Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 8 : 7 July 2008
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
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         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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M. S. Thirumalai


Syntactic Errors in English
Committed by Indian Undergraduate Students

Ali Akbar Khansir, Ph.D. Candidate


In a second language or foreign language situation "errors" explain the learner's inability to use appropriate grammatical structures, semantic categories and other linguistic units. This paper deals with "errors" in second language especially at the sentence level. A test was administered to a group of one hundred college students enrolled in Second Year B.Com at Mysore University. The sentence lays more stress on the structural aspects of language. It aims at developing grammatical competence in learners. This study aims to classify "errors" made by the students at the sentence levels such as: Auxiliary verbs, passive and tenses. The research shows errors committed in the use of auxiliary verbs, passive forms and tenses. The paper suggests remedial measures regarding type of errors committed by the students.

Key words: Errors, auxiliary verbs, passive and tense sentences.

1. Introduction

Grammar has always played a crucial role in language teaching. Language teachers and specialists are of the view that grammar can help first, second and foreign language learners develop linguistic competence as part of communicative competence. Littlewood (1994) mentioned that communication through correct grammar could help learners make a wider and more creative range of meaning choices. Thus he added that "through the grammatical system of language, then communication can become increasingly independent of its setting" (p. 14).

Wilkins (1972) wrote, "Grammar is the means through which linguistic creativity is ultimately achieved." Chomsky (1982, p. 107) mentioned the importance of the notion of grammar rather than notion of language. "I do not know why I never realized that clearly before, but it seems obvious, when you think about it, that the notion of language is much more abstract than the notion of grammar. The reason is that grammars have a real existence, that is, there is something in your brain that corresponds to the grammar. That's got to be true. But there is nothing in the real world corresponding to language. In fact the notion of language might turn out just to be a useless notion."

In this background, this paper attempts to study the syntactic errors committed by the undergraduate students in some selected colleges of the University of Mysore, Karnataka State, India.

Error analysis

Errors are natural for second or foreign learners of English language. Errors hamper communication, which is the main function of language. Sometimes errors committed by second language learners are due to mother tongue interference. Another reason for learners' errors is due to what Richards (1971) mentioned: ignorance of rule restrictions, incomplete application of rules, false concepts hypothesized, developmental errors and over generalization. So, it is very necessary to study the errors and, if possible, offer some suggestions for the improvement of the performance of students in English.

Corder (1967) claimed that the information arrived at through error analysis could be useful to textbook writers, teachers and learners. Analysis of grammatical errors offered significant insight into the nature of difficulties in writing faced by second language learners.

According to Selinker (1972, p. 220) the use of the present instead of the past is the result of a "learning strategy" of simplification, a tendency on the part of the learner to avoid grammatical formatives such as the past tenses forms.

Wyatt (1973) mentioned that 2.5 percent of all errors (106) in tenses related to the use of present simple in a past context or of the past simple in a present context.

Some Indian Scholars' Findings on Errors of Indian Students

Several Indian scholars, who studied the errors committed by groups of Indian students learning English as a Second or Foreign language in India, have reported interesting findings:

Kaur (1993) claimed that some grammatical aspects cause more linguistic problems for the learners than others. Nemser (1971, p. 116) mentioned that the interim grammar constructed by the learner comprise of "the deviant linguistic system actually employed by the learner attempting to utilize the target language".

Nanjaiah (1994) reported that, out of 578 errors in his data in the use of active voice and passive voice, 60 of the errors were found in the wrong use of passive voice. According to Bhatia (1975) one major problem the students seemed to face was the inability to maintain tense continuity across clauses. He added that out of 231 errors in his data in the area of tenses, 69 of the errors related to the use of the simple present instead of the simple past, and 97 of the errors related to the use of the simple past instead of the simple present.

Shielamani (1998) said "many errors committed in the use of auxiliaries by the learners can be explained in terms of interference." He classified the errors related to the heading auxiliary verbs as follows:

  1. Omission of auxiliary.
  2. Faulty insertion of auxiliary.
  3. Wrong form of auxiliary.
  4. Wrong form of verb after auxiliary.
  5. Errors in modal usage.
  6. Unnecessary use of the perfective.
  7. Present or past simple used instead of the perfective.
  8. Progressive used instead of simple tense or do.

Method Adopted in This Study


The subjects for the present study were 100 students enrolled in the second year of B.Com in several colleges under University of Mysore, India. The subjects commenced their studies in July of 2007. The subjects were randomly selected from Day and Evening colleges. Fifty of the students were male and the rest were female.


The Language Proficiency Test (Nelson, series 400B) was used. The test consisted of multiple choice, cloze passage, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation sections. Fifteen students were selected to carry out a pilot test so as to ensure reliability of proficiency. Its reliability through the K-R21 formula turned out to be 0.69.

An English grammar test including auxiliary verbs, passive and tenses were used. The grammar test was designed to be administered to the second year B.Com students. The test was developed by the researcher based on the textbooks of the aforementioned colleges. The test was administered to Day and evening colleges respectively.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Kinship and Gender in Meiteiron | The Use of Layout in Malay Language Newspapers' Front Pages | Exploring Ethnolinguistic Vitality - A Case Study of Lepchas in Dzongu Valley | Tamil Advertisements in Television | The Use of Second Person Pronoun in Tamil and Telugu | Survival of the Minority Kristang Language in Malaysia | Meaning and Technique in Walt Whitman's Poetry | Syntactic Errors in English Committed by Indian Undergraduate Students | Form and Function of Disorders in Verbal Narratives - A Doctoral Dissertation | Problems of Assamese Speakers Learning Manipuri | Stylistic Changes in English-Arabic Translation - With Reference to BBC News Texts | HOME PAGE of June 2008 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Ali Akbar Khansir, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of English
University of Mysore
Mysore 570 006

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