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Proceedings of The Academic Conference of African Scholar Publications & Research International on
New Strategies and Approaches Vol. 5 No. 2. 6th August, 2015- Federal University, Dutse, Student Centre
Hall, Dutse, Jigawa State, Nigeria.
Faculty of General Studies, Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State, Nigeria
The work is an attempt to investigate how and to what extent the students (of
Department of English, Federal University Dutse) are able to master the rules that govern the
acceptable English sentence structure. The paper examines the written works of 100 level and
200 level students who take Eng. 105: Practical Grammar and Eng. 201: Advanced English
Syntax in the Department of English, Federal University Dutse, Nigeria. The researcher having
marked the scripts discovered that, most sentences constructed by some of the students contain
more than one error which James (1998) defines as error ascribe to more than one cause which
operate simultaneously. Errors of varying types are committed. Some of these errors are either
phonological, semantic, while others are lexical or syntactic in nature. It was further revealed
that some of the major causes of these errors are: over – generalization of rules of English
language, bad pronunciation, competent conflict or transfer of mother tongue into second
language among others. Based on these findings appropriate recommendations are made which
the researcher hopes will solve the problems. Also common agreement errors in the scripts
identified and pedagogical means of trying to improve the grammatical ability of these students
would be heighted. Pedagogical suggestions are proffered, how students should be prepared by
the language teacher to express themselves clearly and adequately in writing and speaking.
Keywords: Error, mother tongue, phonological, semantics, over – generalization.
Concord refers to the agreement between all the parts of a sentence, especially between the
subject and verb. For a sentenced to be grammatically correct and meaningful, there must be an
agreement between the subject and the verb. The notion of subject – verb agreement is an
important aspect of language which many students do not understand. There is an undeniable
connection between demonstrable language performance and a proper understanding of the rules
that govern the construction of acceptable grammatical structures.
One of such rules is the rule of concord. A lack of understanding of this phenomenon
(agreement) affects the comprehensibility of both spoken and written forms. Breaking the
grammatical rules can lead to a breakdown in communication or being misinterpreted by your
listeners. Hence, limiting an individual ability to communicate effectively. English, like any
other language has rules that govern acceptable usage in Syntax, Phonology and Semantics
which everyone who speaks it attempts to master. For second language users of English, it
becomes sometimes difficult for such rules to be strictly adhered. It is this kind of problem that
manifest under subject – verb agreement which constitutes a major obstacle in syntax to users of
English as L2. Subject – verb agreement errors relate to the kind of problems that occur in
harmonizing the various parts of a sentence structure in compliance to the rule which states that
the subject of a sentence must agree with other subsequent words in the same sentence both in
number and person. During the course of marking scripts, the researcher discovered serious
grammatical errors in the scripts of some students. The errors ranged from the misuse of tenses,
omission and misuse of articles, noun inflexion, lexical errors, errors in mechanics, spelling
errors and concord errors. This research in centered on errors of concord found in some students
scripts. Most of these errors consisted of disagreement between the number of a subject and the
number of the verb. Examples in the data are:
1a. The boy have come (wrong).
1b. The boy has come (correct).
2a. She have come to see you (wrong).
2b She has come to see you. (correct).
3a The cattle is grazing on the field (wrong).
3b The cattle are grazing on the field (correct).
4a I does not know (wrong).
4b. I do not know (correct).
5a Is the babies sleeping (wrong).
5b Are the babies sleeping (correct) .
6a. The police is coming (wrong).
6b.The police are coming (correct).
7a.There is five students in the class. (wrong).
7b.There are five students in the class. (correct).
8a.Every students like him. (wrong).
8b. Every student likes him. (correct).
9a. The students is in the class(wrong).
9b. The students are in the class(correct).
10a. The classrooms is dirty(wrong).
10b.The classrooms are dirty(correct)
Types of concord
Quirk et al (1985) make a distinction between three types of concord, namely:
a. Grammatical Concord
b. Notional Concord
c. Proximity Concord
Grammatical Concord
Concerning grammatical concord, the most important type of concord in English is subject-verb
agreement which involves, mainly, number and person. For a sentence to be grammatical correct,
all the components of the structure must be in agreement with one another.
For example, the subject must agree with verbs within the sentence.
Proceedings of The Academic Conference of African Scholar Publications & Research International on
New Strategies and Approaches Vol. 5 No. 2. 6th August, 2015- Federal University, Dutse, Student Centre
Hall, Dutse, Jigawa State, Nigeria.
The baby cries every morning.
Babies cry every morning.
It is important to note that the agreement of subject and verb is a very fundamental issue in
language use, competence and effective communication. It becomes problematic when a learner
is made to learn that a singular verb takes“s” or “es” a plural verb does not take the plural
morpheme “s” or “es” Examples:
Singular verb
Plural verb
leaves, goes,
leave, go
sells, brushes
sell, brush
From the examples above, we can see that all singular subjects take singular verbs and all plural
subjects take plural verbs. In sentential terms, these rules can be put thus.
Mary(singular noun)writes(singular verb) every day..
Mary and John( plural noun) write(plural verb) every day.
There is also the phenomenon of agreement of subject and complement. By complement here is
meant a noun or an adjective in the predicate that follows a linking verb. Since the complement
is related to the subject, it should be in agreement with it. For examples:
Mr James is a lecturer.
The women are nurses.
In the sample above there is an agreement between the subjects.
“Mr James” and “ The women” as well as their complements “a lecturer” and “nurses ”
Notional Concord
Notional concord is a type of semantic agreement between the subject of the sentence whose
form is singular but whose meaning involves more than one entity. Notional concord is
agreement base on the idea of number rather than the singular form of the noun. In other words,
if the individuals are considered as a unit, a singular verb is used but when the group is treated as
a collection of individuals a plural verb is used. For example:
The congregation has taken the decision.
The congregation have taken the decision.
Proximity Concord
In proximity concord, the verb agrees with the noun or pronoun that precedes it. In other words,
if one of the two subject phrases co-ordinate is singular and the other is plural, the verb agrees
with that subject which comes after it. That is, the subject nearest to the verb determines whether
the verb would be plural or singular .Examples:
Either Mr David or his children are happy.
Either his children or David is happy.
Problems of Concord with Nouns Ending in – s
There are some nouns that are followed by singular verb even though they carry the plural
morpheme “s”. These nouns are known as singular invariable nouns. Examples are disease and
game names ending in “s” such as: draughts, athletics, gymnastics, billiards measles mumps etc.
Names for things made of two parts such as shorts, pants, spectacles, pliers, scissors, and glasses
are usually used as plural. These nouns which consist of two equal halves joined together are
called summation plural or plural invariable nouns. When the nouns are preceded by a qualifier
such as “a pair of”, a singular verb is used when the nouns are preceded by “two or more pairs
of” a plural verb is used.
For example:
There is a pair of shears on the table.
There are pairs of shears on the table
My shorts are torn.
Noun like police, clergy, cattle take the plural verb, although they lack the “s” or “es” ending.
The police are discipline.
The clergy are meeting today.
Special Cases
The following are some cases that create problems concerning the rule of concord.
1. Expression such as: as well as, accompanied by, along with, in addition to, do not obey
the rule of concord.
For example,
The teacher accompanied by his children has gone home.
2. When the structure” a number of” occurs as a subject, it can be either singular or plural
depending on whether it is preceded by a definite or indefinite article . Examples:
The number of women absent today is ten.
A number of women are absent today.
3. Structures of coordination such as “and” always take a plural verb; but when such
structures contain entities which express a single idea, they take a singular verb.
My brother and medical adviser lives in Kaduna
Yam and stew is served every Saturday.
4. When plural words and phrases are used as titles, quotations, they take the singular verb.
A phrase serving as the subject of a sentence also takes a singular verb.
To treat woman as minors is bad.
Without a Silver Spoon is my best novel.
5. A relative pronoun such as: who, whom, which, that, must agree with its antecedent. That
is, the noun it refers to.
Proceedings of The Academic Conference of African Scholar Publications & Research International on
New Strategies and Approaches Vol. 5 No. 2. 6th August, 2015- Federal University, Dutse, Student Centre
Hall, Dutse, Jigawa State, Nigeria.
John is one of the boys who play here.
Common Errors in Concord
Most agreement errors result from the misuse of the common verbs “have” “do” and “be”. The
students needs to be reminded that the verb “have” appears as “has” if the subject is a singular
noun or if the subject is a third person singular. If the subject is a plural noun or the pronoun I,
you, the verb “have” is used.
She has a book.
I have a book.
Similarly, the verb ”do” appear as “does” if subject is a singular noun or a third person singular
pronoun such as: he, she, it. For example:
James does his homework every day. If subject is a plural noun or the pronoun I, you, they, we,
then “do” is used.
Mary and Mercy do their homework every evening.
Apart from the above errors, it also difficult for the students to make the verb agree in number
with the subject. Hence, violating the important rule that a subject must be in agreement with its
verb and all other subsequent words that come with it in the same sentential structure. For
The salivary glands produces saliva and this is used in softening food substance. The above
sentence is wrong because there is no subject verb agreement. The subject is plural while the
verb is singular. To make both agree, the verb should drop its “s” in order to change its form.
The aim of human language is communication. Human utterances are aimed at achieving
meaningful communication and intelligibility. This is also true of writing where it is expected
that much time is taken before thoughts are put down on paper. Unfortunately it is observed that
many second language learners of English have problems in making the subjects of their
sentences agree with their verbs. In most cases too, it was found out that students find it difficult
to make compound subjects of sentences agree with their verbs. It was also observed that in
many cases, students find it difficult to make complement of sentences agree with their subjects
and with the copula verbs that link them to the subjects.
Pronouns which relate back to nouns in sentence also pose some difficulties for students to
handle. It was
that in some instances, students cannot strike an agreement
between these pronouns and their referents. In summary the inability of students to properly
handle, agreement and concord hinder their ability to communicate effectively.
In order to assist students overcome these difficulties and to improve their grammar, some rules
governing subject – verb agreement would be listed below. This may help reduce the students’
Use a singular verb when the subject of the sentence is singular.
Use a singular verb after indefinite pronouns such as: each, everyone, everybody,
nobody, somebody, and someone etc.
If you use either…or, neither…nor, look at the subject nearest to the verb, if the
subject closest to the verb in singular, use a singular verb and vice versa.
Nouns denoting measurement of money, time and distance require a singular verb.
Two thousand naira is a lot of money.
Ten hours is a long time to wait to see a lawyer.
Word such as: all, both, few, many, always use the plural verb. Students should
know that only the subject affects the verb
In order to reduce these errors at the tertiary institutions, the English teachers at the lower levels
of education have great roles to play. This is because after the curriculum designers, teachers are
implementers of the educational aim. The teachers should be knowledgeable enough to know
the problem areas of Nigerian students and offer useful suggestions. They should be flexible in
their teaching methods so as to help the learners.
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Proceedings of The Academic Conference of African Scholar Publications & Research International on
New Strategies and Approaches Vol. 5 No. 2. 6th August, 2015- Federal University, Dutse, Student Centre
Hall, Dutse, Jigawa State, Nigeria.
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