H.W. Fowler (1858–1933). The King’s English, 2nd ed. 1908.
Chapter II. Syntax
THERE are three questions to be considered: whether a writer ought to let us know that he is using a gerund and not a participle; when a gerund may be used without its subject's being expressed; when a gerund with preposition is to be preferred to the infinitive.
It is done by putting what we call for shortness' sake the subject of the gerund (i.e., the word me or my in me doing or my doing) in the possessive instead of in the objective or subjective case.
Take the typical sentence: I dislike my best friend('s) violating my privacy. It cannot be a true account of the matter to say that friend is the object of I dislike, and has a participle violating attached to it. For (a) we can substitute resent, which never takes a personal object, for dislike, without changing the sense. (b) If we substitute a passive construction, also without changing the sense, we find that dislike has quite a different object—privacy.—I dislike my privacy being violated by my friend. (c) Many of us would be willing to adopt the sentiment conveyed who yet would not admit for a moment that they disliked their best friend even when he intruded; they condemn the sin, but not the sinner.
Violating then is not an ordinary participle. It does not follow yet that it is a gerund. It may be an extraordinary participle, fused into one notion with the noun, so that a friend violating means the-violation-by-a-friend. The Latin scholar here at once puts in the idiom of occisus Caesar, which does not generally mean Caesar after he was killed, as it naturally should, but the killing of Caesar, or the fact that Caesar had been killed. The parallel is close (though the use is practically confined to the passive in Latin), and familiar to all who know any Latin at all. But it shows not so much what the English construction is as how educated people have been able to reconcile themselves to an ambiguous and not very reasonable idiom—not very reasonable, that is, after language has thrown off its early limitations, and got over the first difficulty of accomplishing abstract expression of any kind. The sort of fusion assumed is further illustrated for the Latinist, though not so closely, by the Latin accusative and infinitive. This theory then takes violating for a participle fused into one notion with friend. There are two difficulties.
That the possessive of all pronouns that have the form should be used instead of the objective or subjective is hardly disputed. Correct accordingly:
You may rely upon me doing all in my power.—Sir W. Harcourt.
Examples in which the possessive of nouns might be written without a qualm.
Nearly a week passed over without Mr. Fairford hearing a word directly from his son.—Scott.
All the last set involved what were either actual or virtual names of persons; there is more difficulty with abstract nouns, compound subjects, and words of which the possessive is ugly. Those that may perhaps bear the possessive mark will be put first, and alterations suggested for the others.
We look forward to much attention being given.—Times.
The real objection to the possessive here is merely the addition to the crowd of sibilants.
In the event of the passage being found, he will esteem it a favour... (if the passage is found)
Or, if the names are essential, did not in the least mind how soon Edward and I married.
It has been replied to the absurd taunt about the French inventing nothing, that at least Descartes invented German philosophy.—Morley. (Frenchmen's)
A modern construction called the compound possessive was mentioned at the end of the section on Cases. It is sometimes ugly, sometimes inoffensive; that is a matter of degree and of knowing where to draw the line; there is no objection to it in principle. And the application of it will sometimes help out a gerund. The first quotation gives a compound possessive simply; the second, a gerund construction to which it ought to be applicable; the third and fourth, two to which it can be applied; and the last, one to which it cannot.
A protestation, read at Edinburgh, was followed, on Archibald Johnston of Warriston's suggestion, by...—J. R. Green.
The only objection to a possessive mark after successor is that the two commas cannot be dispensed with; we must say when ... took for on the occasion of ... taking. Such a premier's will certainly pass. In the Spectator sentence, we should ourselves allow union's; opinions will differ. But to put the 's after poor in the last sentence would be ridiculous; that sentence must be rewritten—insisting that many English guardians of the poor should make—or else poor-law Guardians' must be used.
Sometimes we can get over the difficulty without abandoning the gerund, by some slight change of order.
This incentive can only be supplied by the nation itself taking the matter up seriously.—Lord Roberts.
If itself's is objected to, omit itself (or shift it to the end), and write nation's.
But many types of sentence remain that will have to be completely changed if the gerund is to be recognizable. It will be admitted about most of our examples that the change is not to be regretted. The subject of the gerund is italicized in each, to emphasize its length.
We have to account for the collision of two great fleets, so equal in material strength that the issue was thought doubtful by many careful statisticians, ending in the total destruction of one of them and in the immunity of the other from damage greater than might well be incurred in a mere skirmish.—Times.
For account for ... ending write ascertain why ... ended. The sentence is radically bad, because the essential construction seems complete at collision—a false scent. That, which is one of the worst literary sins, is the frequent result of long fused participles. It is quite practically possible here for readers to have supposed that they were going to be told why the fleets met, and not why the meeting ended as it did. In the remaining sentences, we shall say when there is false scent, but leave the reader to examine it.
The success of the negotiations depends on the Russian Minister at Tokio being allowed to convince Japan that...—Times.
The compound possessive—Tokio's—is tempting, but perhaps overbold. Insert whether after depends on, and write is for being.
So far from this being the case, the policy ... was actually decided upon before ... the question ... was raised.—Times.
Omit being the case.
We are not without tokens of an openness for this higher truth also, of a keen though uncultivated sense for it, having existed in Burns.—Carlyle.
For the first of write that, omit the second of, and omit having. False scent.
There is no apparent evidence of an early peace being necessitated by the pecuniary exigencies of the Russian Government.—Sir Howard Vincent.
For of ... being write that ... will be, if peace's cannot be endured.
The general effect of his words was to show the absurdity of the Secretary of State for War, and our military authorities generally, denouncing the Militia as useless or redundant.—Spectator.
For the absurdity of ... denouncing write how absurd it was for ... to denounce. False scent, though less deceptive.
Apparently his mission was decided upon without that of the British and Spanish Ministers having been taken into account, or, at all events, without their having been sufficiently reckoned with.—Times.
Without regard (at all events without sufficient regard) to that of...
...capital seeking employment in foreign protected countries, in consequence of manufacturing business in many branches in which it might be employed at home being rendered unprofitable by our system of free trade.—Lord Goschen.
For in consequence of ... being write because ... has been. Bad false scent again.
Observe the fused participle within fused participle here; and read thus: So far from its being inequitable that the state should relieve, &c.
After these specimens, chosen not as exceptional ones, but merely as not admitting of simple correction by insertion of the possessive mark, the reader will perhaps agree that the long gerund subject—or rather noun phrase of the fused participle—is a monstrosity, the abolition of which would be a relief to him, and good discipline for the writer.
Two sentences are added to show the chaotic state of present practice. Noticing the bold use of the strict gerund in the first, we conclude that the author is a sound gerundite, faithful in spite of all temptations; but a few pages later comes the needless relapse into fused participle.
I remember old Colney's once, in old days, calling that kind of marriage a sarcophagus.—Meredith.
The following looks like a deliberate avoidance of both constructions by a writer who is undecided between the two. Its being is what should have been written.
I do not say that the advice is not sound, or complain that it is given. I do deprecate that it should be taken.—Times.
And perhaps a shyness of something's being shown accounts for the next odd arrangement; it is true that entire recasting is what is called for.
There being shown to be something radically defective in the management of the Bank led to the appointment of a Committee.—H. D. Macleod.
This is not a controversial matter like the last; the principles are quite simple, and will be accepted; but it is necessary to state and illustrate them because they are often forgotten. As the same mistakes are sometimes made with the infinitive, that is to be considered as included.
Roughly, the subject of the gerund (or infinitive) should be expressed if it is different from, and omitted if it is the same as, the subject of the sentence. To omit it when different is positively wrong, and may produce actual ambiguity or worse, though sometimes there is only a slipshod effect; to insert it when the same is generally clumsy.
No one would say 'I succeeded to his property upon dying', because, I being the subject of the sentence, my is naturally suggested instead of the necessary his as subject of the gerund; the his must be inserted before dying, even though the nature of the case obviates ambiguity. To take an instance that will show both sides, the following is correct:
I shut the door and stood with my back to it. Then, instead of his philandering with Bess, I, Clementina MacTaggart, had some plain speech with John Barnaby.—Crockett.
Subject of the sentence, I; subject of the gerund, he; they are different; therefore the he must be expressed, in the shape of his. Now rewrite the main sentence as—John Barnaby heard some plain speech from me, Clementina MacTaggart. The sense is the same; but the his before philandering at once becomes superfluous; it is not yet seriously in the way, because we do not know what is the subject of philandering, the name only coming later. Now rewrite it again as—Then John Barnaby heard some plain speech from ... instead of... The his is now so clumsy as to be almost impossible.
The insertion of superfluous subjects is much less common than the omission of necessary ones; but three examples follow. The first is a rare and precious variety; the second has no apparent justification; for the third it may be said that the unusual his has the same effect as the insertion of the parenthetic words as he actually does after limiting would have had.
You took food to him, but instead of he reaching out his hand and taking it, he kept asking for food.—Daily Telegraph.
In giving the rule summarily, we used the phrase subject of the sentence. That phrase is not to be confined to the subject of the main sentence, but to be referred instead, when necessary, to the subject of the subordinate clause in which the gerund may stand. For instance:
The good, the illuminated, sit apart from the rest, censuring their dullness and vices, as if they thought that, by sitting very grand in their chairs, the very brokers, attorneys, and congressmen would see the error of their ways, and flock to them.—Emerson.
Here by sitting breaks the rule, though the subject of sitting is the same as that of the main verb sit, because the subject of the clause in which sitting comes is not the good, but brokers, &c. The right way to mend this is not to insert their before sitting—which after all is clumsy, though correct—but to make the good the subject of the clause also, by writing as if they thought that by sitting ... they would make the brokers ... see the error.
And sometimes subject of the sentence is to be interpreted still more freely as the word grammatically dominant in the part of the sentence that contains the gerund. For instance:
From the Bible alone was she taught the duties of morality, but familiarized to her taste by hearing its stories and precepts from the lips she best loved.—S. Ferrier.
Here the dominant word is Bible, to which familiarized belongs. So, though she does happen to be the main subject, her must be inserted because the familiarized phrase removes the gerund from the reach of the main subject.
After these explanations we add miscellaneous instances. It will be seen that transgression of the rule, though it seldom makes a sentence ambiguous enough to deceive, easily makes it ambiguous enough to amuse the reader at wrong moments, or gives an impression of amateurish work. Mistakes are mended, sometimes by inserting the subject of the gerund (or infinitive), sometimes by changing the main subject to make it the same as that of the gerund, sometimes by other recasting.
...an excellent arrangement for a breeching, which, when released, remains with the carriage, so that lead or centre horses can be put in the wheel without having to affix a new breeching.—Times.
Lucky, reflects the reader, since horses are not good at affixing breechings. Write the drivers can put ... horses ... without having to affix.
I cultivated a passionless and cold exterior, for I discovered that by assuming such a character, certain otherwise crafty persons would talk more readily before me.—Corelli.
Write if I assumed; or else I should induce certain ... persons to talk. It will be noticed that the mistake here, and often, is analogous to the most frequent form of wrongly attached participle (participle, 5); the writer does not observe that he has practically passed from the sphere of the sentence whose subject was the word that he still allows to operate.
After following a country Church of England clergyman for a period of half a century, a newly-appointed, youthful vicar, totally unacquainted with rural life, comes into the parish, and at once commences to alter the services of the Church, believed in by the parishioners for generations.—Daily Telegraph.
Grammar gives his, i.e., the new vicar's, as subject of following; it is really either my or the parishioners'. Insert my or our, or write After we (I) have followed.
I am sensible that by conniving at it it will take too deep root ever to be eradicated.—Times.
Insert our, or write if connived at.
This was experienced by certain sensitive temperaments, either by sensations which produced shivering, or by seeing at night a peculiar light in the air.—Times.
Who or what sees? Certainly not this, the main subject. Not even temperaments, which have no eyes. Write Persons of sensitive temperament experienced this, &c.
But the commercial interests of both Great Britain and the United States were too closely affected by the terms of the Russo-Chinese agreement to let it pass unnoticed.—Times.
It is not the interests that cannot let it pass, but the countries. Insert for those countries before to let; or write Both Great Britain and the United States were too closely affected in their interests to let...
And it would be well for all concerned, for motor drivers and the public alike, if this were made law, instead of fixing a maximum speed.—Times.
Write if the law required this...
And in order to bring her to a right understanding, she underwent a system of persecution.—S. Ferrier.
Write they subjected her to for she underwent.
Her friendship is too precious to me, not to doubt my own merits on the one hand, and not to be anxious for the preservation of it on the other.—Richardson.
Write I value her friendship too highly not to...
One cannot do good to a man whose mouth has been gagged in order not to hear what he desires for his welfare.—Times.
Grammar suggests that his mouth—or, if indulgent, that he—is not to hear; but the person meant is one. Write one has gagged for has been gagged.
Germany has, alas! victories enough not to add one of the kind which would have been implied in the retirement of M. Delcassé.—Times.
It is France, not Germany, that should not add. Write without France's adding.
In order to obtain peace, ordinary battles followed by ordinary victories and ordinary results will only lead to a useless prolongation of the struggle.—Times.
This is a triumph of inconsequence. Write If peace is the object, it should be remembered that ordinary...
It will have occurred to the reader that, while most of the sentences quoted are to be condemned, objection to a few of them might be called pedantic. The fact is that every writer probably breaks the rule often, and escapes notice, other people's, his own, or both. Different readers, however, will be critical in different degrees; and whoever breaks the rule does so at his own risk; if his offence is noticed, that is hanging evidence against him by itself; if it is not noticed, it is not an offence. Of saying on page 127 Mistakes are mended sometimes by inserting the subject, we plead Guilty if we were caught in the act, but otherwise Not Guilty.
It was said in the preliminary section on the Participle and Gerund that writing—the verbal noun or gerund—and to write—the infinitive—are in some sense synonyms; but phrases were given showing that it is by no means always indifferent which of the two is used. It is a matter of idiom rather than of grammar; but this seems the most convenient place for drawing attention to it. To give satisfactory rules would require many more examples and much more space than can be afforded. But something will be gained if students are convinced (1) that many of the mistakes made give sentences the appearance of having been written by a foreigner or one who is not at home with the literary language; (2) that the mistakes are nearly always on one side, the infinitive being the form that should only be used with caution; (3) that a slight change in arrangement may require a change from infinitive to gerund or vice versa.
When the infinitive or gerund is attached to a noun, defining or answering the question what (hope, &c.) about it, it is almost always better to use the gerund with of; not quite always, however; for instance, an intention to return, usually, and a tendency to think always.
The vain hope to be understood by everybody possessed of a ballot makes us in the United States perhaps guiltier than public men in Great Britain in the use of that monstrous muddled dichotomy 'capital and labour'.—Times.
What hope?—That of being understood. Write it so, and treat all the following similarly:
The habitual necessity to amass [of amassing] matter for the weekly sermon, set him noting...—Meredith.
What accounts for these mistakes is the analogy of forms like: Our design was to return; it is a duty to instruct; man has power to interpret (but the power of interpreting); it is my custom to be dressed.
When, however, the noun thus defined is more or less closely fused into a single idea with the verb that governs it, the infinitive becomes legitimate, though seldom necessary.
The menace to have secreted Solmes, and that other, that I had thoughts to run away with her foolish brother, ... so much terrified the dear creature...—Richardson.
Had thoughts means was planning; had a weakness means desired; had the satisfaction, was pleased; made as little scruple, scrupled as little.
Again, an interval between the noun defined and the infinitive or gerund makes the former more tolerable.
The necessity which has confronted the Tokio War Office, to enlarge their views of the requirements of the situation.—Times.
Or the infinitive is used to avoid a multiplication of of.
He had as much as any man ever had that gift of a great preacher to make the oratorical fervour which persuades himself while it lasts into the abiding conviction of his hearers.—Lowell.
If the noun has the indefinite article the infinitive is better sometimes.
But our recognition of it implies a corresponding duty to make the most of such advantages.—Times.
A duty to make: the duty of making. Compare power and the power above.
The following is probably an adaptation (not to be commended) of it is necessary for Russia to secure—for Russia to secure being regarded as a fused infinitive like the Latin accusative and infinitive.
His views on the necessity for Russia to secure the command of the sea...—Times.
Though the gerund with of is the usual construction after nouns, they sometimes prefer the gerund with other prepositions also to the infinitive. The gerund with in should be used, for instance, in the following. But euphony operates again in the first.
...the extraordinary remissness of the English commanders to utilize their preponderating strength against the Boers.—Times.
After verbs and adjectives the infinitive is much more common; but no one will use a gerund where an infinitive is required, while many will do the reverse.
But history accords with the Japanese practice to show [in showing] that...—Times.
This is to avoid aiming at being; compare the avoidance of double of above.
Lose no time, I pray you, to advise.—Richardson.
In the common phrase addicted to drink, drink is a noun, not a verb.
His blackguard countrymen, always averse, as their descendants are, to give [giving] credit to anybody, for any valuable quality.—Borrow.
If a deferred subject, anticipated by it, is to be verbal, it must of course be either the infinitive or a gerund without preposition.
Fortune, who has generally been ready to gratify my inclinations, provided it cost her very little by so doing...—Borrow.
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