The Gerund: Tom Stoppard

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Save the gerund and screw the whale.

Tom Stoppard 1937-

The Real Thing (1988 rev.ed.)

Of course we could always try and save both.

I am probably one of the few people on the planet who have a real hang-up about the gerund. In my day, you were introduced to the gerund not through the study of English but through Latin. Carthago delenda est, we muttered sagely to each other – it was that sort of school- and our Latin mistress, Miss Driver, was the daughter of a classics professor at Oxford. She was also exceptionally good at bowling chalk stubs, which she kept for the purpose and would send flying across the room with a spin which only added to the sting.

Our homework was ten sentences of Latin translation, each of which was to contain a gerund. My score was, I think, three out of ten. She did not even give me a mark, but wrote the most ego-crushing comment I have ever received: I suggest you use debere in future. She might as well have said “the world is divided into ducks and swans. You are clearly destined to be a duck”.

One thing I do know about gerunds in English, though, is that they should be accompanied by a genitive pronoun. So it is not ‘do you mind me talking about Latin at this hour of the morning?’ but ‘do you mind my talking about Latin at this hour of the morning?’ Just saying. And this is the bit that needs saving…

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About layanglicana

Author of books on Calcutta, Delhi and Dar es Salaam, I am now blogging as a lay person about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I am also blogging about the effects of World War One on the village of St Mary Bourne, Hampshire.
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