Edward Sapir (18841939). Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. 1921.
verb must have a form to correspond; if the noun is plural, the verb has another, corresponding form.2 Comparison with such forms as I kill and you kill shows, moreover, that the -s has exclusive reference to a person other than the speaker or the one spoken to. We conclude, therefore, that it connotes a personal relation as well as the notion of singularity. And comparison with a sentence like the farmer killed the duckling indicates that there is implied in this overburdened -s a distinct reference to present time. Statement as such and personal reference may well be looked upon as inherently relational concepts. Number is evidently felt by those who speak English as involving a necessary relation, otherwise there would be no reason to express the concept twice, in the noun and in the verb. Time also is clearly felt as a relational concept; if it were not, we should be allowed to say the farmer killed -s to correspond to the farmer kill -s. Of the four concepts inextricably interwoven in the -s suffix, all are felt as relational, two necessarily so. The distinction between a truly relational concept and one that is so felt and treated, though it need not be in the nature of things, will receive further attention in a moment.
Finally, I can radically disturb the relational cut of the sentence by changing the order of its elements. If the positions of farmer and kills are interchanged, the sentence reads kills the farmer the duckling, which is most naturally interpreted as an unusual but not unintelligible mode of asking the question, does the farmer kill the duckling? In this new sentence the act is not conceived as necessarily taking place at all. It may or it may not be happening, the implication being that
Note 2. It is, of course, an accident that -s denotes plurality in the noun, singularity in the verb. [back]