Need clarity regarding Third-person-singular conjugation in a sentence


I am having troubles understanding whether I should add an "S" at the end of a verb or not.

The sentence is: "We are a human company that, through design and engineering, develop automation solutions..."

Should the verb Develop have an "S" added at the end? If the personal pronoun that acts upon the verb is a Third-person-singular, it should, otherwise it shouldn't. However I'm having trouble understanding if the personal pronoun acting upon the verb "develop" is We from "We are a human company" or the inferred it from "a company".

The company (it) > develops solutions...

We > develop solutions...

Which one would be the correct interpretation? Or maybe the sentence should be rewritten to avoid this?


Posted 2020-03-11T15:18:35.623

Reputation: 13


Does this answer your question? Its or Their to refer to a company? Also Is a company e.g. Pfizer, singular or plural?

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2020-03-11T17:54:16.130

1I believe Brits are more "flexible" than Americans in this area (it's not just a matter of saying that British companies / couples / governments / etc. are singular, whereas to Americans they're plural). Brits vary the plurality according to context, and in this case they'll tend to go with the plural verb *develop* simply because the sentence started with plural *We are...* – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2020-03-11T18:01:20.683

@FumbleFingers-Reinstate-Monica I agree. After reviewing the sentence, it became clear that the subject is indeed "We", not "The Company", and thus, the correct use of the verb is "develop". We (the people that collectively make up the company) develop solutions [...] – thomas01f – 2020-03-11T18:49:48.893

If that "rationale" makes sense to you then fine. But from my perspective as a Brit there is no "right" answer here, and thus no bulletproof argument as to why it's the right answer. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2020-03-12T13:18:53.477

...but consider this NGram showing that the most common words after *are a species that* are the singular verb forms *has* and *is*...

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2020-03-12T13:20:48.900

...where obviously the "primary verb subject" (of initial verb *are*) must have been a plural. And the specific word *species* doesn't necessarily affect the subsequent choice of plurality, since it's exactly the same form as a singular or plural noun. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2020-03-12T13:23:25.737



"We" already has a finite verb: "are". So, what does "develop" belong to? "We" or "a human company"? There are two clauses here, an independent one: "We are a human company" and a dependent one: "that, through design and engineering, develop automation solutions". We can remove the adjectives and the adverbial phrase to simplify the grammar without changing the problem: "We are a company that develop solutions".

So, is it "We [are a company that] develop solutions" or "We are [a company that develop solutions]"? Since we can remove the dependent clause leaving a grammatical sentence: "We are a company", we can say that "that" attaches "develop" to "a company", not "we".

The next question is whether singular "company" takes a singular or plural verb. As the linked question Its or Their to refer to a company? shows, it is sometimes acceptable to use a plural verb (if you consider a company to be the individuals rather than a single entity). Generally speaking, American English will use a singular verb, while British English will use either.

So, "We are a human company that, through design and engineering, develops automation solutions" is correct in both American and British English, and the plural conjugation "develop" is acceptable in British English too.

CJ Dennis

Posted 2020-03-11T15:18:35.623

Reputation: 3 832

Very interesting explanation. It just felt awkward to use either because of the phrasing, I was considering changing the sentence all together to avoid such issue. However, this explanation gives me a lot of confidence regarding the proper use of the word. Thanks. – thomas01f – 2020-03-11T21:51:44.010

Excellent answer. Now if you could explain how a "human company" differs from a regular company, I'd be grateful ;) – Kevin – 2020-03-11T21:58:05.117

1@Kevin "if you have a different question, use the 'Ask Question' button." ;-) – CJ Dennis – 2020-03-11T21:59:22.923