Why don't we add an "s" on to these verbs?



Why we don't add an "s" on to the verb in these examples?

John, turn on the light.

Stig, eat your breakfast.

Maya, wait a minute, please.

I learned in school if the verb comes before "he", "she", or "it" we add an "s" on to the verb.

I am looking forward to the answer, and I appreciate your effort.


Posted 2015-07-01T00:04:42.807

Reputation: 59

7But there are no personal pronouns (he, she, or it) in those examples at all. – Nathan Tuggy – 2015-07-01T00:14:53.783

2"s" comes if the predicate is indicative and the subject is in third person. This is not indicative, but imperative. – IllidanS4 wants Monica back – 2015-07-01T16:26:15.483

Some say, he's had his morning tea with Captain Ramius in the galley of the Red October. Some say, he eats his cereal with a high-powered, twelve-cylinder mechanical spoon. All we know is he's called the Stig! – Jules – 2015-07-02T13:52:48.540



This is called the imperative.

The imperative is used to give an order to someone.

John, turn on the light.

Stig, eat your breakfast.

Maya, wait a minute, please.

With the imperative, you are using what's called the bare infinitive form of a verb. (Source) That is why you do not use the present tense of the verb and add an "s". If you did that, you would have

John turns on the light.

Which means John is doing the action of turning on the light - it does not have the meaning of telling John to turn on the light.

Jimmy S

Posted 2015-07-01T00:04:42.807

Reputation: 845

2Not just orders: "John, have a cookie" is also an imperative. But it would usually not be considered an order. – MSalters – 2015-07-01T07:38:36.377

2It's possible to use the imperative in the third person ("it rubs the lotion on its skin") but very strange indeed (hence the only example I can think of being a fictional psycho-sexual killer). It's not because it's the imperative that there's no s, it's because it's the second person. – Jon Hanna – 2015-07-01T09:08:27.027

3@JonHanna Is that an imperative? Isn't it just indicative mood used with the meaning of an order? – Angew is no longer proud of SO – 2015-07-01T14:04:59.187

@Angew it's somewhere in between in a way that only comes up with psycho killers? In any case, with normal use of the imperative, it's not that it's the imperative that leads to the lack of the s, but that the imperative is normally used with the second person or the first person (especially first person plural). – Jon Hanna – 2015-07-01T14:37:29.610

5@MSalters: Grammatically and semantically, it's still an order. Socially, there's a subtle implication of choice in many circumstances. After all, one may always refuse an order; it's just that the consequences of doing so vary from scenario to scenario ;) – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2015-07-01T14:47:17.420

1Regarding "it rubs the lotion on its skin", isn't the rest of the quote "it rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again"? So I think it really is just an indicative. Even without the last part, though, I'd say that grammatically it's an indicative. The lion eats the zebra. The captive rubs the lotion on its skin. This is the way it is and this is the way it will be. The command element is more inferred and implied in my opinion. – Au101 – 2015-07-01T15:38:25.520

1@JonHanna: You are mistaken. It actually is possible, even in non-psycho contexts, to use the imperative with a grammatically third-person subject, and in that case you use the same form as with the second-person. ("Nobody move!" "Somebody help me!") – ruakh – 2015-07-01T18:47:10.877

@MSalters Still a nice order. Had a history teacher who once responded to "Have a nice day" with "Well OK; I hadn't been planning on it, but if you insist." ;) – KRyan – 2015-07-01T20:30:47.923

@ruakh, I'd say that “Nobody” and “Somebody” are part of vocative phrases, just like “John”, “Stig” and “Maya” in the examples. “Nobody move!” gets a weird pragmatic interpretation, but “Somebody help me!” can be interpreted as “Somebody, listen to me. Now I have your attention, help me!”. – James Wood – 2015-07-02T09:26:41.630

2If there's a consistent rule, which is always in doubt in English, we can test it by seeing what happens with a verb in which the infinitive differs from the second-person present indicative. Specifically, "to be / you are". The imperative forms are "just be yourself" (common expression), "luck be a lady" (lyric), "everybody be cool" (movie dialogue). These don't remain imperatives with "are" or "is", the imperative mood is using a bare infinitive. – Steve Jessop – 2015-07-02T10:30:19.113

@JamesWood: I anticipated your objection, which is why I made a point of including "Nobody move!". If your best response is an unspecified "weird pragmatic interpretation", I think I'll consider your point conceded. ;-) – ruakh – 2015-07-02T17:31:18.157

@ruakh It seems though that issuing a command to nobody, as you suggest, requires the same weird pragmatic rule (to make it translate to “everybody don't move”) as is required by getting nobody to listen, then have people interpret it as expected. – James Wood – 2015-07-03T14:55:41.610

@JamesWood: It's not "issuing a command to nobody". (That was your suggestion, remember -- you claimed that "Nobody move!" means "Nobody, move!", i.e., instructing nobody to move. I made no such claim.) Rather, it's issuing a command to those present, the command being that nobody move. (If this seems odd to you, then think of an example like "Have this done before I get back." This is clearly a command, but "have this done" is not an action that someone can take. The command is to do what is necessary such that the specified result occurs.) – ruakh – 2015-07-03T17:19:19.913


John, turn on the light.

This is an imperative. You're telling the listener what to do. In imperatives, the subject is generally taken as an implied "you":

John, you turn on the light.

The verb doesn't change form to agree with you, though; in an imperative the verb always appears in its plain form, which is the same form of the verb as the infinitive:

John, you be careful.

As you can see, if we change the verb, we end up with be, not are. So no matter what, it won't have the -s you're asking about on the end.

John isn't the subject, so the verb doesn't change form to agree with it. Instead, John is something called a "vocative"—basically, you're saying his name because you're talking to him. It doesn't have to go at the beginning of the sentence, either:

You turn on the light, John.

The same is true of your other examples:

Stig, you eat your breakfast.
Maya, you wait a minute please.

And again, the names are vocatives and not subjects. We can move them to the end:

You eat your breakfast, Stig.
You wait a minute please, Maya.

And the verb stays the same.


Posted 2015-07-01T00:04:42.807

Reputation: 30 097

3The implied you (i.e., 2nd person) is clearer in other languages that conjugate verbs a bit more elaborately than English. For example, Jean, mangez votre repas. – Oscar Bravo – 2015-07-01T09:18:17.690

I learned it in school with this concept of the implied "you" - I think it simplifies things a lot. – hairboat – 2015-07-01T20:56:55.300

The "implied you" explanation is, I think, unhelpful. As your "be careful" example makes clear, it's just wrong: there is no implied you. The construction uses the infinitive, not the second-person indicative. – David Richerby – 2015-07-02T12:06:50.353

2@David Modern English has no indicative mood, nor do we need to call the plain form of the verb "infinitive" when it appears in imperative clauses; doing so is a mistake, as imperatives are distributionally like finite clauses and don't have the semantic characteristics of an infinitive. What's more, the ellipsis analysis is justified by imperatives where it's not ellipted ("Tom, you get down from there right this minute!"), by semantics, and further analyses that won't fit in this comment. – snailplane – 2015-07-02T12:14:23.757


As others have pointed out here your examples use the imperative form of the verb and I'll not add to that.

I think though that what is confusing you is the simple present tense as that is the place that the rule that you are thinking of applies.

I turn on the light

You turn on the light

They turn on the light

He turns on the light

John turns on the light

It turns on the light

The thing to look for in simple present is a singular third person


Posted 2015-07-01T00:04:42.807

Reputation: 2 457

Indeed. The lesson given at the OP's school was a little imprecise! – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2015-07-01T14:48:38.187