Case 6: The Guardian fails to use the possessive with a gerund

20th December 2001

Filed by: Officer Taylor

The Offence

In his Guardian article Football must control the angry brigade or the game will fall apart, Richard so-called Williams writes:

Players of both sides and members of the local constabulary were required to prevent the possibility of him assaulting the referee.

The Verdict

In using the word ``assaulting'', Williams has chosen a gerund - that is, a present participle functioning as a noun. For some reason, gerunds should always be referred to in the possessive (or genitive, if you insist), like this: ``to prevent the possibility of his assaulting the referee''.

The Sentence

The possessive-gerund rule is a stupid one, so we are tempted to let Williams off. But we're not going to, because in fact the players and police weren't required to prevent the possibility of his attacking the referee, but in fact to prevent his attacking the referee.

Although it's nearly Christmas, and the milk of human kindness swells within our breast, we can't ignore this double offence. Accordingly, we sentence Richard Williams to forty strokes of the cat o' nine tails.

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