Concord in English Grammar. Problems and Recommendations for Senior High School Students

Master's Thesis, 2015

132 Pages






Table of contents


List of Tables

List of figures


1.0 Introduction
1.1 Background to the study
1.2 Statement of the problem
1.3 Purpose of the study
1.4 Research objectives
1.5 Research questions
1.6 Limitations of the study
1.7 Delimitations of the study
1.8 Significance of the study
1.9 Organization of the study
1.10 Theoretical Framework

2.0 Introduction
2.1 Attitudes towards Grammar instruction
2.2 Student expectations on grammar instruction
2.3 The use of grammatical terminology
2.4 Concord
2.5 Aspects of concord and their underlying principles
2.6 Difficulties of studying concord
2.7 English grammatical concord in perspective
2.8 Summary

3.0 Introduction
3.1 Research Design
3.2 Population of the study
3.3 Sample
3.4 Instrumentation
3.5 Using the research instruments
3.6 Validity and Reliability
3.7 Demographic Characteristics of the research participants
3.8 Conclusion

4.0 Introduction
4.1 Difficulties SHS students encounter in studying concord
4.2 Performance analysis of concord learning difficulties among students
4.3 Why SHS students encounter difficulties in studying concord
4.4 How SHS students can be helped to overcome their problems in studying concord
4.5 Performance analysis of students in intervention tests
4.6 Overall performance index
4.7 Summary

5.0 Introduction
5.1 Summary of findings
5.1.1 What difficulties do senior high school students encounter in studying concord in English ?(Research Qn. one)
5.1.2 Why do senior high school students encounter difficulties in studying concord in English ? (Research Qn. two)
5.1.3 How can senior high school students be helped to overcome difficulties in studying concord in English?(Research Qn. three)
5.2 Recommendations
5.3 Summary




I, BAKUURO JUSTINE , hereby declare that apart from the references to other people’s works which have been duly acknowledged, this research is the result of my own effort and that it has neither in whole nor in part been presented elsewhere.


I hereby declare that the preparation of this research was supervised by me in accordance with the guidelines for the supervision of research laid down by the School of Graduate Studies, University of Education, Winneba.

Supervisor’s Name: DR. PAUL NAAH YEMEH


I profoundly pay homage to He that giveth my unworthy self the gift of knowledge to pursue this course. It is He who also granted me good health and the needed resources to complete this course. Thank you, ever-merciful Father in Heaven.

I am equally heavily indebted to my caring, inspiring and hardworking supervisor, Dr. Paul Naah Yemeh, who saw to the effective and timely completion of this work. Doc, your invaluable contributions to this work are very much appreciated. May the good Lord bless you abundantly and give you long life!

To the workers in the Department of English Education, University of Education, Winneba, I say “kudos” for the warm reception you offered and continue to offer me each time I come there for whatever assistance. Your affable nature is unmatched and your words of encouragement to me would never be forgotten. Dr. Armah Abrafi (H.O.D), auntie Lizzy, auntie Pearl, sister Dzidzorm and all others present, I say thank you, thank you and thank you very much. May the Good Lord, the great rewarder of kindness, grant you all your hearts’ desires.


I dedicate this work to my late father, Chrysantus Bakuuro, whose tireless efforts in preparing me for life have seen me this far. Dad, may the Good Lord keep your humble soul in restful eternity. I further dedicate it to my caring mother, Janet. I dedicate it also to my lovely wife and children: Madam Mercy, Callistus, Cadjetan and Catherine.


1 :Pre-intervention test for students

2 intervention test for students

3 :Post-intervention test for students

4(a) : Answered pre-intervention test for students

4(b) : Answered pre-intervention test for students

5 : Intervention exercise leading to the intervention test

6(a) : Answered intervention test for students

6(b) : Answered intervention test for students

7: Intervention exercise prior to post-intervention test

8(a) Answered post-intervention test for students

8(b) Answered post-intervention test for students


1. Performance of students on subject-verb concord in pre-intervention test

2. Performance of students on verb-verb concord in pre-intervention test

3. Performance of students on noun-pronoun concord in pre-intervention test

4. Performance of students on point of time past-verb concord in pre-intervention test

5. Students’ performance in pre-intervention test

6. Students’ performance in intervention test

7. Students’ performance in post-intervention test


1. Bar Chart showing students’ performance in pre-intervention test

2. Bar Chart showing students’ performance in intervention test

3 Bar Chart showing students’ performance in post-intervention test

4 Bar Chart showing Overall Error Index in the intervention tests


The major problem investigated in this study is the difficulties senior high school two students of Islamic and Wa senior high schools encounter in the use of concord in English grammar. The purpose of the study was to identify these concord learning challenges, find out why those challenges exist and find appropriate ways to help the students. The instruments used to collect data were intervention tests. The research design included pre-intervention, intervention and post-intervention. The study discovered that most of the students could not apply the rules of concord correctly. They had very serious problems with subject-verb concord. Most students applied concord rules correctly to a very large extent after they were taken through the rules guiding concord in the intervention procedure. In conclusion, this research has proved that an intervention procedure is very important in assisting students to overcome their concord learning challenges.



1.0 Introduction

Without grammar, English-and all other languages-would be gibberish. Grammar- the art of writing and speaking correctly by adhering to usage standards and rules- allows people to communicate.

Without common form and structure and left to their own devices, people would not understand each other’s word order or sentence construction. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the prescriptive approach to grammar, in which rules had to be memorized and sentences parsed, has been replaced with a descriptive approach, in which analysis and observation are key concepts of language change and development. When learning a foreign language, it is imperative to study the grammar to understand how it is structured, that is, whether it is generally descriptive or prescriptive by nature. In concord analysis, rules are clearly spelled out and grammatical accuracy is measured by ones adherence to these rules (prescriptive grammar).

This study sought to dig deep into the problems that learners of concord in English come face to face with in their academic exploration. The study further questioned why these learning challenges exist and winded up on feasible measures to reduce, if not eliminate, these challenges.

1.1 Background to the Study

Language, as a tool for communication, is as old as time itself. From the stone age era till date, man has made conscious efforts at governing language by setting standards or rules which would define accuracy in language use. Without conforming to rules, the primary function of language as a tool for communication may be compromised since meaning can be changed merely by the addition or ommission of even just a little element in a grammatical structure. It is, thus, imperative for the language user to aim at bettering his/her language by following prescribed rules.

The purification or betterment of a language largely depends on the efficient and careful enactment of its rules of grammar. By the bettering of a language, one understands little else than the extensive teaching of its just forms, according to analogy and the general custom of the most accurate writers. This teaching however, may well embrace also, or be combined with, an exposition of the various forms of false grammar by which inaccurate writers have corrupted, if not the language itself, at least their own style in it. It is only in cases susceptible of a rule, that any writer can be judged deficient. One can censure no man for differing from him, till he can show him a principle which he ought to follow. The rules in English grammar must, thus, be observed if we are to avoid having our students grope in the dark regarding grammar and usage or holding them to ransom for wrong usage. Rule observation in English Grammar underscores the primary aim of the subject concord which bewitches many students of a second language, including those of the Queen’s Language.

Grammar plays a central role in the use of every language. The English Language, just like any other language, is crafted to a large extent, on grammatical rules and guidelines. Hardly can one make a correct statement in English without the interplay of one grammatical rule or the other. Many students, especially those who learn English as a second language (L2), are mostly caught in the web of these rules. Concord, unarguably, plays a major role in the right application of grammatical rules without which one would be lost in speaking good or acceptable English. A great percentage of the errors found in our students’ essays are concord - related. Basically, a good English student must be one who has a good grasp of concord. Despite the frantic efforts and energies that educators, particularly English educators, have invested into putting students right on the path of concord and English Grammar for that matter, much has not been achieved in this endeavor. English language teachers should have kept this problem at bay but the problem still persists, if not in an even higher dimension. Also, the presence of sophisticated learning avenues such as language laboratories and censored recordings of native speakers among others as well as the comparatively high percentage of speakers and users of the English language the world over today, do not seem to provide any respite in checking this grammatical deficiency.

In Ghana, English is used as an official language and the medium of instruction in our schools from the upper primary level to all higher levels. Sey (1973 p.8) says, “A single grammatical error in the speech of a public speaker, even if it is immediately corrected, is an almost indelible stigma on his public image”. The need to study English is, therefore, crucial for students as well as sectors of the population since it is the main medium of instruction for official work and international communication. English language at the senior high school (SHS) level is to give students the confidence as they communicate in the language. Students at the senior high school level are to study some essential rules governing the use of English language.

In fact, the general aims of teaching English as a subject at the senior high school level, according to the Ministry of Education Teaching Syllabus for English (Senior High School), September 2007, include among others to: language learner can rise above grammatical errors if a number of critical factors are observed.

According to Lord (2011), a well-known Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher, the standard of taste, both in arts and in manners, is “The common sense of mankind.” This means that man’s determination of good or bad depends on man’s strict adherence to rules and norms found to be useful to him. The poor nature in which students tackle problems relating to English grammar in general and the rules of concord in particular, gives cause for worry. Our students’ neglect or inappropriate use of grammatical rules in the English language could be called to question since it will be an obvious departure from the norm as expatiated by Brown (2004) and Lord (2011). For us to maintain the age-old purity of the Queen’s language, we must seek, assiduously, to address some of the drawbacks that confront learners, especially about the grammar of it, which in the opinion of Lord, will pass for the English grammarian’s application of common sense.

Campbell (2006) indicates: “In what regards the laws of grammatical purity, violation is much more conspicuous than the observance.” The non-adherence of students to rules, especially second language (L2) students of English, remains a long­standing challenge to English writers and educators who tirelessly work for the development and sanctity of the language.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Researchers have debated whether grammar should be taught in the classroom and students, for their part, have generally looked upon grammar instruction as a necessary evil at best and an avoidable burden at worse.

Concord, a central aspect of English grammar, has become very problematic among the students of today in general and the senior high school students in particular. Generally, the subject “concord” is categorized into four thematic areas under which all issues relating to concord in English fall. These four thematic areas include subject-verb, verb-verb, noun-pronoun and point of time past-verb concord. Students are unable to match the appropriate verbs with their subjects in terms of number. Just imagine a Senior High School (S.H.S) two student making a statement such as:

The students knows their rights.

This is a gross violation of the rules of English grammatical concord. Among other violations of concord rules, the researcher in his interaction with English students (as he teaches English language) observed the following:

1. I does all my homework, sir!
2. Two thousand cedis are not enough for me.
3. Each of us have a red pen.

This is exactly the situation among our senior high school students today. It is very worrisome, given that the English language is the springboard on which all other subjects can be learnt. It is the official language of instruction in Ghana and if students fail to grasp its rudiments such as concord, then one would be right to conclude that the entire educational system is in jeopardy.

Indeed, this messy situation has also been observed by Widdowson (1990). He observed that students at the senior high level in particular commit concord errors across all the four key dimensions of concord: Subject - Verb, Verb - Verb, Noun - Pronoun and Point - of - time - past - Verb concord. He adds that these errors range from proximity to grammatical concord, pronoun and its antecedent to headword identification in complex noun phrases, the s-inflection to demonstrative pronouns, adjectives as headwords to two titles for one person and so on.

A learner of the English language must learn the rules with precision so that he or she does not soil his/her image whenever the person expresses himself or herself. These errors do not exclude concord.

According to the 9th June, 2001 edition of the Daily Graphic, which carried the caption: “WAEC nails Government, parents for students’ failure in English”, it was reported that WAEC- released studies at the time had traced the poor performance of candidates in English to poor construction and concord errors. The report further reiterates that the poor performance of the candidates in the May/June WASSCE within the period had declined with mass failures recorded in English language.

The newspaper therefore went further to reveal an intriguing statistics about students’ poor performance in English language. The statistics indicates that in 2001, of the total number of students who wrote the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in Nigeria, 41.13% failed in English. In the year 2002, the percentage failure was 40.18%.The same thing can be said about the abysmal performance put up by students in external written examinations in Ghana. The English language which is the official language in the country should therefore be properly taught in schools to enable the students to express themselves well in both spoken and written English. One aspect of grammar that not only students, but all users of English, need very much to communicate well and write good English language as their second language is concord. This concord problem manifests itself when the students ask or answer questions, both in and outside the classroom as well as in their writing and speaking. The difficulty of the students in the study and use of concord is probably as a result of the inability of the students to adequately grasp the rules governing it.

Another confirmation of this problem is the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) (school candidates) May/June 2006 Chief Examiner’s Report. In a summary of candidates’ weaknesses, the chief examiner for English has the following to say:

The general performance of the candidates revealed that many of them have still not grasped the rudiments of English Language. The performance of the majority was disappointing.

They observed among others, the following:

A. Poor syntactic structures or faulty constructions.
B. Wrong application of subject-verb and pronoun antecedent agreements.
C. Use of wrong tenses.

The conclusion drawn from the above revelation attests to the fact that the difficulties students have as regards the study and use of concord are, undeniably, a contributory factor to the poor performance in core English Language at the senior high school level in general. It is against this background that this researcher has set out to investigate the difficulties faced by students as far as the study and use of concord are concerned at the senior high school level with specific reference to Wa Senior High school and Islamic Senior High, both in the Upper West region of Ghana.

This mess in English Grammar, which many learners especially those of Senior High School, are battling with is what the researcher sets out to investigate. As has been discussed above, various authorities, including the West African Examinations council (WAEC), have all identified concord as a major problem confronting students of the senior high in particular and all other levels in general.

Though the findings of these authorities are general in nature, they reflect the exact situation in our schools. Performance of students in the study schools in this work have been abysmal over the years and the researcher wants to investigate the exact problems, find out the underlying causes and find the way forward.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The study basically attempted to find out why students encounter difficulties in studying concord which is an integral part of English grammar. It further sought to discover how these difficulties encountered by students could be remedied. Available literature under review in this work points out that students encounter a myriad of challenges in studying concord and researchers have suggested antidotes to these challenges. There are, however, many types of difficulties that students encounter in studying concord and there are many more effective and feasible ways by which students can be helped out of the situation. It is in this context that the present study was undertaken to capture valuable insights into how students of concord could be salvaged from these difficulties. This study also aimed to add to the knowledge base in the area of concord.

1.4 Research objectives

The objectives in this research are to find out the following:

a. the difficulties senior high school students encounter in studying concord in English,
b. the reasons why senior high school students encounter difficulties in studying concord in English and
c. feasible ways of helping senior high school students to overcome their problems in understanding concord in English.

1.5 Research Questions

This study aimed at finding solutions to the following key questions:

1. What difficulties do Senior High School students encounter in studying concord in English?
2. Why do Senior High School students encounter difficulties in studying concord in English?
3. How can Senior High School students be helped to overcome their problems in understanding concord in English?

1.6 Limitations of the Study

The researcher encountered a lot of problems to get the data for this work. In the first place, the worst of the problems encountered by the researcher was that the students, especially those at Wa Senior High school, did not want to cooperate with the researcher for fear that he needed the information from them for something sinister, as they were of the view that he wanted the information about them to be sent to either the District Education Office or the Regional Education Office since the researcher was working in the Ghana Education Service. He had to show his Student Identification Card which showed that he was a student doing a Master’s program at the University of Education, School of Foreign Languages and Communication, before their fears were somehow allayed.

Also, he had financial constraints. There were certain times when the researcher could not go to conduct the exercises as a result of lack of money. Moving all the way from Winneba to Wa to conduct the intervention tests put a lot of financial constraints on the researcher.

Again, as a teacher of English myself at the senior high level, some biases may have affected the kind of questions and responses I solicited from participants in the study. This is because I already have my own views and experiences regarding the topic “concord”.

Finally, using students who predominantly belong to the Dagaare/Waali language grouping because the two schools are situated in Wa, may not have exposed the inter-language variety of concord problems among students. It is possible that L1- induced concord errors may vary from one language to another and so if one of the schools used in this study was to be dominated by a completely different language grouping, e.g Fanti, these variations could have shown in the findings.

1.7 Delimitations of the Study

This study centered on one distinct class of respondents-students in senior high school. Concord is a topic under core English language and so all senior high school students learn concord. One hundred and forty (140) form two students of both Wa Senior High School and Islamic Senior High, Wa, were given a total of 150 written grammar exercises from where concord errors were identified and analysed.

The sample size of one hundred and forty (140) for students was deemed appropriate as the written grammar exercises of these students conveniently unveiled the concord complexities which kill “The English in our students”. Apart from the fact that the information from them was sufficient for this study, the time constraints did not allow for a bigger sample size if analysis was to be thorough.

Concord is learnt at almost every stage of the English student’s academic ladder. Unarguably, the Senior High School level is the most crucial and critical as far as one’s progression or otherwise in the academic field is concerned in Ghana. This informed the researcher’s choice of Senior High School two students who are the “mid-baked men” of knowledge at the Senior High level and not any other class of learners. This study was by nature qualitative.

1.8 Significance of the Study

The review of literature showed that active students of the English language are caught up in the web of grammatical concord regarding the mastery and appropriate enactment of its rules and terminologies.

Admittedly, a wide range of difficulties come the way of the concord learner and identifying such difficulties for learners and teachers alike to be consciously aware of their ways would help them (teachers and students) find ways of overcoming them for effective grammar learning and instruction.

Admittedly, there has been some investigation of the difficulties faced by students in the area of English concord. However, students may face diverse challenges in this area for different reasons and there may be many more different remedial strategies to arrest this situation. For instance, some teachers of grammar employ theoretically recommended methods without necessarily taking into account they and their learners’ potential difficulties. Teachers may not be conscious of difficulties which are serious and may thus hinder students’ learning of English grammar and do not choose the method of instruction that would pose fewer difficulties and problems to their learners.

It is in this context that the present study was undertaken to capture valuable insights into how the difficulties students of concord in English grammar encounter and how they could be helped out of these difficulties. Teachers of English grammar, by this study, are furnished with the reasons for the difficulties students encounter which will serve as the benchmark for effective teaching and learning.

The study also primarily aimed to add to the stock of knowledge in the field of concord.

1.9 Organization of the Study

The study was organized into five (5) chapters. Chapter One was the Introduction to the study whilst Chapter Two discussed Literature Review. Chapter Three looked at the Methodology for this research and Chapter Four contained the Discussion of Research Findings. Finally, the Summary and Recommendations of the study came under Chapter Five.

1.10 Theoretical Framework

By the nature of the subject concord, which is a rule-governed enclave within the terrain of English grammar, one would easily and rightly so, conclude that the topic belongs to the traditional grammar theory in which language is prescriptive rather than descriptive as early on indicated. With the operations of the rules of concord, it is abundantly obvious that concord depends on the Dependency Grammar Theory.

Beason (2005) indicates that, “Concord is prescriptive by nature as its rules maintain the correct dependency of lexis to make grammatical sense”.

The dependency grammar theory, dating back to the middle-ages and still useful today, starts from the premise that words “depend” on each other for the sentence to make sense. The structure of a language is determined by looking at the relationship between a primary word and its dependents. This theory of grammar competency works very well with German/Dutch and English, which allow for word order mobility.

Relatedly, concord is concerned with the rightful combination of lexis or words in a sentence to make both social and grammatical sense. Across the four dimensions of concord, word-order dependency is the key thing and hence, the application of the dependency grammar theory in this work.



2.0 Introduction

The English teacher is often portrayed as an “unattractive grammar monger whose only pleasure in life is to point out the faults of others” (Baron, 1982, p. 226). For the most part within the classroom, any mention of grammar causes the student moments of discomfort and sometimes even terror. Many teachers have tried to make grammar teaching a non-threatening, imaginative and useful activity within the English curriculum.

Previous studies on students’ and teachers’ attitudes and perceptions of grammar instruction in the context of language teaching and learning suggest a disparity between students and teachers. While students favor formal and explicit grammar instruction and error correction, teachers favor communicative activities with less conscious focus on grammar (e.g., Brindley 1984; Kumaravadivelu 1991; Leki 1995; Schultz 1996, 2001; Spratt 1999).

2.1 Attitudes towards Grammar Instruction

According to the Traditional Grammar Theory, in teaching grammar, three areas have to be considered: grammar as rules, grammar as form and grammar as resource. For many L2 learners, learning grammar often means learning the rules of grammar and having an intellectual knowledge of grammar. Teachers often believe that this will provide the generative basis on which learners can build their knowledge and will be able to use the language eventually. For them, prescribed rules give a kind of security.

A better approach is perhaps to see grammar as an aspect made of many resources that we have in language which helps us to communicate. We should see how grammar relates to what we want to say or write and how we expect others to interpret what our language use is and its focus.

According to Widdowson (1990: 86), grammar is not a constraining imposition but a liberating force: it frees us from a dependency on context and a purely lexical categorization of reality.” Given that many learners - and teachers - tend to view grammar as a set of restrictions on what is allowed and disallowed in language use - ‘a linguistic straitjacket’ in Larsen-Freeman’s words (2002: 103) - the conception of grammar as something that liberates rather than represses is worth investigating.

According to Morelli (2003), students perceived themselves as having a better attitude towards grammar instruction in context, while performing slightly better after having experienced the traditional grammar instruction. Elkilic and Akca (2008) reported generally positive attitudes of students studying English grammar at a private primary English as Foreign Language (EFL) classroom towards studying grammar. In particular, however, a little over 50% of their subjects claimed to enjoy grammar very much and only about 10% reported finding some difficulty in learning and remembering grammar.

2.2 Student Expectations on Grammar Instruction

Student expectations of traditional, explicit grammar teaching have been confirmed by many teachers. Burgess and Etherington (2002:40-44) also conclude that teachers believe that explicit teaching of grammar is favored by their students because of expectations and feeling of insecurity.

Since the 1970s, attention has shifted from ways of teaching grammar which has been seen to be a powerful undermining and demotivating force among L2 learners. In terms of motivation and learner success with languages, grammar has been seen to be a problem and to stand in the way of helping learners to communicate fluently. The rules of grammar are taught in the classroom. They may know the rules perfectly, but are incapable of applying them in their own use of the language. Teachers’ recognition of this process (i.e., of transferring declarative knowledge about grammar into procedural knowledge) as a problem for many of their students has been reported by Burgess and Etherington (2002:442). Haudeck (1996) has reported that many learners have difficulty in internalizing grammar rules, although these have been taught intensively (1996, cited in European Commission, 2006).

2.3 The use of Grammatical Terminology

Metalinguistic discussion (i.e, the use of grammatical terminology to talk about language) is seen by Stern (1992:327) as one of the characteristics of explicit grammar teaching. According to Burgess and Etherington (2002: 444), teachers believe that their students see grammatical terminology as useful and that its use does not present a particular difficulty for students.

Descriptive grammarians acknowledge the fact that language is dynamic and its use is constantly changing, although not in major ways, the problem for ESL/EFL- English as Second Language/English as Foreign Language- learners, however, is that there is a time-lag between the awareness of such changes and their acceptance as the proper use of the language according to Lester (2005).

As Morelli (2003:33-34) has observed, “Grammar can be taught traditionally or contextually, but student perception should be considered by teachers in the decision-making process. Students need to feel confident that educators have met their needs. and educators should be willing to consider the attitudes and perceptions of students when making decisions about how to teach grammar.”

2.4 Concord

“Concord” or “agreement,” according to Aronoff and Fudeman (2010), “Occurs when one element in a sentence takes on the morphosyntactic features of another element.” In basic terms, concord refers to agreement between two or more words in a sentence. English grammatical concord is very important for correct English usage.

Lutrin and Pincus (2004) define concord as that in which the words in a sentence must match or agree with one another.

Concord, according to Duskova (1977) is agreement in gender, case, number or person between different words that share a reference.

Tuurosong(2012) defines concord (subject-verb) as a grammatical relationship in which a predicate/verb must agree with the subject in number and person. By number, he means the relationship between the speaker and what he/she is speaking about. The term “agreement” according to him is used to describe the type of grammatical changes that take place between the subject of a sentence and its verb. He adds that it has to do with the “cordial” relationship that must exist between the subject and the main verb or the first element of the verb phrase. Tuurosong’s definition is aspect-specific of concord, that is subject and verb concord.

Yankson (1994), sees concord as the necessary agreement/coherence needed in a sentence/statement to yield a flawless grammatical structure. As to what informs this unfortunate attitude of non-adherence to the rules of concord on the part of both native and non-native students, one has to probe through research.

2.5 Aspects of Concord and their Underlying Principles

The term concord basically embodies any sort of grammatical agreement that occurs in a correct grammar construction. By this yardstick, one may find several forms of agreement that occur in various grammatical structures without which agreement such structures would have lost their grammaticalness. Readily, the type of concord that comes to mind for many English users is that of subject- verb. Perhaps, this is attributable to the fact that it is the broadest and most intricate of all the aspects of concord.

Many scholars have generally agreed on four primary dimensions of this topic as per the grammar of English language, with subject-verb concord always leading the discussion. The forms of concord include: Subject-Verb, Noun- Pronoun, Verb-Verb and Point of time past-verb. Of these four parts, there are nineteen sub-aspects. The nineteen sub aspects of these four main aspects include:

a) Subject - Verb Concord

According to Yankson (1994),subject-verb concord has thirteen sub-aspects as follows: - Grammatical concord - Proximity concord - Headword Identification in complex Noun phrases - The “s”-Inflection - There + verb +Noun phrase - Semi - conjunctions/Intervening expressions - Two titles for one subject - Adjectives as Headwords - The Indefinite pronouns “All” and “some” - Intervening prepositional phrases - Plural Inflectional concord - Other Indefinite pronouns (Apart from “all” and “some”) -Notional concord

b) Verb - Verb concord

- Chain of verbs in one construction

c) Noun - pronoun concord

- Nouns and their corresponding pronouns - The demonstrative pronouns: This /These/ that and those. - Pronoun and its antecedent concord

d) Point of time past - verb concord

- Adjuncts referring to time past

As early on indicated, the works of many English grammar scholars on grammatical concord such as Yankson (1994), Tuurosong (2012), Nelson (1964), Heid, Dulay and Burt (1997), Richards (1976), Duskova (1977), Corder (1969), Brougton et al (1968), Latin (1996), Labov and William (1999), Cambell (2006) and Lutrin and Pincus (2004),Litty (2011),Anto (2004),Baidoo (2000) among other scholars, have all basically identified these four as the aspects of concord in English grammar. The basic concept behind each of the aspects of concord according to the above cited scholars are explained briefly in the ensuing paragraphs.

Subject- Verb concord operates under the principle that singular verbs should go with singular subjects whilst plural verbs should go with plural subjects. This type of concord has in it, some intricacies which many a student has fallen victim to in one way or the other. These intricacies lie in six identified sources of errors: typical development errors, notional concord errors, proximity concord errors, memory limitation concord errors, plural inflectional concord errors and the inability to identify noun headwords.

Noun-Pronoun agreement on the other hand ensures that the appropriate pronoun should be used to replace a noun, both in terms of number and gender.

“My niece has lost his pen” and “Students don’t take his studies seriously ’’, are thus inaccurate grammatically because there is no concord between “My niece” and “his” in the first sentence and “Students” and “his” in the second sentence as gender and number are disregarded.

Verb-Verb concord is guided by the principle that when a number of verbs (two or more) are found in a construction, they should agree in terms of tense (present or past). Where there is tense disagreement, the reader or listener is confused about time in an expression.

She came and take the gun and shoot herself, is for instance wrong because we are left in the dark as to whether the actions conveyed in here are habitual or not.

Finally, the rule behind Point of time past-Verb concord is that a point of time past element (e.g, yesterday, in those days, that morning, etc) must always take on past tense verbs only. I sleep late last night is thus incorrect since there is no agreement between “sleep”, the verb and “last night” the point-of-time-past element.

2.6 Difficulties of Studying Concord

According to McGraw (1971), the agreement of a verb with its subject in a sentence is a major headache for most English students. This, he opines, stems from the fact that students basically have a difficulty identifying and classifying subjects in sentences. Whilst a singular subject could be taken for a plural one and vice versa, some students simply cannot tell the specific “right” subjects in their sentences for the right verbs to be chosen to agree with them. He cited a few cases where students in a high school committed concord errors as follows;

1. Two thousand, five hundred dollars are needed for the project, instead of replacing the verb “are” with “is”.
2. The government, as well as citizens, do not seek the growth of the country, instead of using the verb “does” in place of “do”.

On his part, Lester (2005) mentions that many learners of English as a second language get themselves confused by the grammatical rules that pertain in their mother tongue. Rules of the mother tongue (L1) often contradict those of their second language (L2), thus propelling learners to commit concord errors unconsciously. Pointing out a few cases in his research, he indicates that in some languages, a singular verb for instance can partner both a plural and a singular subject in a sentence, thus rendering the principle of subject number in concord worthless. Similarly, Yankson (1994) draws a very clear line of difference between concord as pertains in some local Ghanaian languages and concord in English.

He cited a few examples in his native Fanti Language. These differences draw the English student back in his study of concord as he is often tempted to apply rules of his L1. He identifies the wrong use of the female pronoun “she” and the male pronoun “he” as common examples of this problem of L1 interference. Beason (2005), another English grammarian, points out the fact that most students of English grammar fall short in their application of the rules of concord due to the limitations that go with some of the rules. Students, he argues, are left at the crossroads when they are faced with exceptions to some fundamental rules governing concord. Among other exceptions, he identifies the first person singular “I” which takes plural verbs though a singular subject and the second person plural or singular “You” which takes plural verbs regardless of its subject number in a sentence.

Another renowned English grammar writer, Latin (1996), underscores the fact that problems of concord among students occur basically due to the inability of students to note the dynamism of verbs as pertains in verb - verb concord, one of the aspects of this topic. Verbs must agree with one another where they occur in a chain or move with point-of-time-past references in one sentence to avoid confusing the reader or listener about time. In the following simple sentences written by some high school students, Latin points out that many students have failed to recognize the relevance of tense in respect of time:

1. Jones slept late but wakes up early.
2. Last year, Chelsea takes the champions cup.

In the first sentence, the issue of time is not clear as the speaker combines both present and past tenses. Either the verb “slept” should be made present, that is “sleeps” or the verb “wakes” made past, that is “woke” for there to be agreement between the two verbs, in which case time will be catered for. In the second sentence also, according to Latin, the use of the point of time past reference “Last year” calls for only the past tense form of the verb, hence the verb “takes” ought to be “took” to give way for concord and time definition.

Also, Brown (2004) attributes students’ difficulties in studying grammatical rules to what he calls “false grammar” by which inaccurate writers corrupt the language and their own styles of writing. Thus, authorship shares in this blame. Relatedly, Charles (1999) intimates that, Nothing comes out of a sack except what is in it. This means that the teacher of English, whose own competence level is so low, cannot by any means, raise the language level of his pupils or students above his own.

At best, he can only bring them up to his level and even here, his success is dependent on a host of other variables.

Sysoyev (1999) conducted some experimental lessons in order to address L2 grammar teaching to students through an integrative method which proposes three stages: Exploration, Explanation and Expression (EEE). This method is proposed out of the increasing difficulties students are confronted with in their bid to learn what Sysoyev calls “real language,” that is grammar. By exploration, the student is guided to find patterns and formulate rules after being provided with sentences which illustrate such rules. At the explanation stage, the student is challenged to summarize what his findings are after the exploration. In the final stage, expression stage, the student practises the production of appropriate utterances with others, paying attention to the patterns and grammatical rules discovered during the exploration. This method is Sysoyev’s response to one of the underlying difficulties students encounter in studying grammatical rules which is the form - based or meaning - based approach to teaching grammar.

Thrush (2001) developed a study to deal with significant problems involved in writing for international audiences including non - native speakers of English. In order to address these problems and the somewhat low rate of English speakers in some fields, a number of systems were developed, namely: Plain English, Simplified English and Controlled language. These systems are geared, in her own words, “To produce English that is easily readable, accessible and usable.” Of the three systems, controlled language targeted the accurate application of grammatical rules in the English language to enhance effective communication. She explains that these systems are based on the manner in which readers process texts, and consequently they have the tendency to concentrate on and apply similar rules of writing. Through Thrush’s work, it is revealed that wrong grammatical rules in written texts are often imbibed by readers or learners, exposing them to wrong grammatical usage.

Master (1991) developed a study concerning the use of active verbs with inanimate subjects since this is a source of difficulty in writing for students whose L1 are Asian languages. He stated that although active verbs with “instrumental or inanimate subjects” are widely used in English, particularly in scientific prose, Japanese students, for example, find this structure unacceptable. Master’s study reveals that an active verb with an inanimate subject is possible in English only when the subject has an “inherent function” represented by the verb. He indicated that the inherent function of a thermometer, for instance is to measure, of a graph to show, of a law to state, and so on.

Through the analysis of subject - verb pairs from Science News, the author provides several examples of students’ errors in the use of the passive in place of the active voice, which suggest that “writers may have an interlanguage rule requiring active verbs to have inanimate subjects” in the first case and in the second case, despite being aware of the fact that in English inanimate subjects can have an active verb, they over-generalize the rule and this could be due to the uncertainty as regards which verbs the rule can apply to. Hence, the accepted use of passive and active verbs as well as inanimate subjects in sentences poses yet another challenge, especially to L2 learners of concord.

Thurman and Larry (2003), argue that students’ difficulties in learning concord rules emanate primarily from lack of “repetition” or constant practice which in educational circles, is said to be the mother of learning. They believe that if grammatical rules are to stick and stay with the learner, the learner must make a conscious effort to put them to use regularly. He admits that the rules of concord are quite numerous and the student needs time and practice to master them. Labov (2009) and William (2009) equally share in this view.

Needless to say from the works of the foregoing writers and researchers, there really exists a problem - Why students encounter difficulties in studying Concord in English. This work sought to dig deeper into this reality and map out more feasible interventions to check it.

2.7 English Grammatical Concord in Perspective

Almost always when the West African Examination Council (WAEC) results, both Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) results are released, English is one of the subjects that records the greatest number of failures. Human beings all over the world communicate with one another in different languages and there is even a greater need now than before for us to be more serious as far as English Language is concerned. It is against this background that the poor performance of students in this area has become the greatest worry to parents, teachers, and opinion leaders, stakeholders and education authorities.

Many scholars have, therefore, written on or talked about grammar in general and concord in particular. Some of these people attempted to define grammar, subject, verb, subject-verb agreement and noun-pronoun/antecedent agreement.

In order that language accomplishes its communication function, both the speaker and the addressee need to share the same signals used in the transmission of the message. Grammar is of great importance in this case, for even in a situation where two people speak the same language, if the speaker sounds ungrammatical, communication is greatly impaired. Blanche (1981), in explaining concord, states:

Some words in sentences have matching forms to indicate their grammar relations. This is called agreement. Verbs agree with their subject and pronouns agree with their antecedents.

The above statements mean that when we construct sentences, we should make sure that our verbs agree with their subjects so that grammatical rules are not broken. Palmer (1994:90) is of the view that “The choice of the verb is determined by the occurrence of the subject”. He goes on to say that, “But if we pair them wrongly, we shall produce sentences which will be immediately recognized as ungrammatical”. What he intends to say is that a plural subject requires a plural verb whereas a singular subject requires a singular verb .A violation of any of these rules is considered therefore ungrammatical.

Palmer’s assertion above that wrong pairing of the verb produces ungrammatical sentences, is supported by Leonard and Laurence (1994). They say, “these elements (subject and verb) occur in pairs. The subject of a sentence must be paired with a verb to make a complete statement”.

Swain (1980), touching on the subject under discussion, also states that “Verb forms change according to whether the subject is singular or plural or according to whether the subject is first, second or third person”. It can be realized from the above quotation that the choice of the main verb present tense is determined basically by the subject and vice versa.

Baidoo (2000:497) also supports this idea of relationship between the subject and the verb making a complete grammatical structure by saying:

The predicate/verb must agree with the subject in number and in person. By number, we mean the subject can be singular or plural.

According to Baidoo (2000), compound, collective and mass nouns are created as singular or plural. In addition to being singular or plural, a subject can also be the 1st, 2nd or 3rd person. He goes on to add that person can be seen as “The relationship between the speaker and what he is speaking about”. From this quotation, we realize that when a speaker speaks about something or himself, it is FIRST PERSON (I/we, me, us,). The person he/she speaks to is the SECOND PERSON which has general meaning of “you”. The person or thing the speaker speaks about is THIRD PERSON. Still talking about agreement, Baidoo (2000) says:

Where there is an auxiliary, the subject agrees with the auxiliary. Where there is more than one auxiliary, agreement is with the first. The problem we normally have with subjects (i.e. third person subjects) is to establish whether they are singular or plural, so that we can select the appropriate form of the verb for them.

Talking about pronoun-Antecedent Agreement, he says:

Pronouns are substitutes which are used in place of nouns to prevent repetition of nouns. If substitutes act in place of nouns, then there is every reason why they should agree with their antecedents so that it will be possible for us to associate them with these nouns in whose place they perform.

From the above definition of pronouns, it would therefore be ungrammatical and unpleasant in our ears if someone spoke: Pious told Pious’ sister to bring the books back to Pious for Pious to see the books. It would be jarring (i.e. unpleasant) in our ears because we would expect the speaker to replace the name (Pious) sometimes with “him” and “his” in the course of that sentence.

Agreement between pronouns and antecedents according to Baidoo (2000) covers;

- Agreement in number
- Agreement in function and case

Yankson (1984) has the following assertion to make:

The rule for the formation of English subject-verb concord is that a singular subject requires a singular verb and a plural subject requires a plural verb.

He stresses that the noun-verb agreement is very basic in an English sentence. He goes further to enumerate five main categories of subject-verb (concord) errors as:

- Typical development errors
- Inability to identify noun headword
- Notional concord errors
- Plural inflectional concord errors
- Memory limitation concord errors.

Quirk and Greenbuam (1973), commenting on concord in English, says “The most important type of concord in English is the concord of number between subject and verb”.

Wiredu (1998) supports this assertion on the concord system ((i.e, subject-verb agreement made by Quirk and GreenBaum by stating that “The most important concord relation in English exists between the subject of a clause and its accompanying verb”. From the above assertion, it is clear that the subject-verb agreement system of a language is very important for one who wants to learn to speak well in the said language, in this case, English language.

MacIver (1986) has the belief that “Concord means agreements or harmony”. Thus in grammar, we apply this word as meaning, perfect agreement between a subject and verb having the same number and person”.


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Concord in English Grammar. Problems and Recommendations for Senior High School Students
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Justine Bakuuro (Author), 2015, Concord in English Grammar. Problems and Recommendations for Senior High School Students, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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