"you saying" vs "your saying"

by Mark Israel
     [This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]

In "You saying you're sorry alters the case", the subject of
"alters" is not "you", since the verb is singular.  Fowler called
this construction the "fused participle", and recommended "Your
saying..." instead.  The fused participle *can* lead to ambiguity:
in Woe is I (Grosset/Putnam, 1996, ISBN 0-399-14196-0), Patricia
T. O'Conner contrasts the sentences "Basil dislikes that woman's
wearing shorts" and "Basil dislikes that woman wearing shorts":
"Both are correct, but they mean different things.  In the first
example, Basil dislikes shorts on the woman.  In the second, he
dislikes the woman herself.  The lesson?  Lighten up, Basil!"

   Other commentators have been less critical of the fused
participle than Fowler.  Jespersen traced the construction as the
last in a series of developments where gerunds, which originally
functioned strictly as nouns, have taken on more and more verb-like
properties ("the showing of mercy" => "showing of mercy" => "showing
mercy").  Partridge defends the construction by citing lexical
noun-plus-gerund compounds.  In most of these (e.g.,
"time-sharing"), the noun functions as the object of the gerund, but
in some recent compounds (e.g., "machine learning"), it functions as
the subject.