Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"Do you mind [me/my] smoking?"

What's the correct answer?

Do you mind __________ smoking?
(a) me
(b) my

I'll save you the suspense: the correct answer is (b)—"Do you mind my smoking?"

The rationale is simple: smoking is a gerund, i.e., a nominalized form of a verb—basically a noun, and it's the accusative of the verb to mind as well as the complement of the possessive my. Here's an easy way to think about this: imagine a situation in which Fred owns an obnoxious dog that likes to jump all over houseguests. Brenda is sitting in Fred's living room when Rex, his paws muddy from a romp outside, decides to hop onto Brenda's lap and start licking her face. Fred, who has the good grace to be apologetic, belatedly asks:

Do you mind __________ dog?
(a) me
(b) my

The answer should be obvious: "Do you mind my dog?" No one says, "Do you mind me dog?"—unless they're speaking in Cockney English.

So there it is, as easy as that: use a possessive adjective in front of the noun if the noun is the accusative of the verb to mind. And remember that a gerund is basically a noun.

Do you mind [possessive] [noun, accusative (direct object)]...?

This applies to more than just to mind, of course. Knowing what you now know about the need for possessives, the following questions ought to be absurdly easy:

Sir, I daresay I object to __________ defecating upon my face.
(a) your cat's
(b) your cat

Ah, yes—Gerold. I remember __________ fucked my wife in the waters of the Trevi Fountain last year.
(a) him having
(b) his having



Charles said...

Another way to think of this issue would be to look at the sentence, "Does my smoking bother you?" I don't think I've ever heard anyone say, "Does me smoking bother you?" Except, I dunno... really polite pirates?

Kevin Kim said...

Yes, I think some type of rewording strategy is an effective way of dealing with this situation. E.g., in the case of "I remember HIS having fucked my wife," I could reword this as: "I remember his act," which makes it obvious that you can't say "I remember HIM act."

Heh... pirates. I was thinking of mentioning Cockneys. "D'yeh moynde me dogge?"

John (I'm not a robot) said...

Personally, I always ask "do you mind if I smoke?"

Unrelated to the grammar issue, but your post reminded me of one of my former bosses who was a notorious smoker. After a meeting one day she announced "I'm going to go have a smoke." One of the attendees (not me, I swear) said "geez Sherrie, do you smoke after sex too?" Without missing a beat she responded "I don't know, I never looked."

Maybe you had to be there, but I just laughed at the memory.

Charles said...

Yeah, in conversation I always use the "Do you mind if I..." construction, too. "Do you mind my..." always sounded a bit stuffy to me.

(Funny story, by the way.)

Malcolm Pollack said...

Yes, I'd remember that too.

Rory said...

It's a bit rough for the protagonist here to enquire as to the other party's opinion of his smoking before he even demonstrates it.

As others have already pointed out, the 'if' construction better suits the situation.

You could also look as the indirect object being implied in 'Do you mind me smoking [this cigarette, this beetle's carapace stuffed with dried onions and glue]'.

Kevin Kim said...


I agree with you and the other commenters re: "Do you mind if I smoke?" being more natural, but I'm not so sure about the "indirect object" part of your comment. Does the verb "to mind" actually take an indirect object?

The verb "to give" certainly does:

I gave my son an Xbox.

direct object = (an) Xbox
indirect object = (my) son

Same goes for "to tell":

I told my wife the truth.

dir. obj. = (the) truth
indir. obj. = (my) wife

But who are the direct and indirect recipients of the action of the verb "to mind"? I'm just not seeing it. "Do you mind me smoking?" is simply wrong, as is "I don't mind you going out tonight." That should be "your going," because the sentence can be rewritten as "I don't mind your action." Writing "I don't mind you action" makes no sense.

By using the possessive, we make clear that the verb "to mind" has only a direct object. No dative—just an accusative.

My take, anyway, for what it's worth. And it might not be worth much more than a beetle's carapace stuffed with dried onions and glue.

If you can prove that "to mind" can take both direct and indirect objects, then I'll gladly concede your point, but I'll want chapter and verse before I'm convinced. (So I guess the logically prior question is whether it even matters that I be convinced!)

Good to see you active in some of the old haunts again—and disputatiously so!

Kevin Kim said...

Speaking of chapter and verse:

The Oxford Learner's Dictionaries site lists "Do you mind ME asking?" as working only in informal contexts. I interpret that to mean it might be OK in spoken English, but it's not OK (if by "OK" we mean "proper") for written English. The dictionary thus bows, slightly, to common (but not fully proper) usage. I consider that support for my thesis.

See here.

Rory said...

Yes, wrong term, indeed.

I blame this little comment box, lateness and changing the direction of my comment mid stream.

Maybe I was trying to preempt Muphry's Law, by deliberately inserting an error?

Yes, let's go with that.

Plain old object was what I meant... :)

Rory said...

I really should let this die, but...

Have a look at point 7.


My case wasn't helped by using the wrong term earlier, but I feel this grammatical 'rule' discussed in your post is a relic, which is really only upheld by prescriptivists.

I'm about to write a post about years' experience vs years experience, sparked by our other recent discussion in the comments... :)

Kevin Kim said...

The post I'm going to write re: Pinker is also going to cite an article very much like the one you just cited. There's a whole slew of these articles out there these days, and they all point to a huge issue that's going to be the central thesis of my post. Don't want to reveal more quite yet.

Kevin Kim said...

[The 4096-character limit means I have to split this comment in two. So—Part 1 of 2!]


I'm not a big fan of the descriptivists' argument from usage. In fact, in reading item #7 from the link you sent, I wasn't sure I saw much of an argument at all—just "lots of people do it this way, even newspapers." There's an implied argument there, which is that "usage trumps tradition" or "usage trumps pedantic rules" or something like that, but such an argument fails to appreciate that linguistic constructions are, however inconsistently, often governed by a certain internal logic.

So anyway, I took ten seconds and Googled "possessive in front of gerund." The first page of results, on my browser, shows ten results, most of which link to articles that agree with my own stance. Those are the top search results on Google. Not sure whether that carries any weight, but if it doesn't, that brings us to the meta-issue of who or what, if anyone/anything, constitutes an authority when it comes to issues like these. It's the rhetorical question of the "ethos" part of Aristotle's ethos-pathos-logos rhetorical scheme, i.e., "Why should I believe Source X?"

Ultimately, none of this will get resolved, and language with continue to flow and evolve as it always does, but just as there are antistructural forces at work within language, causing all those changes, there are structural forces at work as well, relying on internal consistency, logic, established tradition, and the need for standards to facilitate mutual comprehensibility (you can't teach your kid to call a cat "my sister," for example).

I'm not at all convinced that "Do you mind my DOG'S barking" is an archaism by any means. There are good logical reasons for choosing that construction, as you'll see if you go through the following eleven links (all of which, except two, come directly from the Google search results mentioned above):

[See next comment for the list of links.]

Kevin Kim said...

[Part 2 of 2]

1. What is a Gerund and Why Care?

2. "My writing books" or "Me writing books"?

3. Gerunds This is the Purdue OWL site, which I consider authoritative. It's a bit of a "meta" site that collates and processes information from several US style manuals, including that old warhorse, the Chicago Manual of Style.

4. Possessive Pronoun with Gerund

5. Gerunds & Pronouns

6. Using the Possessive Case with Gerunds

7. How do you use possessives in front of gerunds?

8. Dealing with Pronouns and GerundsEnglish Grammar for Dummies

9. Possessives Precede Gerunds

10. Oh my: gerunds and possessives

11. Do I Hate Your Singing or You Singing? This was also not one of the immediate Google search results, but the Grammar Girl site is one that I consult often, so I searched this one out separately.

Well! With the sheer number of popular search results all skewing in favor of using a possessive in front of a gerund, I'd submit that that construction is far, far from dead. In fact, I think I've gathered enough evidence to begin to counter the argument from usage: obviously, with the top search results in my favor, people are using possessives in front of gerunds. I'd be wary of trendy-sounding "just ignore this rule" articles, if for no other reason than that you have to ask yourself: on what authority is the writer saying I can ignore this rule?