Friday, December 3, 2010

Give vs. Gives

So I'm stumped. When is "give" supposed to be used as opposed to "gives?" For example, I came across this sentence:

A kind and generous family give us each a cold beer.

And how would one go about finding the answer to such a question when google fails?


Chad said...

Good question regarding subject-verb agreement, Shayna. Deciding whether to use the plural "give" or the singular "gives" depends on determining whether the verb's subject is singular or plural.

The example you provided, though, presents a tricky scenario. Here, the subject is "family," a collective noun (a noun referring to a group of individuals).

Collective nouns can take either singular or plural verbs, depending on whether the individuals who comprise the group are acting all together (in unison) or as individuals. Thus, we can have both "The family gives money annually" and "The family give money annually." In the former, every member of the family works together--as one single unit--to give money annually. In the latter, the individual members of the family are acting, well, individually--each is doing his or her own thing--in giving money annually.

So, to go back to your example, I would just say that it depends. Are the members of the family acting together as one unit? If so, the subject takes the singular "gives." Are the members of the family acting individually, NOT as a single unit? If so, the subject takes the plural "give."

Hope this helps! :)

Tisha said...

Very helpful, Chad!

Shayna Yatsushiro said...

Wow, awesome! Thanks for your very thorough explanation! :)

Samantha said...

Thanks for this answer, Chad.
I have always lumped collective nouns into the third person singular subject category and added the -s to the verb.
This was enlightening!