A Word, Please: We understand you believing this is a grammatical error

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A phrase like “I appreciate you working hard” rubs some grammar sticklers the wrong way.
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I saw you working hard.

I appreciate you working hard.

At a glance, these sentences seem grammatically identical. But in fact, the grammar of the second one is wildly controversial, with some experts insisting it’s an error called a “fused participle.”


The fused participle concept comes up most often in the sentence: “I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me.” Critics of this form say it should be: “I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me.” And that one-letter variation, “your” replacing “you,” makes all the difference in the world. But to understand how that changes the grammar, you need to zoom in on how all the parts work together in the sentence.

In “I saw you working hard,” the object of the verb “saw” is “you.” I saw you. The next word, “working,” is a verb participle functioning as a modifier — essentially an adjective. It may seem odd to classify a verb form as an adjective, but we use verb participles this way all the time: a cooking class, a walking stick, your thinking cap, growing pains, a hiking excursion. In all these examples, a verb participle is modifying a noun, meaning it’s working like an adjective. The participle in “you working” has the same role, even though it comes after the noun.

So when you say, “I saw you working,” you get a grammatical sentence with a verb (saw), followed by its object (you), followed by a modifier of that object (working).

But in “I appreciate you driving him home,” the object of the verb “appreciate” isn’t really “you.” You’re not saying, “I appreciate you as a person” or “I appreciate that you exist.” It’s the driving that you really appreciate. So “driving” is the true object of the verb “appreciate.” Yet the first word after “appreciate” isn’t “driving.” It’s “you.” Between the verb and its true object, there’s another word — “you” — just sitting there with no grammatical job to do. The participle “driving” is just kind of fused to “you” with no clear role. From a standpoint of pure grammar, it’s nonsensical.

“From the middle of the 18th century to the present time,” writes Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, “grammarians and other commentators have been baffled by the construction. They cannot parse it, they cannot explain it.”

Grammar expert June Casagrande writes you don’t need to stress about commas in certain situations when you can just them or forget them.

Sept. 6, 2023

If this is truly a problem, as some say it is, there’s an easy way to fix it: Change “you” to “your.” With the added R, the noun “you” becomes the modifier “your.” Once it’s a modifier, there’s no longer any controversy about which word is the object of your appreciation: It’s “driving.” Sometimes this form is called the “possessive with gerund,” because “your” is possessive and “driving” is a gerund, which is the -ing form of a verb when it’s used as a noun.

Naturally, not every sentence in this structure involves the word “you” or “your.” Almost any noun or pronoun can come into play: “He would not object to them trying” fuses the participle “trying” with the pronoun “them.”

In every case, you can avoid controversy by changing the pronoun or noun into a possessive. “He would not object to them trying” could be changed to “He would not object to their trying.” “There is also the issue of Mary refusing to testify” could be changed to “… Mary’s refusing to testify.” “The company closing will cost jobs in the community” could be changed to “The company’s closing …”

But the truth is, you don’t have to change “them” to “their” or “Mary” to “Mary’s” if you don’t want to. Most modern authorities on grammar, including Merriam’s, Garner’s Modern American Usage and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, agree that sometimes the possessive may not be the most natural choice. In those cases, all these experts say, fuse away.

June Casagrande is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know.” She can be reached at