Talk Grammar to Me Tuesday-Errors Caused by How We First Learned Language, Verbs Part 1

We first learn language by listening to language.   We also tend to recreate what we hear as correct/standard grammar in our writing.  For many of us, these are the hardest errors to correct in our writing because what we hear in our heads when we proofread our work sounds correct. It’s what sounds natural or normal to us.  Often, it’s what we hear when we talk with others at home or work, and it’s what we read in our casual texts or emails.

For example, I grew up hearing that things were “out to” a particular place instead of “at” them as in “They have soda out to Walmart for $2.99,” instead of  “They have soda at Walmart for $2.99.” While these non-standard uses can be helpful in some situations, helping us to be included in or accepted by these groups, we need to be able to recognize them and edit them out of our more formal, academic writings. The ability to change the language we use to fit different situations is referred to as code switching.

Here are some of the most common errors that occur when students don’t make the switch to standardized, formal English that’s used in academic writing.  Next Tuesday we will look at a few more of them and how to recognize and correct for them in your writing.

Missing Verb Endings

Because of both of these tendencies, it’s easy to sometimes forget the correct ending (-s, -es, -d, or -ed) on a verb because they aren’t pronounced clearly when spoken.

This happens frequently when a verb ending in -d or -ed is followed by a word which begins with the letter t. The d sound at the end of the verb blends into the t sound at the beginning of the next word. For example, the phrase “supposed to” sounds like “suppost to” which then becomes “suppose to” when we write it.

It often remains incorrect even when we try to proofread or edit our work, because guess what happens?  That’s right! We read over the phrase and in our minds we hear “suppost to” which sounds correct. When you proofread, you have to be careful to make sure that verbs that should be in the past tense actually are written as if they are in the past tense, not just that it sounds as though they are.

Furthermore, if you have two or more verbs in a sentence and one of them ends with -s or -es, that means they all have to end with -s or -es.

Verb Tenses

Another common area where there are differences between how we might speak and what formal academic writing asks of us is in the use of verb tenses.  The way this often presents itself in Eastern Illinois and Western Indiana is with the verb “see.”

If we are using this as a present tense verb, we might write, “I see the dog across the street,” or “We see where to go from here.”

The issue of correctly using the verb arises when we use it in the past tense, however.  Many people in this area have grown up hearing “I seen” or “we seen” as the past tense, as in “I seen the missing dog, ” or “We seen where it went.”

The past tense of “see”, though, is “saw.”  Therefore, the correct construction is actually “I saw” or “we saw.”

If we want to use the word “seen” we need to use it with the helping verbs “have” or “has” as in “I have seen the missing dog, ” or “She has seen the missing dog.”

What to Do

If we have these issues in our writing, the first step to correcting them is understanding that they are errors.  This is the easy part.  The harder part is catching them in our writing and correcting them.  If you find yourself struggling with this, don’t give up.  Realize that it takes time. Learning to read our own writing objectively, as others do, is one of the hardest writing skills to master.

Have you ever thought you knew the lyrics to a song, only to find out later that you’d misheard them?  How many times after that did you still insert the wrong ones when singing along with it afterward? Unless you were making an extra effort to sing the right ones when that point of the song came along, you probably sang in the wrong ones a lot.  It’s reflex. It’s what sounds right to our ear.  The same thing happens in our writing with errors like these, so the first step in fixing  the error




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