Adding an ‘s’ in case of ‘he, she, it’

(Rule for conjugating verbs in the simple present)

Table of contents – rule for ‘he, she, it’

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Rule for conjugation
  2. Exceptions
  3. Further explanations and exercises

When do you have to add ‘s’ to English verbs?

Generally, the conjugation of verbs in the English language is not very complicated. Whereas other languages may often have many different verb forms for all grammatical persons, most of the verb forms in English remain unchanged. Learners of English only need to be careful in the third person singular in the present tenses (which corresponds to ‘he, she, it’). In this case an ‘s’ or ‘es’ is added to the infinitive form of the verb (e.g. ‘to go, to drink, to see’). Compare:

  • Watch out! When talking about the ‘s’ for ‘he, she, it’, it is not the plural-‘s’ for nouns:
    • “Peter often speaks with his sisters.”
    • “My friends play tennis.”

Regular forms

  • Compare the following conjugation of verbs in the simple present with its peculiarities:
    • In general, an ‘s’ is added to verbs in the third person singular (that is ‘he, she, it’):
      • “He likes good food.”
        • basic form would be ‘to like
      • “She drinks a lot of coffee.”
        • basic form would be ‘to drink
      • “The cat runs very fast.”
        • basic form would be ‘to run
    • There are also some verbs that receive an ‘es’ instead of only an ‘s’ in order to maintain the correct pronunciation:
      • “The man goes home.”
        • infinitive ‘to go
      • “Sandra does her homework.”
        • infinitive ‘to do
      • “My brother watches TV every Tuesday.”
        • infinitive ‘to watch
    • In case a verb ends with a consonant + ‘y’, the ‘y’ is replaced by ‘ie’ and an ‘s’ is added:
      • “My husband flies to London every week.”
        • infinitive ‘to fly
      • “The baby cries a lot.”
        • infinitive ‘to cry
      • Careful! A verb ending with a vowel + ‘y’ keeps its ‘y’:
        • “She always buys too many clothes.”
          • infinitive ‘to buy

Special forms

  • Some verbs possess special conjugated forms; these may be used as auxiliary and main verbs:
    • Peculiarity of the verb ‘to be’, which offers three individual forms for the present tense: ‘am, is, are’. An ‘s’ is never added to this verb and so the principle does not apply:
      • “He is a good football player.”
        • Here ‘to be’ is a main verb in the present simple.
      • “Sally is riding the bicycle.”
        • In this sentence it is an auxiliary verb in the present progressive.
    • Special forms of the verb ‘to have’, whereas ‘ve’ at the end of this verb is replaced by ‘s’:
      • “Michelle has an Australian boyfriend.”
        • to have’ is used as the main verb in the present simple.
      • “Thomas has been waiting for two hours.”
        • And here it is employed as auxiliary verb in the present perfect progressive.

What exceptions does the rule have?

As explained above the conjugation rule for adding ‘s’ in case of ‘he, she, it’ basically applies to all verbs in the present tenses. The only exceptions to this rule are the modal verbs (‘can, may, must’, etc.). They are invariable and so never end with an ‘s’ – not even in the third person singular.

  • Remember: Do not add an ‘s’ to modal verbs:
    • “She can swim very well.”
      • The infinitive form is ‘can’.
    • “Peter must stay at home.”
      • infinitive ‘must
    • “It may be a good idea to do that.”
      • infinitive ‘may

Further explanations relating to ‘Adding ‘s’ to English verbs’

The following explanations relate to the rule ‘Adding an ‘s’ in case of ‘he, she, it’ – conjugating English verbs in the simple present’ and might be helpful: