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Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
Verb agreement in this sentence: "It is you who know/knows..."
Wednesday May 16th 2012
Question
Verb agreement in this sentence: "It is you who know/knows..."
Answer

Question

Vanessa from the Philippines asked: Which is correct, “It is only you who know my secret,” or “It is only you who knows my secret”?

Answer

This is a difficult question to answer, because both of these constructions are used by native speakers, and there are good arguments to be made for both.


The argument for using “It is you who know…” comes from more traditional grammarians who tell us that the verb in a relative clause beginning with who should agree with the noun that who represents. In the sentence, "It is only you who know my secret," who represents the pronoun you, which takes the 2nd person form, know.


However, most native speakers would use “It is you who knows…,” because the combination who + know, with a 3rd person pronoun and a 2nd person verb, seems odd and wrong.


Given this conflict, my advice would be to rewrite the sentence as “You are the only one who knows my secret,” and avoid the question completely!

I hope this helps.

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