Syntactic Mistakes in Writing

Keywords: syntactic errors, syntactic problems in english


When the English colonised the then Malaya, British was found in the colonial administration. English was the countrywide terms in Malaya and it was used as medium of instruction in English colleges. When Malaya gained self-reliance in 1957, the role of English as the state language lowered and Bahasa Melayu substituted English as the national language and medium of teaching in academic institutions. In schools, British is recognized as the second vocabulary. The official position of English in Peninsular Malaysia ceased after 31st August 1967, in Sabah was after Sept 1973 and in Sarawak was after Sept 1985. (Asmah Haji Omar, 2003)

Even though English is the next terms in Malaysia and it is still used in mostly cities, however, many people feel that the younger years of Malaysians are not proficient in the language. There's a great difference in English proficiency among metropolitan and rural university students even though they talk about the same syllabus. This may be because mother tongue and Bahasa Malaysia are widely used in the rural community compared to English.

Problem Statement

Many educators and researchers found that many students in Malaysia have problems in writing syntactically correct British sentence. This may be because of their exposure to the terminology is reduced than the contact with the national vocabulary, Bahasa Malaysia or is because of the effect of the mother tongue and Bahasa Malaysia.

Saadiyah Darus and Khor (2009) looked into written British essays of Form 1 Chinese students in a university in Perak and they found that their content made numerous syntactic errors in their essays. Mistakes on tense composed of 121 of mistakes and subject verb agreement contains 87 errors. Thus, they assumed that the mistakes made by their things are because of the influence with their first words and also anticipated to dilemma on the British grammar guidelines because some guidelines in British do not exist in their mother tongue or first terminology.

Saadiyah Darus and Kaladevi Subramaniam (2009) examined written English essays of Form 4 students in a college in Semenyih, Selangor plus they found that the majority of their content made blunders in singular/plural form accompanied by verb tense and more. They concluded that their content have problems acquiring normal grammatical guidelines in English.

There are two aims for this analysis. The first objective is to recognize the common syntactic errors in compositions written by upper secondary- specifically Form four students. The next objective is to identify the reasons the subjects committed the errors.


Twenty two essays on 'Activities injuries and its own prevention' were accumulated from 22 form four students from a secondary school in Petaling Jaya. A couple of 12 Malays, 3 Chinese language and 7 Indian students in this school. These students are considered as of high or high intermediate effectiveness. The students are all males and they're from the high grade of the fourth form plus they all came from national type college that uses Bahasa Malaysia as the primary medium of teaching. The essays were then marked and analysed for the common errors the subject matter committed.

Type of Errors

Number of Person

Subject Verb Agreement










Table 1: Kind of Errors


Correct Form

Here some basic rules for accident prevention.

Here are some standard rules for personal injury prevention.

There is a lot of sports in the world.

There are a great deal of sports on earth.

Rules, apart from keeping the video games reasonable, is also to make the sports safer for everyone.

Rules, apart from keeping the game titles good, are also to make the sports safer for everybody.

These steps is important in avoiding injuries.

These steps are essential in preventing accidental injuries.

There are a few ways to prevent this accidental injuries.

There are few ways to prevent these accidents.

Table 2: Examples of errors in subject matter verb agreement

According to the findings, the most common error made by the students is the topic verb agreement. Fourteen out of 22 students have problems in subject verb agreements. Most of the students have no idea when to use is/are and was/were. For example, "These steps is important in protecting against injuries". This pupil used 'is' rather than 'are' might be because he does not know the distinctions between 'is' and 'are' so when to use the correct verb. Students have problems in differentiating the verbs because in Chinese language and Mandarin, there can be an absence of arrangement between things and verbs in the dialects and this could cause the students to commit problems on subject verb agreement. (Saadiyah Darus & Khor, 2009)

Maros et al (2007) examined the disturbance in learning British among form 1 students in Malaysia and they found that most of their subject committed grammatical errors because of the disturbance of Bahasa Malaysia. In Bahasa Malaysia, there is absolutely no such subject matter verb agreement rule that requires inflections predicated on the amount of subjects. For example when "He takes on hockey" is translated into Bahasa Malaysia, it will be "Dia main bola keranjang". Even though 'dia' is one third person singular, in Bahasa Malaysia, there is no need to add the suffix -s following the phrase 'main'. Hence, the subject matter were perplexed on when to add the suffix -s which led to numerous subject verb agreement mistakes in their essays.

Subject verb arrangement errors are incredibly common among second terms learners. Even academics make mistakes in subject matter verb arrangement in their academics documents. Flowerdew (2001) talked about that subject matter verb agreement among the common problems in papers published by non-native writers of English. (Ting, Mahanita Mahadhir & Chang, 2010) Hence, it is not surprising to discover that the most frequent error made by the students in this analysis is subject matter verb contract.


Correct Form

According to athletics injuries statistics of 2009, the highest volume of sport incidents reported was sports which is then accompanied by rugby and golf ball.

According to athletics injuries information of 2009, the highest number of sport injury reported was sports that was then followed by rugby and hockey.

We can also have serious injuries where we get knocked out like in rugby and conclude in the hospital.

We can also have serious traumas where we acquired knocked out like in rugby and ended up in a healthcare facility.

Warm muscles are less vunerable to injuries.

Warmed muscles are less susceptible to injuries.

The stand shown the amount of sport traumas in sports is higher than the other activities.

The table implies that the amount of sport injury in soccer is higher than the other activities.

It employs by rugby that has the second highest ratio.

It is accompanied by rugby that has the second highest percentage.

Table 3: Types of mistakes on tenses

Next is the problem on tenses, whereby 13 out of 22 students made mistakes on tenses. Saadiyah Darus and Khor (2009) examined the four most usual problems in writings of form 1 Chinese students and they found that errors on tense are the second highest total number of problems in the analysis after mechanics of writing. They found that the result is unsurprising because the British notion of tense is something puzzling to second dialect learners. This is because, in Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia, there is no indication of time in their verbs when compared with British that has present, previous, future and ongoing tenses. Besides that, it can be assumed that some students have no idea of the different rules of tenses program. (Saadiyah Darus & Kaladevi Subramaniam, 2009) Another reason might be because in Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia, words are added before the verb showing the time of the action. (Ting, Mahanita Mahadhir & Chang, 2010) Hence, students have problems in creating sentences with accurate tenses.

Wee (2009) found that Asian students have a tendency to use the stem types of the verbs in all contexts irrespective of their tense. It is because Bahasa Malaysia does not have any linguistic device like verb inflections to show overdue. So, the Malay students often use the stem of types of the verbs to be able to simplify the prospective language rules and reduce their linguistic burden or learning fill (Wee, 2009). "Warmed muscles are less vunerable to injury" in Bahasa Malaysia would be "Otot-otot yang telah panas tidak mudah mengalami kecederaan". The word 'telah' shows the tense of the sentence in Bahasa Malaysia whereas in British, we need to add the suffix -ed showing the past tense of the phrase. Therefore, the content will usually omit the tense because they don't know when to add the suffix -ed.


Correct Form

We can prevent traumas if we maintain a proper health when participating in a sport.

We can prevent injury if we are in an effective health when participating in a sport.

Frequent training and conditioning can prove useful in a long run.

Frequent training and fitness proven to be useful in an extended run.

The first way to prevent sport accidents is maintain proper physical condition to try out a sport.

The first way to prevent sport injuries is usually to be in proper health to try out a sport.

The athletes should got properly train for the sport.

The athletes should learn properly for the sport.

Table 4: Examples of mistakes on auxiliary

Results show that lots of students have problems in using the appropriate auxiliary in their compositions. They often used the incorrect form of modals. For example, the majority of the students had written "We can prevent accidents if we maintain a proper physical condition when participating in a sport" instead of "We can prevent accidental injuries if we are in a proper physical condition when playing a sport". This implies that many students didn't know the correct use of auxiliary verb. Ali Akbar Khansir (2008) looked into syntactic errors in English devoted by Indian undergraduates and he found that problems on auxiliary were the next highest error determined by his subject matter. His study exposed that there is a lack of knowledge of auxiliary verb guidelines among his subject matter.


Correct Form

For example, in rugby we should wear a mouth area guards to avoid our mouth area or tooth from traumas.

For example, in rugby we must wear a mouth area guard to prevent our mouth or teeth from accidental injuries.

A sportsmen can do this by doing regular exercises, eating proper food and doing regular practice.

A sportsman can do this by doing regular exercises, eating proper food and doing regular techniques.

These safety products such as ball guards, helmets and etc are made to prevent injury.

These safe practices gears such as ball guards, helmets and etc are designed to prevent accidental injuries.

There are many reason they got injured.

There are many reasons they got damaged.

This is basically because most of the athlete didn't warm-up before participating in.

This is because almost all of the athletes didn't warm-up before playing.

Table 5: Types of mistakes on singular/plurals

Ten students made mistakes on singular and plurals. Most of them have no idea when to apply the suffix -s when it is a plural noun. This may be due to the lack of plural marker for a noun in Bahasa Malaysia. (Saadiyah Darus & Kaladevi Subramaniam, 2009) Some students might be aware of the lifestyle of singular and plural nouns, but probably they are simply puzzled on when they have to use singular or plural nouns. For instance, "A couple of multiple reasons they got harmed" when translated into Bahasa Malaysia will be "Terdapat banyak punca mereka cedera". In Bahasa Malaysia, the word 'banyak' reveals many, so 'banyak punca' means 'many reasons'. However, in English, we must apply the suffix -s showing that 'there a wide range of reasons'.


Correct Form

During the year 2009, the highest variety of sport injuries was sports.

In the year 2009, the best range of sport incidents was soccer.

For the final outcome, there a wide range of ways to avoid injuries whenever we are playing sports.

In summary, there are extensive ways to prevent injuries whenever we are playing sports activities.

For example, our country's famous countrywide football player, Mokhtar Dahari, retired in his basketball career at such a get older because of his leg injury.

For example, our country's famous national football player, Mokhtar Dahari, retired from his sports job at such a young time because of his leg injury.

Last but not least, avoid participating in when you are in worn out or in pain.

Last however, not least, avoid participating in when you are tired or in pain.

Sports can be divided to numerous categories such as indoor sports, outdoor sports and aquatic athletics.

Sports can be divided into many categories such as inside sports, outdoor sports activities and aquatic sports activities.

Table 6: Types of problems on preposition

Error on preposition is the least error made by the students. Only eight out of 22 students made errors on preposition. Problem on preposition happens might be due to interference of students' L1 and Bahasa Malaysia. It is because some of the prepositions in Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia have similar meanings and functions with the prepositions in English. Hence, students might be confused which preposition to be uses in their writing because sometimes a preposition in Bahasa Malaysia can be translated into different English prepositions. (Saadiyah Darus & Khor, 2009) Ting and acquaintances (2010) examined college or university students' grammatical errors in spoken English and they found that, their subject matter made the most problems in preposition and this signifies that the content are uncertain of the right utilization of the prepositions in the correct settings. The exact same problem occurs in students' writings because the students are uncertain of the correct consumption of the prepositions.


According to the info accumulated, 14 students made errors on subject verb agreement, 13 on tenses, 10 on auxiliary, 10 on singular/plural verb and 8 on prepositions. The reasons students made these mistakes might be due to the influence with their mother tongue or first terminology. Another reason might be because the things are mixed up with the rules of grammar use.

Every Form four learner in the Malaysian education system follows the same British terms syllabus provided by the Ministry of Education of Malaysia. The current syllabus has been used since 2003. The syllabus is split into two sections; the foremost is 'Learning Effects and Requirements' and the second section is 'Language Content'. Beneath the language content, there is a set of grammatical items which the teacher has to teach in category. They are simply nouns, articles, adjectives, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, connectors, sentences and punctuation. So, every grammatical item is covered under the syllabus however the subjects still end up having the grammar rules. Therefore, students should be produced aware of the grammar guidelines and the instructors should make sure their students know how the grammar guidelines and apply them in their writings.

There are some limitations in this analysis. First, the students were picked based on their proficiency and not based on ethnicity, so it is not easy to find out whether students' mom tongue or first terms affect the students' control of English. Secondly, students' compositions should be marked by more than one marker so the result will be more reliable. Thirdly, this analysis was conducted in an urban secondary school where English is used widely in the community. So, the result of the study will not indicate that students in Malaysia commit the same mistakes and also have the same reasons behind the mistakes. Thus, this analysis can be advanced by taking these factors under consideration.


In final result, by discussing prior studies and the results of the info gathered, most students in Malaysia commit syntactic mistakes in their written compositions. Hence, educators play an important role in instructing the students the correct kinds of the language. They are able to incorporate sentence structure lessons into their English lessons and device interesting video games and exercises to instruct their students sentence structure. Many students and instructors acknowledge the fact that sentence structure lessons are monotonous and most professors will try to avoid grammar lessons because the students aren't considering learning them. However, if instructors are able to device interesting lessons plans for his or her sentence structure lessons, students will be very interested and will participate actively in category.

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