Cleft sentence - It's (singular) the people that make (plural) them (the streets of Philadelphia) unsafe."

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Aurin

Senior Member
Alemania (alemán)
If people in English is plural, why do you say "it´s the people" with the verb in singular?
Is it possible to use the verb in plural?
But how?
It are the people? They are the people?
 
  • Judica

    Senior Member
    AE (US), Spanish (LatAm)
    If people in English is plural, why do you say "it´s the people" with the verb in singular?
    Is it possible to use the verb in plural?
    But how?
    It are the people? They are the people?
    In what sense is someone saying "It's the people"? ...and meaning singular?
     

    floridasnowbird

    Senior Member
    Germany German
    If people in English is plural, why do you say "it´s the people" with the verb in singular?
    Is it possible to use the verb in plural?
    But how?
    It are the people? They are the people?

    It are :cross:

    They are :tick:

    Very often, however, you hear

    It's the papers of ownership
    It's the decorations
    It's the soldiers that are fighting against ...
    It's the rules that are to be followed
     

    Aurin

    Senior Member
    Alemania (alemán)
    Thank you very much.
    I had this sentence. "It´s (singular) the people that make (plural) them (the streets of Philadelphia) unsafe."
     

    Judica

    Senior Member
    AE (US), Spanish (LatAm)
    Thank you very much.
    I had this sentence. "It´s (singular) the people that make (plural) them (the streets of Philadelphia) unsafe."
    Oh, I see now. :)

    "It's" is not possessive. It is a contraction. (The short form of " It is" is being used.) The sentence reads:

    It is the people (plural) that make them unsafe.

    (The word "it" is special and not like other possessives using an apostrophe)

    A easy way to remember which form of "It" is being used:

    If you see the apostrophe (') with the word "It", the apostrophe makes the word a contraction. = It is.

    The possessive form of "It" would be "Its" with no apostrophe. = Its doors.

    I hope that helps clear up any confusion. Remember that the word "it" is a special case.
     

    floridasnowbird

    Senior Member
    Germany German
    Oh, I see now. :)

    "It's" is not possessive. It is a contraction. (The short form of " It is" is being used.) It is the people (plural) that make them unsafe.

    (The word "it" is special and not like other possessives using an apostrophe)

    A easy way to remember which form of "It" is being used:

    If you see the apostrophe (') with the word "It", the apostrophe makes the word a contraction. = It is.

    The possessive form of "It" would be "Its" with no apostrophe. = Its doors.

    I hope that helps clear up any confusion. Remember that the word "it" is a special case.

    I don't think that was Aurin's question. In German, when you refer to a subject in plural, "to be" has to be used in plural, too, which means you must use "are". Literally, in German you say "it are". Since this is not possible in English, you say "it is" (even though a plural subject is following) or "they are".

    "Oh, what are they?"

    "It's the papers of ownership, deeds to a house."

    Please correct me in case I am wrong.
     

    Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    I would answer to that "They're papers of ownership."

    I think when people say things like "it's the people," it refers to a condition, not "people."
     

    floridasnowbird

    Senior Member
    Germany German
    I would answer to that "They're papers of ownership."

    Sorry, I think I should have quoted the complete conversation as it is written in my English textbook (for foreigners like me to teach them how to use it's in such a context).

    "Connie, before you look at the menu, look at the papers."
    "What are they? Oh!"
    "What is it, Connie? It looks very important."
    "Oh, Walter, it is! It's the papers of ownership to a house!"
    "Deeds to a house? What house?" ........
     

    cycloneviv

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    Getting back to the original question, I remember a song that went "We are the world, we are the people..."

    I know song lyrics aren't something that one should take as indicative of correct English usage, and nor are Google results, but anyway :

    It is the people = 466,000 hits
    They are the people = 389,000
    We are the people = 351,000
     

    Judica

    Senior Member
    AE (US), Spanish (LatAm)
    I don't think that was Aurin's question. In German, when you refer to a subject in plural, "to be" has to be used in plural, too, which means you must use "are". Literally, in German you say "it are". Since this is not possible in English, you say "it is" (even though a plural subject is following) or "they are".

    "Oh, what are they?"

    "It's the papers of ownership, deeds to a house."

    Please correct me in case I am wrong.
    My mistake, I took it that Aurin seemed confused by the word "it's" which further confuses "the people".

    "The people" can be thought of as a "singular collective" as well as plural.

    ex. It is the people that make this Country great ...
    ex. It is the people who rise to the occasion ...
    ex. It is the people who will bare the burden ...

    "The people" at times become a single entity ... a kind of one.
     

    Blumengarten

    Senior Member
    America / English
    Literally, in German you say "it are".
    You would say in German "es sind"? I'm weak in German but that looks strange to me.

    An easy way for me to remember the difference between its and it's is this:

    its is a pronoun, just like his and hers. You don't use an apostrophe to make his and hers plural, so you don't for its[/either. If you can substitute his or hers in the sentence, then use its. If you can substitute it is, use the contraction it's.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    When two pronouns or nominal expressions are "equated" using the verb "to be", the first one is the subject and the verb agrees with it:

    That is I. [or "That's me", colloquially.] (Das bin ich.)
    That's my parents. [e.g. in a picture.] (Das sind meine Eltern.)
    These are my parents. [e.g. to introduce them in person.]
    These are your keys.

    When the word there or an adverb is used, the subject follows the verb:

    There were birds in the sky. (Es gab ...)
    Here are your keys. (Hier sind ...)

    The same rules apply in questions too:

    Is that I? [Is that me?]
    Is that my parents? [e.g. in a picture.]
    Are these my parents? [e.g. if you have amnesia.]
    Are these your keys?
    Were there birds in the sky?
    Where are your keys?
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    If people in English is plural, why do you say "it´s the people" with the verb in singular?
    Is it possible to use the verb in plural?
    But how?
    It are the people? They are the people?
    The pronoun it always takes a singular verb: It's our children who are going to have to pay this debt.

    In the subjunctive, it takes were, but that verb is acting as a singular in such a construction: If it were raining, I'd take a taxi.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I don't think that was Aurin's question. In German, when you refer to a subject in plural, "to be" has to be used in plural, too, which means you must use "are". Literally, in German you say "it are". Since this is not possible in English, you say "it is" (even though a plural subject is following) or "they are".

    "Oh, what are they?"

    "It's the papers of ownership, deeds to a house."

    Please correct me in case I am wrong.
    I think you are right. German allows "es ist/es sind", which sounds like "it is/it are". "It are" is impossible in English.

    English allows "It's + plural noun" when the noun might be viewed as a group.

    So this is correct, informally, and frankly sounds to me like a typical "O’Reilly Factor" sentence.

    "It's the people that make them unsafe."

    But many people would insist on "who" rather than "that", and there are many ways to write the same idea in a way that would not be objectionable because of ambiguous grammar. :)

    Gaer
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    That's exactly what I would say: es sind meine Bücher (my books).
    Yes. In German, the word for "it" (es) is used the way we use "there":

    there is, there are

    Then you would have a problem:

    There is the people to consider.
    There are the people to consider.

    Now I"ll let others decided if "the people" could be singular here. ;)

    Gaer
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Let's say "the people" is plural, and "what is important" is singular. Join them with a form of "to be", and in English the first determines whether to use "is" or "are":

    The people are what is important.
    What is important is the people.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's the people that make the streets of Philadelphia unsafe means the streets of Philadelphia are unsafe because of the people - not specific people, but people in general.

    They are the people that make the streets of Philadelphia unsafe refers to specific people. Perhaps they have been identified in a previous sentence, or perhaps the speaker is pointing at them (those youths loitering in the doorway).
     

    LouisaB

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I think I would come at this one differently - and apologise in advance if I seem to make it more complicated.

    Yes, 'the people' can be spoken of as a group, but they are still plural.

    eg 'The people have spoken' (not 'has spoken')
    or 'The people are the reason the streets are unsafe' (not 'is the reason')

    The question in this thread is specifically about the agreement of 'it's' with 'the people', and for me floridasnowbird is absolutely right here in pointing out this is not so much a special use of 'people' as a special use of 'it's', which can often take a plural - as in 'It's the papers of ownership'.

    The reason for this is that It's is referring back to a singular unspecified 'thing', which can be identified if you ask yourself what was the question to which this sentence is the answer. Eg

    'It's the people who make them unsafe' translates as 'The (singular) reason the streets are unsafe IS...a plural thing, ie the people.
    'It's the papers of ownership' translates as 'The object I've just taken out of this envelope, or the thing I've got in my hand IS... a plural thing, ie the papers of ownership.

    Thus, although the answer is plural, the question was singular (eg 'What is the reason the streets are unsafe?') and It's refers back to that.

    In that way, you can have a apparently strange sentence like
    'It's the people who make the streets unsafe', in which 'people' is both plural ('make') and singular in that it agrees with 'It's'.

    I'm very sorry if this is confusing. I hope it makes sense to somebody!

    Louisa

    PS Sorry - I see Panj has given a much clearer explanation above while I was still scratching my head composing this epic. But I'll let it stand, for the sake of the further examples.
     

    Aurin

    Senior Member
    Alemania (alemán)
    Thank you very much to all.
    Now I understood it. My doubt wasn´t if it is a possessive but, as floridasnowbird pointed out, the use of it is + plural since in German we have to use "es sind" (literally: "it are").
     

    jennball

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Singular and plural mix like that all the time in English and it is confusing to native speakers, too. Sometimes I can see the grammatical logic, other times I just accept things as idiom. "It's the people" is an idiomatic way of saying "The people are the ones".
    I think there is some logic to it, though, because if you ask, "what makes the streets unsafe?", the answer starts with 'It', to match the singular "What makes?" Then comes the singular 'is', to match the singular 'it''. Now you switch to 'the people', which is plural and uses a plural verb.
     

    moonbeam

    New Member
    Egypt native language is Arabic
    people here is a cllective noun

    A collective noun denotes a group or collection of similar individuals considered as one complete whole ,like (people- team- army- crowd- class)


    so people here is singular.;)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    people here is a cllective noun

    A collective noun denotes a group or collection of similar individuals considered as one complete whole ,like (people- team- army- crowd- class)


    so people here is singular.;)
    Actually not. People as a collective noun is always plural. People is only singular when it refers to a people.

    Cheese for example, by contrast, is always singular as a collective noun and is only plural when it refers to kinds of cheese or to wheels of cheese: "Roquefort and Limburger are two very different cheeses", "His salary was three sheep and 5 cheeses."

    Is in the original question is singular, and must be singular, because the subject is it.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Just an aside for the original poster: If it were (= Wäre es = Si fuese) is subjunctive singular, not plural at all.
    An interesting discussion of the English subjunctive here says that the syntax of the subjunctive shows "the absence of any variation with respect to person or number, i.e., there is only one subjunctive form of a verb in each tense. The present tense takes the form of the simple infinitive—be, give, etc.—while the other three coincide with the corresponding plural forms of the indicative mood, e.g., have been, have given (present perfect); were, gave (past); and had been, had given (past perfect)."

    So the author of that page would not consider the were-subjunctive used with the subject it (or any other subject, of course) to be marked for number at all, but would consider the were-subjunctive to represent a plural form.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    So the author of that page would not consider the were-subjunctive used with the subject it (or any other subject, of course) to be marked for number at all, but would consider the were-subjunctive to represent a plural form.
    I respectfully disagree with calling subjunctive were a plural form. It is rather a leveled form, like go in "I go" and "we go". In fact, "it was", "thou wast", "if it were", and "if thou wert" all show subject-verb agreement of sorts.

    What I wanted to make clear in answering the original question is that it is never plural and when it is the subject, the verb will be whatever form is appropriate for a third person singular subject. In the original example, people is plural but is not the subject; it is the subject, so the verb must not be marked for plural.
     

    wolfbm1

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Hello.
    I have come across a similar example in New Total English Elementary by Mark Foley and Diane Hall:
    "The Smolny Institute (in St Petersburg, Russia) is a school.
    No, it isn't. It was a school but now it's offices."

    In other words: The Smolny Institute is now offices.
    I guess I can also say:
    The Oxford Castle (in Oxford, England) was a prison.
    It is now hotel rooms and a shopping centre. You can sleep in the old prison cells and do the shopping under one roof.
     
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