Chronicle article on sentence diagramming

Gordon, Matthew J. GordonMJ at MISSOURI.EDU
Sat May 16 03:48:40 UTC 2009

Larry's right; I wasn't claiming that "my doing the judging" is necessarily hypercorrect. It's fine in, e.g., "it's not my doing the judging that's the problem." The prescription here is the use of the possessive before gerunds. Does anyone follow this rule naturally anymore or is it one acquired only from the kinds of English teachers who would title a course on sentence diagramming "Constructing Thought"? Whenever I mention the rule to my students, I'm met with blanker faces than usual, and none of them prefers, even in formal contexts, something like "I appreciate your helping me out" to "you helping me out."

-Matt Gordon

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Laurence Horn
Sent: Fri 5/15/2009 9:55 PM
Subject:      Re: Chronicle article on sentence diagramming
At 10:40 PM -0400 5/15/09, Wilson Gray wrote:
>"Hypercorrect," you say? According to whose prescription?

I don't think the claim is that "my doing the judging" is *always*
hypercorrect, but that it is in a context like this one, where it
means "it isn't just me [who is] doing the judging".  "Me doing" is
not a constituent here.   Cf. "It wasn't just {me/*my} eating the
cookies, it was all of us" or "It's {me/*my} (here) knocking on your
door."  Presumably, the teacher saw the "me doing X" sequence and
auto-corrected it to "my doing" without noticing the local context.


>On 5/15/09, Matthew Gordon <gordonmj at> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  -----------------------
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Matthew Gordon <gordonmj at MISSOURI.EDU>
>>  Subject:      Chronicle article on sentence diagramming
>>  There's a kinda interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (5/15/09)
>>  about a sentence diagramming class at Trinity College. The tastefully
>>  understated name of the class is "Constructing Thought," and it is/was
>>  taught by Lucy Ferriss, a novelist and literary scholar. Of course the
>>  diagrams in question are the traditional Reed-Kellogg type. The appeal of
>>  the course is attributed to the fact that it offers "finite, ordered
>>  solutions" and thus an alternative view on English to what some students
>>  have gotten from their prior education, which is some cases allowed them to
>>  write with "invented spelling."
>>  Anyway, the article describes a diagramming contest that the class held and
>>  the teacher is got help in judging it from the author of the textbook she
>>  used. So she notes," it isn't just my doing the judging." I thought this was
>>  a nice hypercorrect use of possessive (my) before an -ing form.
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
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