Care for a little language? My heart leapt a little when I read the following in the New York Times — this was an article by Fox Butterfield about prisons: "But Texas officials say they learned the seriousness of cellphones' being smuggled into prisons only during a recent undercover investigation of a violent gang . . ."

I could kiss that apostrophe at the end of "cellphones" — exactly right. You would say (should say) "the seriousness of their being smuggled into prisons," not them.

I understand the justification - but I don't recall ever seeing this use before.

(Here is the link to the complete article by Jay Nordlinger:


1. the seriousness of their being smuggled into prisons
2. the seriousness of them being smuggled into prisons

As you pointed out, the genitive case is correct. The accusative case as in [2] is a less formal alterant but is not ungrammatical.

Thanks for posting this. It is an excellent example of correct use of the genitive case.

I hope that you'll register as a user of this forum and continue to post interesting things.
I've seen that use before. I'm not sure what exactly your question is.
 taiwandave's reply was promoted to an answer.