There is no doubt that the English language is an extremely difficult one to master and this is most certainly evident in the number of intelligent people who frequently make ‘bad Englands’.
In Australia, speech therapists are officially known as speech-language pathologists due to a large proportion of our role involving language-based disorders. In fact, 1.1 million Australians live with this invisible disability which sadly affects all facets of their lives. So being an ‘SLP’ or a ‘Speechie’ actually requires a solid understanding of not only development and disorders but also the English language and its complex rules. This does not mean that we speak or write perfectly. I am as guilty as the next person – bad habits die hard!
It is interesting to identify the theory behind why these errors are so prevalent.
So here are our top 5 English language errors that even smart people make:
1. Me, myself and I
We all understand to use ‘I’ as the subject “I ate the birthday cake” and to use ‘me’ as the object “They gave the birthday cake to me.” However, the problem with these pronouns arises when another person is added to the sentence. In fact, it seems our knowledge of objective and subjective pronouns goes out the window with ‘I’ being used in every scenario.
“My parents gave my sister and me a present for Christmas” will cause many well-meaning relatives or friends will correct the sentence and say “…gave my sister and I…”. However, in this case, ‘me’ (the objective pronoun) is actually correct.
The trick is to say the sentence without the additional person in the sentence eg. “My parents gave (my sister and) ME a present for Christmas.” Sound right? Yep. It works. Try it!
2. Please be more ‘pacific’ with your words…
We have all heard words pronounced incorrectly or been guilty ourselves. Here are a few of our favourites:
- pacific for specific
- Vietmanese for Vietnamese
- secetry for secretary
- misCHIE-vi-ous for mischie-VOUS
Interestingly, these words are all multisyllabic words making them more difficult to pronounce due to the sequencing of sounds across syllables. It may be that these words are mispronounced due to adults having residual speech errors from childhood.
Another theory is that it is the result of poor language modelling. Other adults (parents, teachers, members of community) say the word incorrectly and the vicious cycle continues.
3. It’s more or less right…
Many errors continue because they are not corrected by the people around them.
You may not know it is a mistake, or others may know it’s incorrect, but not bother nagging. It is then reinforced by the world around them making the same errors day in and day out.
One case is supermarket advertising which consistently uses the term “10 items or less” when they should in fact have signs that say “10 items or fewer” as you can count the items individually.
Many errors become accepted as common usage despite being incorrect. Am I being pedantic?
4. Sang…Sung! Tomato…Tomato!
OK, ready for a grammar lesson?
In English, we have regular past tense verbs where we add -ed to the end of words like in walk-walked. We also have irregular past tense words where the word changes such as run-ran. Unlike children who say “I buyed it” or “Mum bringed me to school”, most adults have irregular past tense verbs pretty much sorted bar a few exceptions.
So what are the past tense forms of these words?
Sing – is it sang or sung? Sink – is it sank or sunk? Ring – is it rang or rung?
Well the answer is it can be either, depending how it is used! Sung, sunk and rung are known as past participles meaning they cannot stand alone and must have an auxiliary verb or ‘helper verb’ with them. For example, it is not “I sung the nursery rhyme.” It is “I sang the nursery rhyme” but can be “I have sung the nursery rhyme.”
Make sense? So…
Who sank the boat? The boat would have sunk regardless of which animal hopped in last.
5. Sounds right but it’s wrong!
Irregardless is not a word. It is simply ‘regardless’ – where you have a lack of regard for something (less of it). Regardless of your language background or socioeconomic status, this particular error is an extremely common one.
Perhaps it stems from an overgeneralisation of the ‘ir’ prefix. In other words that begin with ‘r’, you do add this ‘ir’ prefix to make the antonym – ‘irrespective’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘irreversible’. However, regardless of the reasons why we misuse this word, irregardless is not a word.
What we say matters
Language is learnt through modelling. It is the example that we model to our children and will in turn be modelled to our children’s children. What we say is also what we write and eventually in time what we will read.
So mind your p’s and q’s when you’re speaking 😊 so we can break the cycle of errors and maintain the integrity of our very complex English language.
Do you have any pet peeves that set your teeth on edge when you hear them? If so, leave a comment below. We’d love to hate them too!