Grammar--which is correct: "his" or "him..."

I don’t recall his ever telling me about that.

I don’t recall him ever telling me about that.

“him” seems correct, but I vaguely recall from grade-school grammar that “his” is correct for that kind of sentence, though it sounds kind of odd.

Is one correct, or preferred? What’s the grammatical term for this?

Can’t remember the exact grammatical term (I think it’s something to do with gerunds or gerundives, which I never quite got the hang of).

I suspect this is a Victorian “rule” derived from Latin, on the idea that “telling me” in this context is a sort of noun rather than a verb. Therefore “his” is right. Somehow, though, “him telling me” doesn’t sound quite as wrong as “me telling him” does. Euphony seems to demand “I don’t recall that I told him”.

This is likely the rule you were taught—

“His” is correct because the object of the verb “remember” is the noun “telling.” You’re not remembering “him.” You’re remembering the telling. “His” modifies the noun to indicate which “telling” you are referring to.

You might also recast the sentence as “I remember (that) he told me.” In that structure, “he” is the subject of the dependent clause.

I can never remember these arcane rules but if a sentence looks wrong, I can usually re-jig it. The whole ‘you and I’; ‘you and me’ confusion is down to people trying to get the grammar right and not thinking about how the sentence works.

When faced with grammar questions in a complex sentence, it’s often easiest to simplify the sentence to give you the correct result

“I don’t recall the book.” is simple

“I don’t recall his book.” equally so.

Recall takes a direct object, a noun. Both “the” and “his” are modifying the noun.

In your sentence the direct object is the noun phrase “telling me about that.” His modifies the noun phrase.

I can see a non-prescriptive use–or even a valid nominally grammatical one*–in the context of emphasizing the recollection of one person (male) as opposed to another person (male or female–especially the latter, where “her” modifies the noun phrase as well as being a pronoun):

“I don’t recollect his telling me that, but I do remember her telling me that.”
vs
“I don’t recollect him telling me that, but I do remember her telling me that.”

In this case the object of the sentence is the person, not the action of that person.

  • Not sure if this is the right way of putting it.

The word telling isn’t a noun in the op’s example. It’s a verb.

It’s a gerund, which is a verb functioning as a noun.

Prescriptivists would say “his” because of this. But I would say “him” is more common, in my experience.

I believe they are both correct. You are technically referring to two ever-so-slightly different things but they’re all the same. “His telling” is more specific, referencing a single time, whereas “him telling” simply refers to him ever telling. To clarify, you could modify “his telling” to “his first telling” as if he were repeatedly reciting or telling a story and likewise 'him telling" to “him ever telling.”

Because we can’t know which telling of his you refer to in the “his telling” case, we infer ever and the two cases converge.

At least, that’s how I read it. I’m not an English major, though I’ve watched on on TV.

Edit: whoops, context matters. Can’t use my examples in the the OP’s context, but it still exemplifies the difference.

What is not being recalled? Omar telling me about killing those drug dealers.

Or, Omar’s telling of the drug dealers being killed.

Which is the noun? Omar or the telling.

Omar Little is right. To get all technical, in one case “telling” is being used as a gerund; in the other it’s a present participle.

“His” works with the gerund because a gerund is a verb doing the job of a noun. You can say “I don’t remember his ever telling me about that” because “ever telling me about that”, as a noun phrase, acts as the object of the sentence. Compare “I don’t remember his going to Cardiff”, which could be rephrased as “I don’t remember his trip to Cardiff” - “going” or “trip” is the object of the sentence.

“Him” works with the present participle because a present participle is a verb doing the job of an adjective. You can say “I don’t remember him ever telling me about that” because “him” is the object of the sentence and “telling me about that” is a description of the specific state he wasn’t in. Compare “I don’t remember him having blue hair”, rephrasable as “I don’t remember him as blue-haired”.

Yes, gerund is a verb turned into a noun, usually with the “-ing” ending.
The classic example I learned in school:
***Camping is fun. ***
No mistaking, “xxxxx is fun” means xxxxx is the subject of the sentence, hence must act like a noun.

However. parsing the OP
***I don’t recall xxxxx. *** (“I don’t recall Rome.” or “I don’t recall speaking.”) the object xxxxx is noun-ish.

I don’t recall his ever telling me about that.
It’s his telling. He is ever telling. Adjective and adverb(I think) respectively.
“Me” appears to be an object, although way back when I don’t recall gerunds taking objects; but then, it was grade 8.
“About that” is a phrase (adverb phrase, as he “He spoke about the concept.” about the concept, adverb phrase modifying verb “Spoke”.)
If a gerund accepts adverbs and adverb phrases, (“He recalled speaking loudly.”) why not an object? It is a two-spirited grammar object.

The language is changing. The historical object case (“him”) is expanding in the spoken language at the expense of the subject (“he”) and possessive (“his”) cases. This creates all sorts of confusion: people rejecting the old system as prescriptivist or a fake rule borrowed from Latin, whether that’s correct or not. People rejecting the new system as incorrect or grammatically illogical. But it’s just a change.

“Me and him hate them telling us about it.” That grates on my ears, but people genuinely speak like that, and it’s understood.

The pronouns have been in flux for the entire history of the language. Replacing the Old English “heo” and “hie” with “she” and “they”; ditching “ye”; ditching “thou”; sometimes adding “y’all” and variants. Using “you” for the subject used to be just as wrong as using “him” for the subject.

So there seems to be a new rule for the gerund, where the object case is used before a gerund rather than the possessive, just as the new (weird) rule about “and” taking the object case.

I prefer “his telling,” but it is starting to sound wrong to people, which is the first step on the road to archaic → obsolete.

I think ‘him’ is right here. ‘Telling’ is behaving like a verb in this sentence. It is modified by an adverb (‘ever’) and takes an object (‘me’).

I’ve lived outside of English speaking countries for 28 years now, so anyone relying on my English could be in for a shock. (But don’t tell my students!)

Anyway, if the sentence is changed to:

“I don’t recall his doing that.”
or
“I don’t recall him doing that.”

The second sentence seems much more natural.

I did a google search for “I don’t recall him telling” and “I don’t recall his telling” and the former has several thousand hits vs. several hundred for the latter.

Both are correct. In the former, “doing” is the object of the verb. You’re picturing the action. In the latter “him” is the object of the verb, modified by doing. You are picturing the guy.

The fact that both can be correct, and that the distinction between them is so subtle, makes it easy to confuse.

In formal writing, though, “his doing” is the better choice. In informal writing and speech, people go with “him doing.”

I think what you’re saying is that it’s functionally grammatical, and I would agree. A) *I don’t recall him telling me about that. *is like: B) I saw him talking to a strange woman.You wouldn’t say:*C) I saw his talking to a strange woman.A) is functionally grammatical in the same way B) is.
Words do not always intrinsically constitute a part speech–at least not in English. They can come to serve as a part of speech simply through their use–that is to say, functionally. In, for example, is not intrinsically a preposition. Through use it has functionally become an adjective. So to say, XXXXXX is a (noun/verb/adjective, etc.), and therefore, you must use it like this, is sort of begging the question. That would be like saying, "In is a preposition, so it’s not correct to say, “This style is really in.” etc. Sure, the dictionary says it’s an adjective now, but hasn’t always said that.

This is one of those obscure byways of English grammar that are more honored in the breach. The subject of a verbal noun is in the possessive. So is the object. In the phase “the city’s destruction” the city can be the object as in “the city’s destruction by the enemy” or the subject as “the city’s destruction of the enemy”. With gerunds it is a little dicier, but technically the first is correct. That said, I would probably use the second more often than not. In any case, only a hyper-sensitive English teacher would even notice. And the possessive does feel a bit forced.

It is a rule that may well go back to Latin where the only allowed grammatical connection between two nouns is the genitive. It wouldn’t be the first time that English was put into a straitjacket by some Latin rule.

Under this analysis, why wouldn’t you say “I don’t recall he ever telling me that”?

Sorry to nitpick, but it’s important to challenge this persistent prescriptivist misconception. There are no “technically correct” rules that sit above the actual rules.

Here’s google ngram for “him saying that” vs “his saying that”. In the past 150 years, we have gone from the possessive being 10 times more common to the nominative being twice as common.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=him+saying+that%2C+his+saying+that&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chim%20saying%20that%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Chis%20saying%20that%3B%2Cc0

Perhaps during this transition there was a period when the possessive was associated with more formal register? So a “hyper-sensitive English teacher” might be justified in advocating the possessive in a formal context. But if the teacher hasn’t noticed that the way people speak in 2018 is different from 1850, perhaps hyper-sensitive is not the correct descriptor.

Personally I don’t think I’d hesitate to use the nominative in even the most formal context.

I tend to agree with Dr Drake that the possessive is starting to sound wrong, and is on the road to obsolescence.