Gerunds at the Airport

Last night, after dropping my girlfriend off at the airport, I sent her a text that included this sentence: “Don’t worry about me driving home” (her plane had been delayed, the hour had grown late, and she was afraid that I might be too tired to make the hour-and-a-half drive home).

Spoiler alert: I’m fine.

In the text, “me driving” is what is called a fused participle, and people are often unsure whether to use that construction or a possessive followed by a gerund (which in this case would be “my driving”).

Helpful discussions on the matter can be found in the Chicago Manual of Style, Garner’s Modern English Usage, and Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. (This is going to be a short post, my main point being that the matter here, while a relatively minor point, is worth investigating for those attempting to fine-tune their grammar).

In my sentence, “me driving” follows a preposition. Looking to Chicago, we have this: “When the noun or pronoun follows a preposition, the possessive is usually optional.”

If you’re worried about making the right choice, “usually” is often reassuring, because you can at least feel some measure of confidence that you’ll be able to make a good argument.

The main consideration for choosing between a fused participle and a possessive plus gerund is usually (there’s that word again) whether the emphasis is on the noun/pronoun or the verb (action). In my case, I’d like to think that my girlfriend’s concern was all about me, and that shifting the emphasis to my driving would miss the mark.

Perhaps if there had been another option, like flying a helicopter home, then “my driving” (as opposed to “my flying”) would have been the better choice.

But as it is, I’m going to stick with the me-first approach!

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