As I was doing an exercise on transformation of sentences (from a Cambdridge exam), I came across a sentence that still puzzles me:

Sam moved house only because he disliked commuting. = But for his ________ moved house. (Fill the gap with 3-8 words and use dislike).

The correct answer is: But for his dislike of commuting, Sam would not have moved house. But now, forgetting about the constraints imposed by the exercise, would the following sentence be correct?

But for his disliking commuting, Sam would not have moved house.

I have recently learnt about the Possessive Case with gerunds, so I am not entirely sure about its correct use, but I do not understand why the above sentence could be incorrect. I have been told that it is not a proper answer because after "his" must come a noun, and therefore, "dislike" instead of "disliking", and that otherwise, it should be "But for him disliking commuting, ...". But even so, I still do not understand why the possessive can't be used with the gerund in my sentence.

I would be grateful if you could throw some light on whether my sentence is correct or not and why.

  • Do you mean But for his disliking of commuting?
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 11:31
  • No, I meant to use disliking commuting as taking time in "I appreciate your taking time to answer my question", for example, or like disliking dogs in "This is the reason for your disliking dogs".
    – Skym
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 11:45
  • You mean using a gerund to modify another gerund, I never seen that. I know you can say "since you dislike commuting". I do not think natives construct compound names using two consecutive gerunds. However, "taking time" and "disliking doge" are gerund phrases. Lets wait for the native :)
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 11:59
  • I was referring to using the gerund as is explained here: Using the Possessive Case with Gerunds
    – Skym
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 12:08
  • 1
    @Cardinal The second gerund is the object of the first. "He dislikes commuting" → his disliking commuting. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 14:11

1 Answer 1


But for his disliking commuting is formally OK.

A gerund is a noun and a verb at the same time. Inside the VP it may act as a verb—here, for instance, disliking takes an object, commuting—while externally it acts as a noun—here disliking acts as the object of the preposition for.

The subject of a gerund may be cast in either object or possessive case. Broadly, him disliking would be used in contexts where the gerund is "verbier", and his disliking in contexts where it is "nounier". In this particular instance the preposition gives disliking a very "nouny" feel, so his is better than him.

HOWEVER: the use of two gerunds back-to-back like that is jarring (linguists call it horror aequi), so the "correct" answer, with the full noun, is better.

You must log in to answer this question.

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