Errors are enduring mistakes that people make, sometimes without being aware that something is amiss in the speech act.
Whereas a mistake may be corrected by the same person that has committed it, errors are seldom corrected because listeners do not usually want to embarrass the speaker and are invariably unaware of his or her fault.
Some of the commonest errors involve a mixture of tenses, mix-up of Subject and Object, a mixture of singular and plural forms, multiple applications of rules, misuse of word-formation rules, and over-generation.
1. Mixture of Tenses
For all speakers of English, whether first (L1) or second (L2) language speakers, tense is an aspect of grammar to which much attention must be paid. In written English, in particular, the mixture of tenses should be avoided.
For example, the main verb said, makes the secondary verb, comes, unacceptable. The correct version of the sentence is therefore rendered as in:
*He said he usually comes.
He said he usually came.
(*at the beginning of the sentence indicates unacceptability).
2. Mix-up of Subject and Object
The mix-up of subject and object is a common error, especially committed by L2 users of English. Consider the examples below.
*As a Nigerian, the country should honor him.
*He prayed for her which is good.
In the examples above, it is not the country that is a Nigerian (unfortunately, that is what the sentence suggests!). To avoid a mix-up of the carrier phrase, it is good, with the object, she may be correctly stated below.
As a Nigerian, he should be honored by the country.
It is good that he prayed for her.
3. Mixture of singular and plural forms
Many people tend to use singular and plural forms of words indiscriminately. When a noun reflects an entire group is taken as an entity. Therefore, It is wrong because it disobeys this principle:
*The team, made up of officials and players, arrives on schedule.
The correct version should be as below:
The team, made up of officials and players, arrives on schedule.
In the example below, the expression, one of them, connotes an individual and so renders the sentence unacceptable.
*One of them is late.
The correct form is as presented below.
One of them is late.
Whereas example below is acceptable due to the non-violation of concord rules,
All of them are here!
But example below is not:
*Nobody is here.
4. Multiple applications of rules
Sometimes, there are multiple ways of marking a particular grammatical form. Both examples below are correct, although the plural form of the noun has been arrived at differently in each case:
Ships are beautiful to behold.
Sheep are easy to rear.
However, some users of English erroneously apply two rules that essentially perform the same function.
In the example below, both the plural formation rule that gives the plural the same form as the singular and the rule that allows ‘s’ to be added to the singular form to generate the plural have been applied, rendering the sentence unacceptable:
*Sheep are easy to rear.
Cases of multiple applications of rules leading to ungrammatical expressions are particularly rampant in the use of adjectives (comparative or superlative) as seen in examples below:
*he is greater than his father.
*God lives in the highest heavens.
5. Misuse of word-formation rules
Some users of English sometimes use word-formation rules wrongly. This practice tends to generate grammatically incorrect sentences.
In the example below, the verb found, is derived from “to find (i.e to discover)”, whereas founded in the example comes from “to found (i.e to establish)”. Both sentences are unquestionably acceptable;
He found a scholarship scheme to take care of his desires.
He founded a scholarship scheme to take care of his desires.
Examples below are the present tense counter of.
He finds a scholarship scheme to take care of his desires.
*He founds a scholarship scheme to take care of his desires.
In short, the apparent formal closeness of (note: “found” and “founds”) is a farce. Users should be wary of look-alike words!
Errors of concord also occur when people over-generalize concord rules. For instance, there is a concord rule that makes it obligatory for the verb in the example below to be in the past tense because of the adverb yesterday.
The spaceship blasted off yesterday.
Nevertheless, the example below is unacceptable because the word-formation rule that correctly generated the example has been over-generalized:
*The astronaut broadcasted from space.
7. Misuse of phonetics and phonology
These arise out of words that pronounced alike, but which are different in spelling and meaning. Examine the following sentences:
- The Judge refused to grant bale to the accused.
- The principal was not around when I came.
Suddenly, the driver lost control and ran into s stationary vehicle.
In each of the sentences, there is a word that has been written instead of another.
In (i) the writer should have written ‘bail’, instead of ‘bale’ which he wrote. In the second sentence, ‘principal’ ought to have been written instead of ‘principle’.
In the third sentence, the writer ought to have used the word ‘stationary’ which means ‘motionless, not ‘moving’.
8. Misuse of Punctuation
Punctuation is a way of making ourselves understood in written form. The way you punctuate your sentences can lead to clarity and it can also lead to confusion or misunderstanding.
Punctuation errors usually impede meaning. For instance, depending upon the choice of punctuation marks the sentence ‘the man said the chairman cannot solve the problem’ can assume different meanings when different punctuation marks are used, as in the following:
- The man said the chairman cannot solve the problem. ( a question as to whether the man said the chairman cannot solve the problem?
- The man, said the chairman, cannot solve the problem (the chairman said the man cannot solve the problem)
- The man said the chairman cannot solve the problem (a statement credited to the man that the chairman cannot solve the problem).
If (2) was the meaning meant by the writer, it would be wrong to punctuate the sentence the way we had in (1) and (2).
At this juncture, a mention must be made of another common error in respect of the word ‘its’. Students are fond of putting an “it’s” apostrophe in ‘its’ therefore using it as a possessive adjective.
The dog wags its tail (it’s here means ‘it is’ and has been wrongly used. The act of writing ‘its’, possessive adjective like this i.e. ‘it’s’ is a very common habit but it is wrong.
The correct form of this word used as a possessive adjective is ‘its’. The sentence should therefore read: The dog wags its tail.