remember his/him reading my mail. [Subject of Gerund-Participle. So both form of pronoun is correct]

Now notice that both in sentence #9 and #10 this part occurs - reading my mail. But in #9 only objective form is correct, and in #10 both forms are correct. It depends on the verb, on which verb allows which complements.

  • 1
    @Araucaria I enjoyed his reading the poem is correct. In noticed him coming up the water, hm is the object of the verb - notice, and coming up the water is the second complement. Sep 13, 2015 at 14:02
  • 1
    @Man_From_India So that would seem to be an important part of the answer, maybe ... ;) Sep 13, 2015 at 14:13
  • 1
    @Araucaria That is exactly what I think :-) Sep 13, 2015 at 14:19
  • 1
    @Man_From_India (Great minds, as they say ...) Hmmm. That would kinda make his coming up the water just one of those sentences where we use a g-p instead of an NP as a DO - which is kind of rare in general. Whereas the two complements in him coming up the water would be part of the normal expected complementation pattern for perception verbs like NOTICE or SEE ... perhaps .... hmmm interesting :-) Sep 13, 2015 at 14:22
  • 1
    @Araucaria And thanks for the upvote...Reading a reference book and finding the exact section is pretty difficult task especially if it's CGEL. An upvote is the reward I accept for that effort :P Thanks!!! Sep 13, 2015 at 14:30

He said with surprise when he noticed my coming up the water.

-ing words are verbals - i.e. technically nouns.

Any noun, including verbals, can be preceded with a possessive pronoun indicating who it belongs to. So "my coming" is equivalent to saying "the coming of mine" or "coming of me".

As verbs can have subjects and objects, so can verbals.

Object pronouns that precede the verbal are used to indicate the subject of gerunds or participles (-ing words) that are subject complements. (Object pronouns that follow the verbal are the verbal's direct/indirect object.)

Him going to the park pissed me off.

There is nothing I like better than her being gone.

Them giving her two dollars made my day.

Them giving him it was all that was needed to make everyone happy (This is correct but could be confusing if someone is not following conversation closely - this sounds better: Them giving it to him was all that was needed ...)

It seems me throwing it away was what was needed.

So both are correct.

My coming emphasizes the act itself - you are saying it's more important that he noticed the coming in and of itself.

Me coming gives equal importance to the subject and act - he noticed not just someone coming, but you coming specifically.


On the one hand, we have a person.  On the other, we have an action.  Either of these might be noticed.

If we want to talk about a noticed action, the simplest way is to describe that action with a noun:

He noticed the arrival.

This simple noun needs a determiner, and there are several determiners that could make sense.  The noticed thing might be "the arrival", "an arrival", "this arrival", "my arrival" and so on. 

This works.  However, it doesn't always work very well if we want to further describe that action.  For example, we could say "He noticed my arrival from the water," but that would be ambiguous.  The phrase "from the water" can modify the verb "noticed" as easily as it can the noun "arrival". 

Instead of using a simple noun, we can use a gerund: 

He noticed my coming up the water. 

The verb "to come" licenses the preposition "up".  The verb "to notice" does not.  Our earlier ambiguity is resolved. 

The gerund "coming" is not an exact match for the noun "arrival".  The noun "approach" might be a better fit.  That doesn't matter here.  Your original model sentence uses the gerund, and we have to assume that "coming" expresses the intended meaning. 

This clause has a subject, a verb, and a direct object.  The complete direct object is "my coming up the water".  The keyword of that phrase is the gerund "coming".  Both "my" and "up the water" modify this gerund.  The coming does happen to be mine and the coming does happen to be up the water, but it is the coming itself which is the thing that was said to be noticed. 

If we want to talk about a noticed person, one simple way is to describe that person with a pronoun: 

He noticed me. 

This is the same simple structure as before -- a subject, a verb, and a direct object.  The thing that is noticed is the person -- me. 

We can modify this pronoun in a number of ways.  The simplest way is to use simple adjectives:  "He noticed little old me."  Another option is to use a prepositional phrase:  "He noticed me in the water."  Again, a prepositional phrase at the end of the clause can be ambiguous.  "In the water" could be my location, or it could be the location of the act of noticing (and, by implication, the subject's location). 

We can modify the pronoun "me" with a participle or participial phrase: 

He noticed me coming up the water. 

In this case, the form "coming" is the so-called present participle.  It is a non-finite verb form.  Finite verb forms have tense and form predicates.  Non-finite forms have no tense and do not (at least, do not necessarily) form predicates.  Participles and their phrases are commonly used to modify nouns and pronouns -- the same role that adjectives and prepositional phrases can take. 

In English, the present participle and the gerund have identical forms.  There is no way to distinguish between them without context.  Just as participles can fulfill the roles of adjectives and adverbs, gerunds can fulfill the same roles as nouns and pronouns. 

The same thing cannot be said of the genitive pronoun "my" and the objective pronoun "me".  The word "my" must modify a noun or noun-like thing.  The word "me" must be an object.

In the original clause, the thing that is mentioned as being noticed is the action of coming.  The gerund "coming" is the direct object, with "my" and "up the water" each modifying that object.  In your paraphrased clause, the direct object is the person.  The participle "coming" modifies the direct object "me", and the prepositional phrase in turn modifies the participle.  

For the clause in question, both forms work.  If I am coming and you notice that fact, then you are noticing both a person and an action.  In that situation, it's hard to do one without doing both.  The distinction between them is a question of style or emphasis.  It is not a question of grammatical correctness. 

Further context might make one emphasis more sensible than another. Consider these: 

He noticed me coming up the water and he waved to me. 
He noticed my coming up the water and he tried to stop it. 

Noticing a person can be a sensible reason for greeting a person.  For the first sentence, I prefer "me" as the direct object of "noticed".  Noticing an action can be a sensible reason for interfering with that action.  For the second sentence, I prefer "coming" as the direct object of "noticed". 

I could have paired these clauses in the other way, but then my intended meanings -- the relationships between the clauses of each sentence -- would have been less clear.


Of course if a gerund is preceded by pronoun it should be a possessive pronoun:

He noticed my coming up not me

  • Welcome to ELL! This question is actually quite old: if you click on he 'newest' tab, you will find more recent questions. It has some pretty comprehensive answers already: how can you persuade people that your answer is correct? It helps if you provide links to references that back up your opinion.
    – JavaLatte
    Sep 14, 2016 at 15:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .