Inflections of Person and Number in Verbs

Inflections of Person and Number in Verbs :

A verb must agree with its subject in number and person.

Verbs, like substantives, have two numbers (singular and plural) and three persons (first, second and third).

The singular number denotes a single person or thing. The plural number denotes more than one person or thing.

The first person denotes the speaker.

The second person denotes the person spoken to.

The third person denotes the person or thing spoken of.

inflections of person and number in verbs may be seen by framing sentences with the personal pronouns as subjects. Thus…..

Present Tense


1. I walk……1. We walk.

2. Thou walk-est. …..2. You walk.

3. He walk-s [old form, walk-eth]. …..3. They walk.

Past Tense


1. I walked. …..1. We walked.

2. Thou walked-st. …..2. You walked.

3. He walked. …..3. They walked.

From the sentences it is evident (1) that the person and number of a verb are usually shown by its subject only but (2) that some verb-forms have special endings which denote person and number.

The endings by means of which a verb indicates person and number are called personal endings.

1. In the present tense a verb has two personal endings,….EST for the second person singular and S for the third person singular (old form eth).

The first person singular and all three persons of the plural are alike. The simplest form of the verb is used and no personal ending is added.

2. The past tense has but one personal ending….EST or ST in the second person singular.

The forms in EST or ST are confined to poetry and the solemn style. In ordinary language, the second person plural is used to address a single person.

The following table shows the personal endings of the present and the past tense.

Personal Endings

Present Tense


1. [no ending] …..1. [no ending]

2. -est, -st…..2. [no ending]

3. -s [old, -eth] …..3. [no ending]
Past Tense


1. [no ending] 1. [no ending]

2. -est, -st 2. [no ending]

3. [no ending] 3. [no ending]

Conjugation of The Present and The Past

The inflection of a verb is called its
conjugation . When we inflect a verb we are said to conjugate it.

Conjugation of the Weak Verb Walk

Present Tense


1. I walk. …..1. We walk.

2. Thou walkest. …..2. You walk.

3. He walks. …..3. They walk.
Past Tense


1. I walked. …..1. We walked.

2. Thou walkedst. …..2. You walked.

3. He walked. …..3. They walked.

Conjugation of the Strong Verb Find

Present Tense


1. I find. …..1. We find.

2. Thou findest. …..2. You find.

3. He finds. …..3. They find.
Past Tense


1. I found.…..1. We found.

2. Thou foundest.….. 2. You found.

3. He found.…..3. They found.

Conjugation of The Copula

Present Tense


1. I am. .…..1. We are.

2. Thou art. .…..2. You are.

3. He is. .…..3. They are.

Past Tense


1. I was. .…..1. We were.

2. Thou wast. .…..2. You were.

3. He was. .…..3. They were.

Note : The English verb formerly had more personal endings. In Chaucer, for instance, the typical inflection of the present is….


1. I walkë. .…..1. We walken (or walkë).

2. Thou walkest. .…..2. Ye walken (or walkë).

3. He walketh..…..3. They walken (or walkë).

The disappearance of all weak final e’s in the fifteenth century reduced the first person singular and the whole plural to the single form walk. Later, walks (a dialect form) was substituted for walketh and still later the second person singular was replaced in ordinary use by the plural. The result has been that in modern speech there are only two common forms in the present tense….walk and walks. In poetry and the solemn style, however, walkest and walketh are still in use. The plural in en is frequently adopted by Spenser as an ancient form (or archaism) such as…..You deemen the spring is come.

Special Rules of Number and Person

When the subject is compound, the number of the verb is determined by the following rules.

1. A
compound subject with and usually takes a verb in the plural number.

1. My brother and sister play tennis.

2. The governor and the mayor are cousins.

2. A compound subject with OR or NOR takes a verb in the singular number if the substantives are singular.

1. Either my brother or my sister is sure to win.

2. Neither the governor nor the mayor favors this appointment.

3. A compound subject with and expressing but a single idea sometimes takes a verb in the singular number.

1. The sum and substance [= gist] of the matter is this.

Note : This construction is rare in modern English prose. It is for the most part confined to such idiomatic phrases as end and aim (= purpose), the long and short of it, etc. The poets, however, use the construction freely (as in Kipling’s “The tumult and the shouting dies").

4. If the substantives connected by OR or NOR differ in number or person, the verb usually agrees with the nearer.

a. Either you or he is to blame.

b. Neither you nor he is an Austrian.

c. Neither John nor we were at home.

d. Neither the mayor nor the aldermen favor this law.

But colloquial usage varies and such expressions are avoided by careful writers. The following sentences show how this may be done.

a. Either you are to blame or he is.

b. One of you two is to blame.

c. Neither of you is an Austrian.

d. He is not afraid; neither am I.

e. Both John and we were away from home.

In such expressions as the following, the subject is not compound and the verb agrees with its singular subject.

a. The governor with his staff is present.

b. John, as well as Mary, is in London.

c. Tom, along with his friends Dick and Bob, is taking a sail.

Nouns that are plural in form but singular in sense commonly take a verb in the singular number.

a. Economics is an important study.

b. The gallows has been abolished in Massachusetts.

In some words usage varies. Thus, pains, in the sense of care or effort, is sometimes regarded as a singular and sometimes as a plural.

a. Great pains has (or have) been taken about the matter.

Collective nouns take sometimes a singular and sometimes a plural verb.

When the persons or things denoted are thought of as individuals, the plural should be used. When the collection is regarded as a unit, the singular should be used.

1. The Senior Class requests the pleasure of your company. [Here the class is thought of collectively, acting as a unit.]

2. The Senior Class are unable to agree upon a president. [Here the speaker has in mind the individuals of whom the class is composed.]

3. The nation welcomes Prince Joseph. [The whole nation unites as a single individual to welcome a distinguished guest.]

4. The American nation are descended from every other nation on earth. [The separate qualities of the individuals who constitute the nation are in the speaker’s mind.]

A number in the sense of several or many regularly takes the plural. The number takes the singular.

1. A number of sailors were loitering on the pier.

2. The number of tickets is limited.

Half, part, portion and the like take either the singular or the plural according to sense.

1. Half of a circle is a semicircle.

2. Half of the passengers were lost.

A verb which has for its subject a
relative pronoun is in the same person and number as the antecedent.

Errors are especially common in such sentences as….

This is one of the strangest sights that ever were seen. [The antecedent of that is sights (not one). Hence the relative (that) is plural and accordingly the verb is plural (were, not was).]

1. Mr. Winn’s oration was among the most eloquent that have [NOT has] been delivered in this state for many years.

2. This is one of the finest paintings there are in the hall. [For the omission of the relative]

Inflections of Person and Number in Verbs :

Grammar Index

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