The Subject of the Verbal Gerund : A Study of Variation in English
Abstract: This study deals with variation between possessive/genitive and objective/plain forms of the subject of the verbal gerund clause (VGC) in Present-day and Late Modern British English, as in Would you object to my [me] paying her a visit? and Poor timing of spoonfuls can lead to the child’s [the child] feeling frustrated. According to the traditional prescriptivist view, the possessive/genitive form is the preferred variant. The aim of the present study is to explore to what extent possessive/genitive and objective/plain forms are used as subjects of VGCs, and to see what factors influence the variation.The study consists of synchronic and diachronic analyses. The synchronic data, drawn from the British National Corpus (BNC), represents four genres: Academic Prose, Fiction, News and Conversation. The diachronic data comprises collections of novels from the periods 1751–1800, 1851–1900 and 1960–1993 (the BNC Fiction genre). In addition to univariate analyses, multivariate analyses are performed in order to discover what factors carry more importance than others.When the VGC subject is a personal pronoun, e.g. my or me, genre plays a crucial role, with the proportion of possessives being conspicuously high in Academic Prose and significantly lower in the other genres. Regarding NPs other than personal pronouns, genre is not as important a factor; instead, the function of the VGC in the superordinate clause and linguistic factors such as animacy and the singular/plural distinction are also salient in determining variation.Moreover, results reveal that in the periods 1751–1800 and 1851–1900, the possessive form of a personal pronoun is the unchallenged norm, whereas the use of the possessive decreases considerably between the second and third periods. Genitive and plain-case forms of other NPs are evenly distributed in the first period; after that, the genitive is only used in certain contexts.
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