Posted by: Michael | July 20, 2009

All’s Well that EndS Well

In English, we have a distinction between singular (one of something) and plural (two or more of something). While there are some exceptions, the majority of plurals end in –s. For example: books, cakes, pens, cars. Therefore when you use a noun in English, you need to make the distinction between singular and plural.

Chinese has no plural – the same form is used no matter how many nouns there are. Malay only uses a plural (made by repeating the noun) when it is absolutely necessary to show that there is more than one of something. Tamil does have a plural but I’m not sure if it’s used in colloquial spoken Tamil. But in English, there is a distinction which in most cases is indicated by the ending.

English also has a little thing called Subject-Verb Agreement. This means that when you use a verb in the Present Simple Tense with ‘he’, ‘she’ , ‘it’ or a person’s name, you must add an –s to the verb. For example: He eats, she talks, John drinks. This ending is crucial to writing and speaking proper English.

Many verbs form the Simple Past Tense with –ed. For example: I moved, he started, we walked. This ending is also crucial to writing and speaking proper English.

Why am I mentioning this? Because many Malaysians have trouble with this. Since Chinese and Malay verbs have only one form (我吃wŏ chī, 她吃tā chī, saya makan, kami makan), the concept of changing the verb for a particular subject is foreign to Chinese and Malay people. Tamil has a complex system of verb endings (there is a different ending for each pronoun), so this concept will be more familiar to Tamil speakers.

When writing, many Malaysians leave off the –s ending for third person nouns and the –s ending for verbs with ‘he’ or ‘she’. Many also leave off the –ed ending in Simple Past Tense verbs. And even if they understand that these endings must be added, and add them when writing, many Malaysians do not pronounce these endings when speaking. Even if they are reading from a passage with the endings added, many Malaysians still do not pronounce them. For example, the following sentence:

“Mary goes shopping every Friday and buys books” would be read aloud as “Mary go shopping every Friday and buy book”, even though the endings are written down in the text!

Or ‘He moved to KL last year” would be read aloud as “He move to KL last year”.

What is worse is that some people don’t even pronounce the –’s in contractions like he‘s and it‘s.

To recap: These endings are crucial to speaking and writing good and proper English. If you want to speak English well, you need to master these endings and pronounce them properly each time you come across them.


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