We’re Down With You Being—or Your Being?—a Square

Are you afraid that your love of grammar makes you a square? Don’t worry, but choose one:

A. Your love of grammar has nothing to do with your being a square.

B. Your love of grammar has nothing to do with being square.

Which do you choose, “you are square” or “you are square”? Or do they both seem fine? It’s okay, we love you no matter what, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about both options. (We should also note that we here at Merriam-Webster think grammar-loving squares are about the coolest cats around. <3)

watercolor square

Photo: saemilee

There is little difference in meaning between “your being a square” and “you being a square”, but there is a surprising difference in the grammatical structure of the sentence.

Of course, the difference between “you are square” and “you are square” is that pronouns are possessive pronouns. your in one and personal pronouns Friend in there. Other than that, though, the sentences basically mean the same thing, which is strange. These types of pronouns are usually not interchangeable; “That black beret is hers” doesn’t mean the same as “that black beret is hers.”

So what is it about “you are a square” and “you are a square”? That is Present. Present here is usually understood to act as a gerund, which means it dresses like -ing the form of a verb—also called the present participle—but functions as a noun. As nouns, gerunds can do all of the things that nouns do, such as being the subject of a sentence, as in “Snapping is cool,” or the object of a preposition, as in “I’m very” good at snapping.” In addition to serving as subjects and objects, gerunds can do the same thing as the nouns they are possessed (grammatically, not mentally). Ownership in grammar is about ownership or a similar relationship to ownership. In English we usually show it with ‘S (Mabel’s beret, the coolest cat’s beret), but we can also do it with possessive pronouns or possessive adjectives (beret is hers, she beret). If Present in “is a square” is a gerund, then possessive your meaningful. But is it necessary? Consider a new example:

Mabel disapproves of you/you wearing her beret.

Grammaticalists over the centuries have divided which version of this sentence is better. If wear is a noun in a phrase, as it is commonly understood, what precedes it must be something suitable for a noun—such as an adjective or a possessive pronoun. Some 18th century grammarians thought possessive was completely wrong, while others (including Noah Webster) thought possessive was completely right. Noah and associates. has risen to the forefront in the 21st century; advice you might come across today is possessive, so “Mabel disapproves of you wearing her beret.” But you’ll also see plenty of examples of how to write impeccable sentences like “Mabel disapproves of you wearing her beret.” This has been true for centuries: good writers use both structures and often stay close to each other.

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And matters get a little more complicated in certain situations. Note the following:

Mabel appreciated that they bought her a beret.

Mabel appreciated that they bought her a beret.

At first glance, the statements seem synonymous. However, dig a little deeper and they express slightly different emotions. In “Mabel appreciates them buying her a beret”, the use of the pronoun Surname as the direct object of the verb appreciate doesn’t emphasize the act of buying and puts it on the buyer: she appreciates them. In “Mabel appreciates them buying her a beret,” possessive pronouns their emphasizes that Mabel appreciates a specific purchase: she appreciates the very beautiful beret that was bought for her.

Sometimes the difference in meaning is even more obvious. Check out this pair:

Do you like my snapshot?

Do you like me grabbing?

The first example, “Do you like my snapping?”, could be interpreted as “I’m a snapper and I’d like to know what you think of my snapping.” Meanwhile, “Do you like me shooting?” can be interpreted as “I’m showing off my snapping right now and you should let me know if that’s too annoying or if I should continue.”

Given such differences in meaning, it seems unprofitable to stipulate that people always choose possessives in such cases.

But grammatically, what’s going on? Since we’ve gotten this far, we might as well go on a little more. In cases where there is no possessive, we’re probably not really dealing with a gerund at all. Consider a new set of sentences:

Here’s a photo of you wearing my cat Mabel’s beret.

*This is a photo of you wearing a beret of my cat Mabel.

No, we cannot do the latter; it’s a structure that no native speaker uses. And yet, in it we have the most often recommended possessive pronouns. However, please note that we can say the following:

You wearing my cat’s beret is outrageous.

This means while wear can be a gerund, it’s not a gerund in “Here’s a picture of you in my cat’s beret.” Instead of, wear in that sentence is a participle—meaning a verb wear is automatically its word in it -ing Also called present participle form. “Wearing my cat’s beret” is here called a “participial phrase”: a phrase that is preceded by a participle and acts as an adjective. In “Here’s a picture of you in my cat’s beret” the join phrase describes (or, to use more precise technical terms, modifies) the pronoun Friend: this is your picture, and you are wearing my cat’s beret.

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What does all this mean for you? Well, if you are a native English speaker, that means you should use whatever structure works for you. In situations where it sounds fine, you may want to choose possessive since that is the way currently favored by grammatical categories. If you’re not a native speaker, you should know that possessive is preferred but when you want to emphasize “who” instead of “who” is doing what, in fact, you may want to be non-possessive. And if you’ve finished reading this article, you should know that we think you’re one of the coolest cats around.

Note: Some preliminary research by linguist Mark Liberman suggests that pre-possession -ing form is losing its position in general. We haven’t done the research to confirm his findings, but found his post at The Language Diary fascinating and the subsequent comments helpful in thinking through this analysis.

Categories: Usage Notes
Source: vothisaucamau.edu.vn

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