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I was reading a piece of writing recently and I came across a very strangely phrased sentence that took me a while to understand. Can anyone identify the sentence's tense or really just what makes it so strange?

Despite their already having paid the money, there was an additional tax.

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    "already having paid the money" works as a noun, it can be replaced by "payment" for instance: "Despite their payment, there was an additional tax." – MorganFR May 18 '16 at 12:52
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    their already having paid the money is a non-finite clause--it is headed by a gerund perfect having paid, which has no tense (though the perfect construction casts the payment as prior to the action of the matrix clause). As @MorganFR says, such clauses ordinarily "act like" nouns; here it the object of the preposition despite. – StoneyB on hiatus May 18 '16 at 13:07
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despite is a preposition meaning not prevented by. A preposition normally attaches a noun to a sentence, for example:

He completed the marathon, despite his age.

already having paid the money is a noun phrase. We can include a verb in a noun phrase using either a gerund or an infinitive: in this case, a gerund is used. We make the present form of a gerund by putting -ing on the end of the verb- this is quite common- but we can also make the past gerund form by putting having in front of the perfect form- thus, having paid.

The main verb in the sentence is was, which is past simple. The strange bit in this sentence is the perfect form of the gerund, having paid.

There are fewer opportunities to use the past form of a gerund than the present form, and in addition, according to this NGram, its usage has declined steadily over the past 200 years.

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  • Do you know if writing in this way was ever common in english? – Morella Almånd May 18 '16 at 14:21
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    I wouldn't say that it is uncommon in modern English. Having made that assertion, I will now end this comment. – Adam May 18 '16 at 14:49
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    @MorellaAlmann, I have added an NGram to my answer that charts the decline in usage of the perfect from of the gerund. – JavaLatte May 18 '16 at 14:57
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    If you include up to 2008, it looks like it is making a slight comeback: books.google.com/ngrams/… Seriously, though - I tried several different verbs (made, walked, driven, writ, gone) and the same decline you pointed out was there for all of them. – Adam May 18 '16 at 15:27
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Despite their already having paid the money, there was an additional tax.

-ing words are not verbs, but either participles (if modifiers) or gerunds (if nouns).

To wrap your head around the form of the sentence, consider this simpler one:

Despite the rules, there was an additional tax.

So here is an examination of what is going on with the original sentence and how to understand it.

  • "Their already having paid the money" is the object of the preposition despite.
  • Objects of prepositions (objects in general) have to be nouns.
  • Gerunds can have a subject and object like normal, real verbs.
  • Subjects of gerunds are expressed using object pronouns. Me walking to the store made my mom angry.
  • Objects of gerunds go after the gerund just like real verbs. Here's a rather twisted example: He had two dollars. Him giving her them made his sister jealous.
  • It's possible for gerunds to be in most if not all of the tenses requiring auxillary verbs be or have. It looks like this: Them having been at the movie yesterday prevented them from being a suspect in the murder, Her having had two kids did not diminish her beauty in his eyes.

The real sujbect of that sentence is there and the verb is was. Prepositional phrases often modify or qualify phrases and that is what despite X is doing here.

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    "Subjects of gerunds are expressed using object pronouns" - in this case given by the OP, "their already having paid the money" uses the possessive determiner "their", and I think possessive determiners would also work better in your examples. Would you agree? – laugh salutes Monica C May 18 '16 at 15:03
  • Yep, determiners in general will work because its a noun and they will imply a subject as well. – LawrenceC May 18 '16 at 15:25
  • For more detail on genitive vs accusative with gerunds: english.stackexchange.com/questions/2625/… – Sabre May 18 '16 at 17:37

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