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I don't approve of his driving of the car.

According to my text book, "his driving" cannot take the object "the car" directly, instead it needs "of" to put the object as in the sentence. Another example shown there is

The mere knowing of his name is a small thing. (Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet)

Again, it says "the mere knowing" cannot take the object "his name" directly. But, I don't understand why.

  • 1
    Gerunds are a mysterious bunch, aren't they? – Victor Bazarov Nov 14 '15 at 12:26
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    They're not gerunds. They're nouns derived from gerunds. How can we tell? Because they take of-phrases instead of direct objects, take determiners, take adjectival rather than adverbial modification, inflect like nouns, and so on. Driving can also be a gerund: "[Driving the car] was a pain." Now it's clearly a verb form. It takes a direct object, unlike the noun in your example. It doesn't need a determiner. It takes adverbial rather than adjectival modification. It doesn't inflect like a noun. And so on. – snailcar Nov 14 '15 at 12:33
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    To this speaker of Northeastern US English, "his driving the car" means the fact that he is driving the car. "His driving of the car" means the way in which he drives the car. I don't know if this is formally correct, but it's the way in which we tend to use the phrases. – stangdon Nov 14 '15 at 13:30
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    @TRomano - To me, "I don't approve of his driving the car" means "I don't approve of the fact that he is driving the car." Like I said, it may not be formally correct, but it's idiomatic. – stangdon Nov 14 '15 at 20:11
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    @VictorBazarov: "Him driving the car" and "his driving the car" are synonymous. – ruakh Nov 15 '15 at 2:33
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His driving the car isn't wrong. The book might be wrong. It depends on whether the book is talking about nouns in particular.

Gerund-participle clauses

We can use a gerund-participle clause in many of the same situations where we use noun phrases. We can use them as Subjects, Objects and as the Complements of prepositions. A gerund-participle clause is a clause which uses an -ing form of the verb with no (present or past tense) auxiliaries. The part in brackets below is a gerund-participle clause:

  • I don't like [Bob driving my Ferrari]

Gerund participle clauses can have either normal noun phrases, or genitive ones using 's or s' as Subject:

  • [Bob driving my Ferrari] was annoying.
  • [Bob's driving my Ferrari] was annoying

If the Subject of the gerund-participle clause is a pronoun, we can use an accusative one or a genitive one:

  • [him driving my Ferrari] was annoying.
  • [his driving my Ferrari] was annoying.

Notice that gerund-participles are verbs not nouns. Because of this, they take Direct Objects. We use adverbs and not adjectives to modify the -ing verb:

  • Him carefully driving my Ferrari round the race-course annoyed me.
  • His carefully driving my Ferrari round the race-course annoyed me.

In both sentences above we see the Direct Object my Ferrari and the adverb carefully. Notice that if we use the adjective careful to modify the verb the sentence will be ungrammatical:

  • *Him careful driving my Ferrari round the race-course annoyed me. (ungrammatical)
  • *His careful driving my Ferrari round the race-course annoyed me. (ungrammatical)

Nouns

Many nouns in English describe actions:

  • inspection, theft, release, baptism, massacre, emission, liberation

Nouns do not take Direct Objects. If we want to show the people or things that these actions were done to, we need to use a preposition phrase using the preposition of:

  • the inspection of the school
  • the theft of the jewels
  • the release of the prisoners
  • the baptism of the congregation
  • the massacre of the Daleks
  • the emission of greenhouse gases
  • the liberation of the prisoners

If we want to modify nouns, we need to use adjectives, not adverbs:

  • the careless emission of greenhouse gasses
  • *the carelessly emission of greenhouse gasses (ungrammatical)

Noun phrases in English often have Determiners. These are words like a or the that do a special job in noun phrases. We can use genitive noun phrases using 's or s' as Determiners. We cannot use plain form ones:

  • Tom's theft of the jewels
  • Tom theft of the jewels (ungrammatical)

We can use genitive pronouns as Determiners. We cannot use accusative or nominative ones:

  • His theft of the jewels
  • *Him theft of the jewels
  • *He theft of the jewels

Of course we can always use determiners like the:

  • The theft of the jewels

Nouns ending in -ing

In English we can use different endings to turn verbs into nouns. For example we can add -(a)tion on to many verbs to make a new noun:

  • evaporate, evaporation
  • cite, citation
  • inspire, inspiration

We can also make new nouns from almost any verb by adding -ing to the plain form of the verb:

  • run, running
  • read, reading

These look exactly the same as gerund-participles, but they are not verbs. Like all nouns, they take preposition phrases with of instead of Objects:

  • The running of the race
  • The reading of the rules
  • *The running the race
  • *The reading the book

Like other nouns they can take genitive noun phrases and prepositions as Determiners. They cannot take normal nouns or accusative or nominative pronouns as Determiners:

  • Tom's running of the race
  • His running of the race
  • *Tom running of the race (wrong)
  • *The man running of the race (wrong)
  • *Him running of the race (wrong)
  • *He running of the race (wrong)

Of course, we can always use the as a Determiner:

  • The running of the race

Like other nouns, these nouns can be modified by adjectives. They can't be modified by adverbs:

  • His careful running of the race
  • *His carefully running of the race (wrong)

If we use these noun -ing forms as nouns, then they are nouns, not verbs!

The Original Poster's question

  1. I don't approve of his driving of the car.
  2. I don't approve of his driving the car.

The first sentence uses the noun driving. It has a preposition phrase to show what he was driving. The second sentence uses the gerund-participle form of the verb, driving. Because it's a verb it takes a Direct Object.

Notice that we can use the instead of his as a Determiner in (1). Also we cannot use the accusative him as a Determiner:

  • I don't approve of the driving of the car
  • *I don't approve of him driving of the car (wrong).

Notice that we can use him as a Subject in (2). Obviously we can never use the as the Subject of a verb;

  • I don't approve of him driving the car.
  • *I don't approve of the driving the car. (wrong)

Lastly, notice that we can use an adjective as a modifier in (1) because driving is a noun. We can't use an adverb. In (2) where driving is a gerund-participle verb, we can use an adverb as a modifier but not an adjective:

  • (1) I don't approve of his careless driving of the car. (noun with adjective)

  • (1) *I don't approve of his carelessly driving of the car. (noun with adverb, wrong)

  • (2) I don't approve of his carelessly driving the car. (verb with adverb)

  • (2) *I don't approve of his careless driving the car. (verb with adjective, wrong)

So, in the Original Poster's example, driving could be a verb or a noun. If it is a noun, it takes a preposition phrase, of the car. If it is a verb it can take a Direct Object, the car. If driving is a noun, the word his is a Determiner. If driving is a verb, we probably want to think of his as a Subject.

Hope this is helpful!


Reference Note:

All of this information can be found in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, the famous reference grammar by Huddleston & Pullum (et al) 2002. You can also find most of it in A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, Huddleston & Pullum, (2005)

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    How do you know the text is wrong? It may be talking about one specific usage or constuction. – user20792 Nov 15 '15 at 14:13
  • um, like, dude, what part of it prompted your comment? – user20792 Nov 15 '15 at 16:39
  • @Araucaria- Brilliant! A stunningly good answer to the question! So what of the supposed "rule" that "a gerund requires a possessive pronoun?" (as I was taught decades ago). Too simplistic? Too inclusive? For instance, citing one of your examples from above, "[him driving my Ferrari] was annoying." I take it that that not only sounds fine to your ear but is also grammatically correct? I sincerely hope this old dog can still learn a few new tricks from you as an editor. Araucaria, thank you so much for this helpful, thorough and informative answer. You are a treasure here, my friend. – Mark Hubbard Dec 8 '15 at 15:26
  • A few moments after posting my comment, I thought of an example of what I think you are saying; e. g.,. "I caught him driving my Ferrari." Yes? – Mark Hubbard Dec 8 '15 at 15:44
  • @MarkHubbard You chose a very interesting example there. The grammar of verbs of perception (of which caught , strangely, is one) is very, very complicated. The reason why caught is one of those verbs is that it involves directly apprehending someone through ones physical senses. Re, your other question, yes, those sentences are grammatical. They aren't generally graceful though. In general, we shy away from using clauses (finite or non-finite) as Subjects. If we have to, it's probably safe to say that a genitive Subject within that clause is less awkward in any semi-formal situation ... – Araucaria Dec 9 '15 at 21:28
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"Him driving" focuses on that person, "his driving" focuses on how that person drives. For example: "I don't agree with John driving to the shop" vs "I don't agree with John's slow driving to the shop".

It should also be noted that "the mere knowing of his name" would be "merely knowing his name" in a more modern setting. BrE and AmE have moved on since Conan Doyle, though Victorian phrasing can be rather poetic

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