Errors in Past Tense Marking: A Study of Primary 5 Children in Singapore

Yip Lai Ching Violet

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2004


This Academic Exercise investigated patterns of errors in past tense marking among children in Singapore, to offer teachers a better understanding of how to correct tense errors in children's writing. It looked at the aspectual classes of the verbs, their morpho-phonological features, as well as the grammatical features of the clauses in which the verbs appeared. The thesis is primarily quantitative in nature, using the chi-square test to ascertain the significance of the patterns found in each of the three areas of investigation.

The research found that errors in past tense marking were not predictable from the aspectual classes of the verbs in any statistically significant way. Grammatical features were also not significant factors in contributing to the patterns of past tense errors. Only morpho-phonological factors yielded statistically significant results, and could therefore be used to predict errors in past tense marking. These findings suggest that native language influences from the students' home languages play an important role in determining how children use the past tense. This, in turn, suggests that teachers need to be more aware of how English differs from Chinese and Malay and to relate this awareness to their teaching of grammar.