"It work." or "It works". Which is correct?
February 25, 2013 4:40 AM   Subscribe

Alright all your grammar masters. My wife is foreign and she announced "It work." when I rubbed her shoulder and fixed her pain. I corrected her by saying "It works." to teach her well. She then proceeded to explain to me the English of "plural" with adding an "s" to the verb. Is this correct?
posted by usermac to Human Relations (17 answers total)
 
"It works" is correct. The pronoun "it" is singular, and it takes the verb form "works", just as if you said "He works for the city." "work" is the plural form - "They work for the city".
posted by thelonius at 4:43 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only nouns can be plural - not verbs! You can't count a verb.

one cow, two cows
one shoulder, two shoulders

I rub, you rub, he/she/it rubs (shoulders)
I work, you work, he/she/it works (at the Post Office)

and of course "rub" can be a noun as well as a verb

"I will give your shoulder one rub, or if you are good you can have two rubs!"

and "work" could be a noun also:

"Today I did one good work, but you did two good works."

But in your sentence "work" is a verb. So, "It works".
posted by emilyw at 4:54 AM on February 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Work is an odd duck - it is both noun and verb. As a verb, "works" is the correct usage - the rubbing is the subject, work is the action, and so "That works" is the correct phrasing (tho itself a stub sentence at best.)

However! Work as a noun has two plural forms, countable and uncountable: if you can count it, and there's more than one of it, it's "works" - Works of art, earthworks. If it's uncountable or ambiguous about quantity, it's "work" - all my work, their work. If it's used in a sense of the production of an item, its plural is also work - paperwork, iron work.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:10 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


emilyw has it. It's not about plurals, it's about how verbs are conjugated in the present tense. The verb ending changes depending on the subject of the sentence. The rule is pretty simple: when the subject of the sentence is 'he', 'she' or 'it', you add an 's' to the verb.
posted by dydecker at 5:11 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not the plural, it's the third-person singular present form of the verb. Many languages have a more complicated system of verb conjugation, where the verb takes on a different form depending on the person and number of its subject (i.e., its "actor"); for example, French has

I eat = je mange
you eat = tu manges
he/she/it eats = il/elle mange
we eat = nous mangeons
you (pl.) eat = vous mangez
they eat = ils/elles mangent

As you can see from above, English has lost a lot of its verb conjugation, but it's still there for the third-person singular.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:13 AM on February 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


emilyw is spot on in your situation.

We do say "it" and "work" in the same sentence, of course - just with an additional verb in the middle, called a modal or an auxiliary verb. When we use modal or auxiliary verbs, we don't change the verb that follows into any form other than its most basic one ("work").

It didn't work.
It'll work.
It's going to work!
It couldn't possibly work, could it?

posted by mdonley at 5:19 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


People can give you all of the rules and exceptions and examples, but this is basically a verb conjugation thing. Here is the verb "work" conjugated.

It follows the standard pattern:

I foo
You foo
He/she/it foos
posted by DarlingBri at 5:28 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wanted to also address the possibility that simply, "It works" isn't the most natural response for the situation.

If she said this while you were rubbing her shoulders, it should be: "It's working," because it is presently occurring.
If she said this after you had rubbed her shoulders, it should be: "It worked," because the event is in the past.
posted by SollosQ at 5:56 AM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


My wife is foreign and she announced "It work." when I rubbed her shoulder and fixed her pain. I corrected her by saying "It works." to teach her well.

This is a very common mistake for non-English speakers, because the verb form never changes in the present tense except in the third-person singular. All others remain unchanged:

I work
We work
you work
they work

But he/she/it works
posted by deanc at 6:00 AM on February 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


English verbs do the opposite of nouns when it comes to the "s".

One boy runs.
Two boys run.

One thing works.
Two things work.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:11 AM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a very common mistake for non-English speakers, because the verb form never changes in the present tense except in the third-person singular.

Except for "to be", which is more irregular in the present tense than other verbs (e.g. "I am", "you are", "she is"). Then there are the modal verbs (e.g. shall, will, can), which do not inflect at all in the present tense (e.g. "I will go" but also "he will go").
posted by jedicus at 7:36 AM on February 25, 2013


This is slightly beside the point of this question, but verbs can absolutely be plural!

Various languages have "plural" forms of verbs to mark plurality of the subject, plurality of an object, or event plurality. This last one, usually marking the difference between iterative vs. one-off events, is the case that's most like "counting a verb" and is often referred to as "pluractionality." A language that has pluractional forms might, for instance, use the pluractional form of a verb meaning "blink" for a light that is blinking off and on over and over, and the singular/singulactional form for an event consisting of a single flash of light.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:24 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is really hard for one non-native English speaker to teach another non-native English speaker English. Your English, though admirably clear, isn't idiomatic enough ("to teach her well" and "explain to me the English of 'plural'" aren't what a native or otherwise fluent speaker would say) to put you in a strong position as a teacher for her.

"It works" is grammatically correct ("it" is a singular subject, "works" is the singular form of the verb "to work"). But what a native or fluent English speaker would say in this context is either "It's working" or "This is working".
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:41 AM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd say 'that works'. Which breaks down to 'that (thing you are doing) works (to make my back feel better)'. Or maybe 'that's it', 'that( i)s (the point on my back you were seeking)'

'It works' is a very ESL formulation.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:35 PM on February 25, 2013


/'It works' is a very ESL formulation.

Not at all! This phrase is bog-standard English.
posted by Camofrog at 7:01 PM on February 25, 2013


I agree with SollosQ that "It workED" is probably what she should have said in that case.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:36 PM on February 25, 2013


The name for this rule is "Subject/Verb Agreement". The typical way that this rule is written is, "A verb must agree with the subject in both person and number." In English, grammatical person is "First", "Second", or "Third" and number is "Singular" or "Plural".

In this specific case, we can make a chart for the subject ("it") and for the verb ("works"), showing the person on the sides and the number along the top. In order to make the subject and verb agree, you pick your subject from one chart and then pick the verb from the same spot on the other chart.
            |Number                   |                 |Number
            | Singular  | Plural      |                 | Singular  | Plural
------------+-----------+--------     |     ------------+-----------+--------
Person      |           |             |     Person      |           |
    First   | I         | we          |         First   | work      | work
    Second  | you       | you         |         Second  | work      | work
    Third   | he/she/it | they        |         Third   | works     | work
So we get "I work", "you work", "it works", and so on.

That's for a pronoun, which has many forms. Most normal nouns are strictly third person, so you only need to consider number when making a verb agree.
         Nouns            |              Verbs
--------------------------+--------------------------
Number     |              |     Number     |
 Singular  | Plural       |      Singular  | Plural
-----------+---------     |     -----------+---------
 animal    | animals      |      runs      | run
           |              |                |
 baby      | babies       |      cies      | cry
           |              |                |
 doctor    | doctors      |      heals     | heal
           |              |                |
 star      | stars        |      shines    | shine
Pick a noun from the left side, then pick a verb from the right side that has the same number (singular or plural).

One animal runs. Many animals run. One baby cries. Many babies cry. One baby runs. Many babies run.

You can add more complexity by considering other tenses or irregular words, but this is the basic idea.

And I do agree that a native speaker wouldn't have used "it works" in this context, despite being grammatically correct. "It worked" or "it's working" is how I would say it.

(Quick edit: And of course you'll notice that the general rule for regular verbs is that the third-person singular has an s on the end, while the other forms do not, which is confusing because it is the opposite of how nouns work, but English is weird and that's how it works.)
posted by anaelith at 4:13 AM on February 26, 2013


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