I was taught in school, half a century or so ago, that you had to use a possessive with a gerund (or “verbal noun”): I resented his saying that, not I resented him saying that. I never gave it much thought, but Mark Liberman has, and he posted about it a few days ago. He quotes the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage to the effect that both forms have been used for quite some time, occasionally by the same person in the same document (Ian Ballantine, in a letter dated Aug. 5, 1939, wrote both “in spite of the book being out of print for many years” and “in spite of the company’s not having any intention of issuing a new edition”). In typically pithy fashion, MWDEU says:
From the middle of the 18th century to the present time, […] grammarians and other commentators have been baffled by the construction. They cannot parse it, they cannot explain it, they cannot decide whether the possessive is correct or not.
So Mark did one of his Breakfast Experiments, checking several corpuses and presenting the results in a striking graph. His conclusions:
* The difference between writing and speech is very large.
* Since about 1950, writing has apparently been moving in the direction of speech.
* There’s some indication that spoken norms may also be changing, in the same anti-genitive direction.
* It’s possible that there was a change in the anti-genitive direction in the late 19th century, perhaps held up by prescriptive forces (?).
He has continued the investigation here, and I look forward to reading more about it; in any event, I’m glad to have been able to shed yet another unconsidered shibboleth from grammar-school days. Use the possessive or not; it’s all good!