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April 5th, 2006

You or your filling me in / puddings and proofs

by Barbara Wallraff

Eric Avery, of Ballston Spa, N.Y., writes: “My boss and I disagree about which of the following two sentences is correct: ‘I appreciate you filling me in’ or ‘I appreciate your filling me in.’ Or can both be correct?”

Dear Eric: Well, the second sentence, with “your,” is more correct than the first one. The idea is not that I appreciate you (although I do!); it’s that I appreciate having been filled in.

The simple rule is to use a possessive adjective (like “your”) if the “-ing” word is the object of the verb (“appreciate”). But use an ordinary objective pronoun when the pronoun really is the object. For instance, in “I see you standing there,” I see you at least as clearly as I see that you are standing -- so “you” is correct.

This is not a rule we’re supposed to follow no matter what. Sometimes a possessive might be theoretically correct but sounds terrible. Consider “Is there any chance of that happening again?” Could anyone possibly want to say “... of that’s happening again?” Let’s hope not. In sentences on this general pattern, go with the possessive unless you can’t stand the way it sounds (or reads) if you do.

Jim Beatty, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, writes: “Can you please help me find where and why people have begun to use the expression ‘The proof is in the pudding’? I often hear it and read it, but I believe the expression should be ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’

Dear Jim: You’re definitely right about what the original expression is. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” was an old saying by the time Miguel de Cervantes included it (in Spanish, of course) in “Don Quixote,” in 1605. The word “proof” is being used in the old-fashioned sense of “test.” That is, the test of whether the pudding is good to eat is to start eating it -- which means something like “Seeing is believing” or “You’ll never know until you try.”

“The proof is in the pudding” can be found in American writing from as long ago as the 1920s. Probably, people started supposing that “proof” means “evidence,” as it usually does, and that the expression means that the evidence of whether the pudding is any good is the pudding itself -- that we should judge by results.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” can still often be found in British and Canadian writing, but in the United States it’s now the less common version, by far. When I hear or read it here, I feel as if someone has offered me a secret handshake -- which I gladly accept. “The proof is in the pudding,” used as I described, doesn’t particularly bother me. I do start feeling pained, though, when the expression gets mangled further, as it does in this recent quote from a Georgia state senator: “It’s been like a bottomless pit. I want to see the proof in the pudding ... before allocating huge chunks of more money.” Ouch.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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