Third-Person Singular Verb Endings in English

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In English grammar, the third-person singular verb ending is the suffix -s or -es that's conventionally added to the base form of a verb in the present tense when it follows a singular subject in the third person (for example, "She waits and watches").

Third-Person Singular Verb Ending

  • Most verbs in English form the third-person singular by adding -s to the base form (sings, gives, requires).
  • Verbs ending in -ch, -s, -sh, -x, or -z form the third-person singular by adding -es (watches, misses, rushes, mixes, buzzes).
  • Verbs ending in a consonant + y (such as try) form the third-person singular by changing the y to i and adding -es (tries).

As their name suggests, certain irregular verbs have special forms. The third-person singular of be in the present tense is is, the third-person singular of have is has, the third-person singular of do is does, and the third-person singular of go is goes.

Examples of Third-Person Endings

  • "Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward." (attributed to Vernon Law, pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team)
  • "Hip Hop theology not only embraces the sacred; it dines, sleeps, laughs, cries, loves, hates and lives with the profane." (Daniel White Hodge, The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology. IVP Books, 2010)
  • "A bear, however hard he tries,
    tubby without exercise.
    Our bear is short and fat,
    Which is not to be wondered at."(A.A. Milne, "Teddy Bear." When We Were Very Young, 1924)
  • "Man hunts and searches on his whirling globe and whenever he unearths a miniature truth within his environ, he thinks himself close to the peak of science." (Dagobert D. Runes, A Book of Contemplation. Philosophical Library, 1957)
  • "The ball, rocketing off the crotch of the rim, leaps over the heads of the six and lands at the feet of the one. He catches it on the short bounce with a quickness that startles them." (John Updike, Rabbit, Run. Alfred A. Knopf, 1960)
  • "For mothering chicks, a stove has one real advantage over a hen: it stays in one place and you always know where it is. Right there its advantage ceases. In all other respects, a hen is ahead of any stove that was ever built." (E.B. White, "Spring." One Man's Meat. Harper, 1942)
  • "Billy closes his door and carries coal or wood to his fire and closes his eyes, and there's simply no way of knowing how lonely and empty he is or whether he's as vacant and barren and loveless as the rest of us are--here in the heart of the country." (William H. Gass, "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country." In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, 1968)
  • "If an apparatus is capable of determining which hole the electron goes through, it cannot be so delicate that it does not disturb the pattern in an essential way." (Richard P. Feynman, Six Easy Pieces. Perseus, 1994)

Subject-Verb Agreement With the Third-Person Singular

  • "Most subject-verb agreement problems occur in the present tense, where third-person singular subjects require special verb forms: regular verbs form the third-person singular by adding -s or -es to the base . . .." (Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, Writing First With Readings: Practice in Context, 3rd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006)
  • "A singular noun requires a singular verb; a plural noun requires a plural verb.
  • "In general, the first- and second-person singular forms of the verb and all plural forms of the verb are the plain form—for example, run. Variation appears in the third-person singular (as in runs)--the verb form that matches the pronouns he, she, and it and other third-person subjects, such as the boy, the dog, and the car. . . .
  • "The verbs to be, to have, and to do are irregular. Unlike other verbs, the verb to be also varies in person and number in the past tense." (David Blakesley and Jeffrey L. Hoogeveen, The Brief Thomson Handbook. Thomson Wadsworth, 2008)

The Evolution of English: From -eth to -(e)s

  • "The Renaissance brought several changes in English grammar and syntax. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the –eth third-person singular verb ending (e.g., followeth, thinketh) began to die out, though some common contractions of these forms (e.g., hath for haveth, doth for doeth) persisted into the late seventeenth century." (The Broadview Anthology of British Literature, 2nd ed., ed. by Joseph Black, et al. Broadview Press, 2011)
  • "[W]e know that the originally northern third-person singular verb ending -(e)s spread conclusively to the south during the early modern English period to give she walks, he writes. Nevertheless, there is an ostensibly odd, opposing development whereby some Scots writers at this time adopted the otherwise declining southern -(e)th (e.g. she helpeth), retaining it right into the seventeenth century. A closer examination of the corpus data shows that many of the verbs with -(e)th, in fact, have a stem ending in a sibilant sound, like ariseth, causeth, increaseth, produceth." (April McMahon, "Restructuring Renaissance English." The Oxford History of English, rev. ed., edited by Lynda Mugglestone. Oxford University Press, 2012)

Frequency of Third-Person Singular Pronouns

  • " Third-person singular is the most frequent subject in the corpus; it accounts for 45% of all utterances. Sixty-seven percent of these clauses (626/931) are present tense, 26% (239/931) are past tense, and 7% of these predicates (66/931) contain modal auxiliaries. Third-person singular, however, is a much more complex member of the English category person than are first and second person singular subject pronouns (though the latter two are not without functional variation)." (Joanne Schiebman, "Local Patterns of Subjectivity in Person and Verb Type in American English Conversation." Frequency and the Emergence of Linguistic Structure, ed. by Joan L. Bybee and Paul Hopper. John Benjamins, 2001)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Third-Person Singular Verb Endings in English." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Third-Person Singular Verb Endings in English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Third-Person Singular Verb Endings in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).