Submitted by Carolyn Lunn  •  August 11, 2011

“My writing books” or “Me writing books”?

Which is correct : 

My writing books proves I am an entrepreneur. 

Me writing books proves I am an entrepreneur. 

ME or MY ? Both sentences are awkward, yes, but which sentence is grammatically correct?

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"My writing.........." is correct.

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"My writing books..." is the proper construction for a gerund phrase. See: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/627/01/

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According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, both "me writing books" and "my writing books" are correct. Both have been used in standard English writing for 300 years.

http://books.google.com/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&a...

imo there is a problem with Purdue's advice. Gerunds don't function as nouns. They have noun-like qualities, and they have verb-like qualities.
The Purdue site shows that gerunds are like nouns by replacing the gerund with a noun, as in:
They do not appreciate my singing.
They do not appreciate my assistance.

But this doesn't always work.
They do not appreciate my singing the national anthem.
*They do not appreciate my assistance the national anthem.

Like verbs, gerunds can take subjects and objects. Here "singing" has an object. Nouns don't have objects.

So the claim that a gerund must be proceeded by the possessive pronoun (my) because it functions as a noun doesn't make sense imo.

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Except, @goofy, in the example given, "me" is not an object of anything. "My writing" is the subject.

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@scyllacat I think you're missing my point. The usual argument goes something like this: "Gerunds function as nouns, therefore they must be proceeded by possessive pronouns, because nouns are proceeded by possessive pronouns."

My point is that this argument doesn't work, because gerunds don't function as nouns.

You're right that "me" is not an object of anything, but that's irrelevant.

Gerunds are used both with and without possessives in standard English. However, a personal pronoun tends to be in the possessive form in writing. So something like "my writing books" is more common than "me writing books". See the MDWEU link for a thorough discussion.

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Carolyn:

You are right, both sentences are awkward. Moreover, both are factually wrong.

From a grammatical standpoint, I'd say scrap them both and start over. This would be better:

"That I write books is proof I am an entrepreneur."

But the problem is not grammatical. Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as "one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise."

Merely writing a book is none of that.

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What about saying "My writing of books...?"

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Yes, Miss Neff, you may say that, but then you must add the word "the." Here is how it would work: "The my writing of books will make me rich." Or, "When I read the your writing of books, I was very confused."

I hope this helps.

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@Goofy ... The "me" is very relevant!

Look at this way:

My car proves that I am a fast driver.
Me car proves that I am a fast driver.
Obviously "my" is correct.

My driving proves that I am a fast driver.
Me driving proves that I am a fast driver.
Obviously "my" is correct.

Driving a car proves that I'm not blind. (Without either the me or my.)

But any way you look at it, "me" is not correct.

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My car proves that I am a fast driver.
*Me car proves that I am a fast driver.
The second sentence is wrong, because "car" is a noun. But a gerund like "driving" or "writing" is not a noun. So you can't argue that "me driving" is wrong because "me car" is wrong.

As I already said, a personal pronoun tends to be in the possessive form in writing. So something like "my writing books" is more common than "me writing books". But we do find gerunds without possessives used by good English writers. For instance:
"...but I can't see me letting Harold C. condense it" - Flannery O'Connor
"I was glad to hear of the bills being paid" - Harry S. Truman

Read the MDWEU entry that I linked to above.

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It's really pointless to speak of gerunds and participles; the distinction just doesn't hold up to close syntactic scrutiny, which is why some just call them the "ing" form of a given verb. When the "ing" form takes the syntactic place usually occupied by a noun, the "ing" form takes the possessive as its subject. That is standard English. Whether the "ing" is or functions like a noun is irrelevant. Informal English (particularly spoken English) often uses the objective form of the pronoun ("me," in this case) as the subject of the "ing" word. That is non-standard English (or "incorrect" if "me driving proves that I am a fast driver" occurs in some formal context).

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A gerund (or "ing" form if you prefer) doesn't take the syntactic place usually occupied by a noun. When I say that a gerund doesn't function as a noun, I mean that you can't replace the gerund with a noun. What if we try to replace "writing" with the noun "composition".

My writing proves I am an entrepreneur.
My composition proves I am an entrepreneur.

My writing books proves I am an entrepreneur.
*My composition books proves I am an entrepreneur.

Gerunds don't take the syntactic slot occupied by nouns, because gerunds take objects, and nouns don't.

GWU, what authority says that only the possessive form in front of a gerund is correct? There are some cases where the possessive just sounds silly, for instance: "There is some chance of our luggage's being lost."

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@goofy,

You don't use a possessive in front of a gerund simply because it has noun-like qualities or functions as a noun. You do it because that's the rule. All those "pretend it's a noun" or "substitute a noun so it makes sense" are just little tricks to help English students understand how gerunds work. They have no bearing on the function of a gerund. They're just ways for English teachers to explain gerunds.

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Hannah,
I see your point. However, that is not the rule. There is nothing incorrect about not using a possessive in front of a gerund - at least according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. In fact there are times when you can't use a possessive in front of a gerund, as in the example I gave.

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This is what my dictionary on the computer says: Gerund - a form that is derived from a verb but that functions as a noun, in English ending in -ing.

My writing proves I am an entrepreneur.
My composition proves I am an entrepreneur. *** Nothing wrong with this usage.

My writing books proves I am an entrepreneur.
*My composition books proves I am an entrepreneur.
***Here you could say "my composing books" or "my composition of books" ... regardless, and this is the point of this thread, ... "me composition of books" or "me composing books" are wrong unless you want to claim that me=my in proper usage.

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That should be "or is" or "and or".

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From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage:

This construction, both with and without the possessive, has been used in writing for about 300 years. Both forms have been used by standard authors. Both forms have been called incorrect, but neither is. Those observers who have examined real examples have reached the following general conclusions: 1. A personal pronoun before the gerund tends to be a possessive pronoun (of course, with "her" you cannot tell the case). Fries 1940 found that the possessive predominated even in letters written by the less educated. 2. The accusative pronoun is used when it is meant to be emphasized. 3. In speech the possessive pronoun may not predominate, but available evidence is inconclusive. 4. Both possessive and common-case (uninflected) nouns, including proper nouns, are used before the gerund.

There's lots more: http://books.google.com/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&a...

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It seems to me that the hard and fast rule "always use the possessive" is patently wrong, but in this case the first sentence makes more sense. "Me writing" is just less seemly as a subject, than "my writing," imho, because the evidence is the written work and not the writer.
However, one might say "I needn't prove I am a writer, you can see me writing my new novel." In this way, the action of the writer is the evidence, so the accusative seems better suited to the task.

To say this another way:
"My writing" emphasizes the writing, whereas "me writing" emphasizes the writer.

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Wow, what a douchebag you are, Entomophagist!

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They do not appreciate my singing the national anthem.
*They do not appreciate my assistance the national anthem. What's the difference? You can sing something, like a song (object, so transitive verb) but you cannot assistance something (so intransitive) so a poor example, I fear, of how to explain a gerund as a verbal noun and how it works. "My singing .." is correct, by the way.

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Why must we add the word "the"? What does this lend to make the sentence better? It makes it a nonsense, surely?

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Hey, goofy, a gerund IS a noun, that is why it is a gerund and not the verb it looks like and came from. it has verbal qualities, but it is still a noun, so "My writing is improving" is correct.

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Brus, you cannot assistance something because "assistance" is not a verb, it's a noun. A gerund is not a noun, because you can't replace it with a real noun, like "assistance".

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@Goofy, Hannah - Also from MWDEU p753 - 'The gerund, or verbal noun, ... is the past participle used as a noun'. While I agree that the gerund can also take an object, I would argue that the resulting gerund phrase does indeed still operate like a noun. Put it this way:

Smoking is bad for you - the subject is the gerund 'smoking'
Smoking cigarettes is bad for you - the subject is now the gerund phrase 'smoking cigarettes'

That the bare gerund cannot always be equated with a noun is, I would suggest, a bit of a red herring. The analogy of 'singing the national anthem' with 'assistance the national anthem' is therefore a false one.

I do agree, however, about the general acceptance of both forms - 'me' and 'my'. Although my impression is that most discussion concerns the gerund phrase being used as an object.

Take the expression - 'smoking at the table' - this could be a gerund phrase or a participle clause

My aunt doesn't like me/my smoking at the table. - gerund phrase
My aunt saw me smoking at the table. - participle clause

As I understand it Fowler and others preferred 'my' in the first example, so as to make clear that a gerund and not a participle was being used. For most of us 'me' is perfectly acceptable here, perhaps because we expect the objective 'me' in this position. And I agree with GWU that it is less about correctness, more perhaps about formality.

But ignoring GWU's argument about the validity of the gerund/participle distinction for the moment, what happens when we put the same gerund phrase in subject position (as in the original 'writing' example):

Me/my smoking at the table really annoys my aunt.

While accepting both as being perfectly possible, the 'me' in subject position does sound a bit strange (notwithstanding sentences like ''Me and Dave are going to the pub.", which I fully accept in informal English). So I would probably be inclined to use 'my' here.

Of interest to some, perhaps, is the necessary change of stress: in 'My smoking at the table ...' the stress would be on 'smoking', but if we said 'Me smoking at the table ...', I think the stress would shift more to 'Me'.

@GWU - Although I wouldn't necessarily go as far as you (although admittedly the CGEL does), in TEFL we also tend to talk about the '-ing' form, rather than worry too much about any gerund/participle difference. And in some instances, for example after prepositions, it is almost impossible to make the distinction.

@dramarama - I'm afraid your suggestion of 'The my writing of books will make me rich' is impossible in English, because 'the' and 'my' are both Class A determiners which are never used together. Not 'because it's the rule', but because no native speaker would accept it as natural.

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I must say, Goofy, Warsaw Will makes an interesting point.

The problem with replacing:

"My writing books proves I am an entrepreneur."

with:

*My composition books proves I am an entrepreneur."

is not that you can't replace the gerund with a noun. The problem is that "writing books" is a gerund phrase; i.e., the entire phrase "writing books" is acting as a noun. You would properly replace the "gerund" with a noun by changing the sentence to:

*My composition proves I am an entrepreneur."

which is clearly just fine.

Of course, don't forget that if you truly can't replace a gerund with a noun, it may very well be that it is a participle and not a gerund at all. Simply ending in -ing doesn't make something a gerund.

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There is an excellent discussion on this topic by prominent professor of linguistics Mark Liberman at Language Log, with the relevant MWDEU entry embedded

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2637

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porsche, I agree that "writing books" functions as a noun. But "writing" is not a noun. Call it a gerund or "-ing" form or participle, but it's not a noun. But many usage guides say you must use a possessive in front a gerund, because a gerund is a noun. This is clearly mistaken. If they mean that when gerunds have objects, as in "writing books", that the entire "gerund phrase" functions as a noun, then that's what they should say.

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