Question: from Inês in Portugal

I´m Portuguese and in my language the word – it (he/she/it) doesn’t exist. it’s hard to understand how to use this word: Examples
1)The Olympic Games take place every four years. Why take and not takes?
2)The River Amazon flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Why flows and not flow?
I even understand the 2) but I don’t understand the 1) Please explain to me. Best Regards

Hi Inês. You’re actually asking a few questions here. One about the third person singular pronounshe, she and it‘ and one about whether a certain subject such as the ‘Olympic Games‘ or the ‘Amazon River‘ take the singular form or the plural form of the verb.

Let’s look at the the first question about the third person pronoun ‘it‘:

In your language, as in many others such as French and Spanish, there is no gender neutral pronoun – that is, pronouns are either he or she (masculine or feminine) , for example in French we refer to a table as feminine (la table, elle est une belle table). In English, inanimate objects and abstractions (thoughts, feelings etc.) are usually referred to using ‘ it‘ – a gender neutral pronoun. There are, as you would expect, a few exceptions, for example, we often talk about babies and animals using ‘it‘:

  • Is it a boy or a girl?
  • Is it a Labrador?
  • Mary’s had a baby. It‘s a girl!
  • Where are you taking the dog? I’m taking it for a walk.

And, less frequently, we may refer to some specific inanimate objects,such as boats and ships, using ‘she‘:

  • Is that your sailing boat? She‘s a lovely looking yacht.
  • Yes, she‘s one of the fastest boats on the harbor.

However, you’re pretty safe using it if you are referring to anything that is not human and not alive!

  • It was a beautiful day.
  • It was a wonderful concert.
  • I understood it after thinking about it for several hours.
  • It needs a lot of concentration to play an instrument.

OK, now lets quickly look at the verb form using the two examples you sent in as the first one at least could be confusing.
Is ‘the Olympic Games’ a singular or plural noun? Well, a quick look through some dictionaries shows that it can be treated, just to make it more confusing for you, as either singular or plural which would make using either ‘take’ or ‘takes’ correct.

However, I’m going to throw in my own preference here because the word ‘Games’ is plural and I would personally use the plural form when referring to the ‘Olympic Games’. A matter of choice and how it sounds to your ear it seems! Not very precise but there we are – that is the nature of English.

For your second example there is no confusion, Inês, ‘the Amazon River‘ is singular and therefore takes the third person singular form ‘flows‘.

Hope that has helped!