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I don’t understand why the 3rd-person of verbs that end in -y such as cry, try, or fly follow the rule for pluralizing nouns like fly. Why do they become cries, tries, and flies instead of crys, trys, and flys? This makes no sense because we are not talking about plurals, or even nouns. Plus, this form is not consistent with the 3rd-person form of other verbs like jump->jumps or eat->eats.

Is there any rational reason for this or is it simply yet another example of arbitrary and inconsistent English grammar?

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The plural of fly (an opening at the crotch of a pair of pants) is flies. –  kiamlaluno Aug 25 '11 at 6:42
    
@kiamlaluno, again, that is a noun and you are pluralizing it. I don’t care about nouns or plurals. I’m talking about the 3rd-person verb. –  Synetech Aug 25 '11 at 6:52
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Well, you are asking, "Why do they become cries, tries, and flies instead of crys, trys, and flys?" You also say, "I don’t understand why the 3rd-person of verbs that end in -y such as cry, try, or fly follow the rule for pluralizing nouns like fly." That is not exact, as the plural of fly (as noun) can be flies or fly, but the plural of other nouns ending in -y is -ys (boy and boys, day and days); in other words, the rule to form the third person singular of a verb ending in -y is not the rule for making the plural of nouns ending in -y. –  kiamlaluno Aug 25 '11 at 7:12
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@kiamlaluno: I disagree. The exact same rules for the spelling of plural nouns work for the spelling of the third person singular of verbs. To Synetech: Just be happy that you don't have to learn two sets of rules. –  Peter Shor Aug 25 '11 at 14:08
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@Peter Shor I am referring to his comment, "I don't care about nouns or plurals." –  kiamlaluno Aug 25 '11 at 15:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

When working with words that end in Y, the rules are the same to pluralize nouns and to conjugate a verb for the present tense in third person singular (he, she, it). The rules are:

  • Where a consonant comes before the Y, change the y to i and add es
  • Where a vowel comes before the Y, just add s

For an example of a verb where a consonant comes before the Y, look at how fry becomes fries. (He fries. She fries. It fries.)

For an example of a verb where a vowel comes before the Y, look at how fray becomes frays. (He frays. She frays. It frays.)

The bonus here is that when you move on to conjugate the verb for the past tense, the rule remains similar:

  • Where a consonant comes before the Y, change the y to i and add ed
  • Where a vowel comes before the Y, just add ed

Thus, the past tense for fry becomes fried and the past tense for fray becomes frayed.

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First of all, when verbs pluralize, they do not follow the rules for noun pluralization. The plural form of "fly" is "fly", not "flies". Consider this:

He flies away.
They fly away.

"Fly" is clearly the plural verb, while "flies" is the singular.

There is no reasoning why words ending with "y" are treated differently from other words ending in other letters. It is just a case of rules, and rules don't necessarily have reasons. For example, why add "s", for pluralization? why not add "e"? No reason! It's just a grammar rule.

The reason they become "flies" instead of "flys", is due to the fact that the "y" is not preceded by a vowel. When verbs end in "y", and they are preceded by a consonant, such as "r", their singular form takes the form of "-ies", such as "flies", "cries.". However, when the verb ends with "y", but the "y" is preceded by a vowel, "s" is just added. Examples are "Play/plays", "buy/buys".

This rule applies to both nouns and verbs. When nouns ending in "y" pluralize, the form they take is determined by whether they are preceded by a vowel or a consonant. When verbs ends in "y" singularize, whether they just add "s", or become "-ies" is decided by whether the "y" is preceded by a vowel or consonant.

This site states the rules:

If a verb ends with a vowel before -y, we just add -s for the third person singular:
If a verb ends with a consonant before -y, we remove the y and add -ies for the third person singular:
If a noun ends with a vowel before -y, we just add -s for the plural:
If a noun ends with a consonant before -y, we remove the y and add -ies for the plural

Verbs work contrary to nouns.

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I suspect that the OP doesn't actually mean to bring the plural form of verbs into it. It sounds to me that they have learned Cy + s -> Cies as a rule for pluralizing nouns, rather than a general rule for when you're adding s to things. I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but I think the OP is asking something like "I get that fly -> flies when we're talking about insects, because noun pluralization in English is weird. Why does fly -> flies when we're describing what somebody is doing up there? It would be nice if verb conjugation was kind of regular." –  Ross Churchley Aug 25 '11 at 4:33
    
In any case, +1 for "No reason! It's just a rule." English orthography just does things sometimes. –  Ross Churchley Aug 25 '11 at 4:36
    
Ross is correct. –  Synetech Aug 25 '11 at 4:51

The fact that you change a final y to ie before adding the suffix s is commonplace in English in both nouns and verbs. It has nothing to do with being plural. Actually, it has nothing to do with grammar. It is simply an orthographic (spelling) rule. Why do we have it? Some people earlier must have thought that y looks nicer at the end of a word and ie looks nicer in the middle of the word. That's pretty much the reason behind it.

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