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Googling both sentences I find many references with or without -s. Should I add the -s to the verb after "that"? Is it considered a third person singular?

I'm searching for a rule to apply to the verb after "that".

Another example could be this:

people that work (56,100,000 hits)
people that works (710,000 hits)

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Interesting question. I just googled the two phrases too. 20% use "Something that work", 80% use "Something that works" –  b.roth Sep 4 '10 at 21:03
    
That's an interesting question. "Something that works" sounds correct, but as a native italian speaker I would never use the indicative present in such a case, but rather a subjunctive which, as I understand, is identical to the infinitive in English (i.e. no -s for the third person singular). –  Matteo Riva Sep 4 '10 at 22:22
    
@kemp: context is important here. The subjunctive is used in limited circumstances in English, so in the absence of any additional information, assume it's indicative, and add the "s". –  Steve Melnikoff Sep 4 '10 at 22:38
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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

In English Grammar (ISBN 0-06-467109-7), something is listed in the indefinite pronouns always used as singular, together with somebody, someone, each, either, everybody, anyone, etc.

The correct phrase is something that works.

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Nice, "something that work" is just a common mistake then. I'm wondering why so many people make that mistake as "something" is obviously singular. –  b.roth Sep 6 '10 at 10:18
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Lots of people type "your" when they mean "you're" but that doesn't mean it is a viable variant, just a common mistake. Likewise "something that works" is the correct grammar here.

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3rd person singular verb should match the 3rd person singular noun.

  • He/she/it works.
  • He/she/it who/which/that works.
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it seems reasonable, thanks –  systempuntoout Sep 5 '10 at 18:53
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Googling both sentences i find a lot of references with or without -s.

I didn't expect to find this, but you are right:

"something that work"     159,000 hits
"something that works" 38,500,000  hits

This is the weakness of Googling, that wrong stuff, if repeated often enough, starts to look legitimate. The correct one is "something that works".

Is it considered as third person singular?

A verb after "something" should be in the third person singular form, yes.

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Another weakness of using Google in this way is that it can take things out of context: for example, "I had to do something that work regulations insisted on" would count towards the 159,000, despite the word "work" not even being a verb here :-) –  psmears Jan 16 '11 at 12:35
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The simple answer for this: Something in this case, is singular. This means that the verb should be plural, works. If you were to switch it around and use Some things, you would then use the singular verb work.

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I don't believe it's correct to say the form of the verb "works" is plural just because it has an "s" on the end. Better to say, "the verb should use the 3rd person singular", which I think is what you meant. –  Steve Melnikoff Sep 4 '10 at 22:36
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Woah... 'singular verb'? Please show me where such a term is defined. –  Noldorin Sep 4 '10 at 23:06
    
If by "plural" you mean that the verb is used for first, second, and third plural person, then you should be the opposite: works is used only for the third singular person. Work is then used for, e.g., I work, you work, and we work; you say that work is a "singular verb", but it is used also for a plural person. Singular verb and plural verb are not expressions used in English. –  kiamlaluno Sep 5 '10 at 0:17
    
You have to pay some more effort to make a better participation. –  Dia Sep 5 '10 at 20:59
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