INTRO: This week on Wordmaster, Grammar Lady helps Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble tackle a problem in learning English called the third- person "s."
MUSIC: "One"/Chorus Line
AA: I dance, you dance, but Rosanne here -- she dances.
RS: So what's wrong with that? Nothing. It's a rule of Standard English. You have to remember to add an "s" to a verb when you're talking in the third-person singular.
AA: So it's "he runs," "she jumps."
RS: For more of an explanation we turn to Mary Bruder, also known as Grammar Lady. She says this third-person "s" is a problem for students of English as a foreign language because they often forget to use it.
TAPE: CUT ONE - BRUDER
"In the present tense there's only one subject that takes the third person `s.' All the rest of them don't have an `s' on the end. So, for example: I live in Pittsburgh, Avi and Rosanne live in Washington, D.C. My friend lives in Pittsburgh. So when you have he, she or it as the subject - `he lives in Pittsburgh,' `he drives a car,' `she mows the lawn - you have to put the `s' on and it's the only subject that does. It's hard to remember because it's all by itself."
RS: But how can you help yourself remember when to put the "s" at the end of verbs?
TAPE: CUT TWO - BRUDER
"I had a teacher - I think she was from Yugoslavia - she made a huge red S that she hung in the front of her classroom and when any of the students forgot to put the S on, she would go up and tap on the S and they knew exactly what their mistake had been. Now for the individual - and this is important, I think, mostly when you're writing -- when you're writing, you want to make sure that you have this `s' on the ends of these verbs. For the individual you can make a note card and put it at the top of your writing materials when you're writing your compositions or whatever, to remind you to put the `s' on the ends of these verbs."
AA: Grammar Lady Mary Bruder says the "s" can be hard to remember for speakers of languages that don't have similar verb markers -- in fact, even some non-standard varieties of American English omit the third person "s."
RS: She remembers one African American woman who was having trouble in a job that required her to write down what was said at business meetings.
TAPE: CUT THREE - BRUDER/ARDITTI/SKIRBLE
"The woman was a secretary of a group and she was to do the minutes [of meetings] and she was writing up the minutes and she couldn't remember - she said she didn't even know - when the verb should have an `s' on it.
"Because she didn't use them in her dialect, and she couldn't hear them when others - when a thing doesn't exist in your dialect, you don't hear it in anyone else's - she simply didn't know how to fix her minutes. And I said to her, can you go through them and find out whenever there is a singular subject -- `the man,' `he,' `mister so-and-so' -- anytime there's one of those all by itself, the verb will have an `s.' She was so astounded; nobody had ever told her this before."
AA: "Because in African American Vernacular English, it's commonly left off."
BRUDER: "It's commonly left off, that's correct."
RS: "So to learn this, you first have to perceive that it exists and you have to hear it."
RS: "And then you can produce it."
BRUDER: "Sometimes you can produce it, and sometimes you can't."
AA: Fortunately there's Grammar Lady to help.
Grammar Lady's Web site at www.grammarlady.com has more tips on English usage. She's also written a new book "Much Ado About a Lot: How to Mind Your Manners in Print and in Person" .
We'll talk about that book in a future program.
RS: To reach Avi and me, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA. Next week we take a field trip to a high school science class for learners of English as a Second Language. We hope you'll come along! With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.
MUSIC: "One"/Chorus Line