Usage and Grammar

Q. Hi all! I hope everyone is staying safe. I have a quick question. Should it be “What will my teacher say about my never returning to class?” or “What will my teacher say about me never returning to class?” Citations will help. I struggle with this frequently. Thank you so much! Take care.

A. Either one is acceptable, though “my” has traditionally been considered to be the more correct choice in sentences like yours. See CMOS 7.28 for an explanation and examples. For a grammar-based explanation, see CMOS 5.114.

The choice of “my” depends on reading “returning” as a gerund, which is a verb’s present participle acting as a noun. A noun can be the object of a preposition, and if “returning” is the object of the preposition “about,” then “my” is correct because a possessive pronoun is required before a noun. (For example, one would write about “my dog,” not “me dog.”)

But “me” is common in such constructions; it’s also grammatically defensible. If you read “me” as the object of the preposition “about,” then “returning” would function as a present participle that modifies the pronoun “me”—as in, “They saw me returning to class the other day.”

In sum, traditionalists may balk at “me” and the so-called fused participle that it creates, but “me” will have its supporters—and in some cases it’s the better choice.