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This work highlights the nature of the English irregular verbs by
identifying what makes them irregular in nature, how this affects or
causes problems to second language learners in Nigeria and
proffering solutions on how to alleviate the problems. Both library
and field researches are used to get the facts needed for the
analysis. Descriptive design requiring respondents to supply
answers to objective and subjective tests is used. A total of two
hundred undergraduates from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and
Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe serve as respondents.
The students are randomly selected from the institutions mentioned
above. Six research questions guided the research which aimed at
discovering the extent to which the English irregular verbs cause
problems to second language learners. Fifty questions were
administered to the respondents to test the research questions. In
analyzing the result the researcher observed that majority of the
undergraduate students do not have the required knowledge of the
use of English irregular verbs. Based on the findings, some
recommendations which aimed at improving the learning of English
in an ESL situation were made.
Table of Contents
Title page – – – – – – – – i
Approval page – – – – – – – ii
Dedication – – – – – – – – iii
Abstract – – – – – – – – iv
Acknowledgement – – – – – – v
Table of contents – – – – – – – vii
Chapter One
Introduction – – – – – – – 1
1.0 Preamble – – – – – – – 1
1.1 Background of the Study – – – – 2
1.2 Statement of the Problem- – – – – 8
1.3 Purpose of the Study – – – – – 9
1.4 Significance of the Study – – – – 9
1.5 Scope of the Study – – – – – 10
1.6 Research Questions – – – – – 11
Chapter Two
Literature Review – – – – – – 12
2.0 Preamble – – – – – – – 12
2.1 The English Verb – – – – – – 12
2.2 The English Irregular Verb – – – – 18
2.3 Summary of Literature Review – – – 3 8
Chapter Three
Theoretical Framework/Methodology- – – 41
3.1 Morphophonemic and / or Morphosyntax of the
English Irregular Verbs – – – – – 41
3.2 Methodology – – – – – – 46
3.3 Research Instrument – – – – – 47
3.4 Analysis of Data – – – – – – 47
3.5 Organization of Study – – – – – 47
Chapter Four
Data Analysis – – – – – – – 49
Chapter Five
Discussions of Results, Conclusion and Recommendation
– – – – – – – – – 53
5.0 Preamble – – – – – – 53
5.1 Discussion of Results – – – – – 53
5.2 Conclusion – – – – – – 59
5.3 Recommendation/Suggestion – – – – 60
Works Cited – – – – – – 62
Chapter One
1.0 Preamble
Language is a complex and a dynamic human
possession. Its role as a veritable instrument of social cohesion has
been recognized through ages and in all cultures. The possession of
this concrete medium of communication among human beings
distinguishes man from other animals. Many languages exist in the
world. These languages are either spoken or written or both.
Language is a treasure, a mark of identity, a human trait
manifesting strengths and weaknesses of thought. It is therefore a
social phenomenon capable of bringing people from different locale
together. This unifying force is exemplified by the English Language
in Nigeria.
It was introduced in Nigeria by the early Europeans for
business transactions and subsequent colonization. Through the
agency of the church, some Nigerians learned the language, which
qualified them for positions as clerks, interpreters and messengers
to the whites. They constituted what one may call the first elite
class whose existence spurred other people to compete for learning
and speaking the English Language.
The acceptance of the English Language in Nigeria as a
medium of instruction makes it a second language and its
importance in the Nigerian situation is overwhelming, and according
to Baldeh, (1) “it is the most important legacy of the British colonial
masters in Nigeria”, as our political, social, economic and cultural
engagements are suffused with English.
1.1 Background to the Study
English is a second language in Nigeria. A second
language is a language which is not indigenous to a country but is
used in official settings. Scholars aver that learning English or any
other language as a second or foreign language implies several
difficulties. Not only would the L2 learner master the sounds of the
target language (the phonemes) and understand the arrangement
of words to make meaningful utterances (syntax), he should also
strive to master the vocabulary of the target language and its
orthography (the way words are written). Although some languages
most nearly are written in the same way as they are pronounced,
English has minimal written and spoken relationship.
Learners of English in Nigeria encounter two major
problems: the problem of language interference where L1 of the
learner interferes with his L2 and the developmental problem
arising from the structure of the particular language they being
learned. Interference problems occur because no two languages
posses the same rules. The situation always results in transferring
the rules of the first language to that of the learner’s second
language, thus creating misnomer and confusion in usage.
Throwing light on this Guttegno asserts:
The experience we all have in using our language for
the possession of our thoughts, feelings, emotions and
perceptions is that words come by themselves. As soon
as we leave our own language and concentrate on
acquiring a new one, however, we find that we are
engaged in struggles that our memory becomes so
important (1).
However, students learning a second language face not
only the problem of language interference, but also the problems
emanating solely from their target language. These intra-lingual
problems have been widely researched and listed. According to
Richards, “a number of errors occur in English as a result of such
problems from the following expressions: Did he cried? He coming
from Israel. Make him to do it. I can to speak French”. He further
Errors of this nature are frequent regardless of the
learner’s language background. They may be called
intra-lingual and developmental errors and reflect the
learners competence at a particular stage. Their origin
is found within the structure of the English itself (173).
From the above explanation, one can see that the
problems facing second language learners are two folds: one
emanating from interference of their L1 with L2, and another from
the target language itself.
The complex nature of the English language makes its
second language learners face the above problems in mastering its
grammar and vocabulary. Grammar implies patterns, patterns of
word endings, function words and word/morpheme order. Kies (2)
asserts: “patterns are crucial in helping us discover the
constituents of language, recognizing patterns in distribution and
meaning becomes the process through which human beings
discover the grammatical structures of their languages”. The
English language is sentence structured or patterned and can be
easily analyzed on the basis of sentence constituents known as
parts of speech or word classes.
In the English word class, the verb occupies a significant
position, and most of the errors that occur in the English grammar
are caused by its verbs, particularly the irregular verbs. Eyisi
defines a verb as:
A word or a group of words that is used to tell what
someone or something is, does or experiences. It is a
compulsory element of a sentence expressing an action
done by the subject (the nominal) or a state
experienced by the subject or what is becoming of the
subject (49).
Examples: talk, look, close, be, have, do, come, see.
She goes further to classify the English verbs thus:

It can be noticed from the diagram above that the
lexical verb is of two types: the regular lexical verbs and the
irregular lexical verbs. Verbs are classified as regular if they form
their past tense and past participle tense by adding “-ed” inflection;
otherwise it becomes irregular using different other ways to form
their “ed” participle.
Huddleston (90) defines a verb as “part of speech that
predicates, assists in predication, asks a question or expresses a
command.” He exemplifies these as:
The wind blows. (Predicate)
Lexical Verbs Auxiliary Verbs
English Verbs
Lexical Verbs
Lexical Verbs Primary
He is blind. (predication)
Did he do it?(Questioning)
Hurry! (Command)
The verb is therefore, regarded as the most important
part of speech since no sentence can be deemed acceptable without
it. Correct verb usage makes grammaticality and acceptability
possible. Surprisingly too, this most important part of speech
constitutes the greatest source of error in the English grammar. The
aspect of the English verb that constitutes the greatest source of
error in the English grammar is the IRREGULAR VERB.
English verbs have different forms, some of which
according to Selby (40) are “the principal parts of a verb”. The
first principal part is called the simple present; the second is
the simple past and the third is the past participle which must
be preceded by an auxiliary such as have, HAVE + the past
participle form. The English irregular verbs form their past
tense and the past participle tense in several ways other than
the usual “ed” inflection of the regular verbs. This is the reason
for their posing problems to ESL learners. Some of them exhibit
changes in the middle vowel for one or both of the past and
past participle forms (sing, sang, sung; ring, rang, rung), and
some have an “en” inflection for the “ed” participle (speak,
spoke, spoken; break, broke, broken; take, took, taken). Some
of the irregular verbs remain the same as the base forms: cast,
cast, cast; put, put, put; broadcast, broadcast, broadcast;
forecast, forecast, forecast). The verb “be” is highly irregular
with eight forms: base “be”, present “am”, first person singular
“is”, (the “s” form for third person singular),”are” (second
person singular and all plurals), past “was” (first and third
person singular), present participle or ‘ing’ form “being” and the
“ed” participle “been”.
The “s” form of have, do, say (has, does, says)
respectively are all irregular in their tense formation. The
auxiliaries have a defective paradigm since they only have the
base forms and irregularly constructed past forms (can, could,
may, might). Must is further exceptional in having only the
base form.
There are other types of these irregular verbs that
are very much idiosyncratic in their behaviour. They pose
almost the greatest problems when they occur in grammatical
work. This is because any mistake in usage these verbs result
in a change in their meanings. These forms when wrongly used
alter the entire meaning of the verb by giving it a different
meaning altogether. The verb like “hang” with its past form
“hung”, if wrongly formed as a regular verb, will convey a
different meaning altogether. It will then mean, “to execute”
instead of “to spread”. Another example of this verb is “shine”
with its past tense form “shone”. If it is formed wrongly, it will
mean another thing. If it takes the regular way, it will mean,
“to polish”.
The above exposition of the nature of the English
irregular verbs shows that this type of verb poses a lot of problems
to ESL learners. No wonder Fowler et al confirm this when they
For some inexperienced writers, choosing the correct
tense or form of a verb is a challenge. Verb endings and
the forms of irregular verbs (inflection) can be quite
confusing. Even experienced writers may occasionally
stumble over the forms of lay and lie or worry about
maintaining a correct sequence of tenses in a
complicated writing task. (233)
It is against this background that this research is born with a view
to finding solutions to alleviate these problems.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
The grammar of the English has rules guiding its unit
formation. These rules are noticeable in the past tense and past
participle tense formation of verbs. Verbs of English have the rule of
adding “ed” to the base word in forming past and past participle
tenses. But this rule has an exception as all the English irregular
verbs follow other patterns to form their past and past participle
tenses. These different changes reflecting changes in tense are
difficult to memorize and use. Generalizing this difficulty for both
native and non native learners, Azari (23) observes that “some of
the verbs in the irregular verb list can be troublesome. Many native
speakers find some of these verbs troublesome too especially “lay”
and “lie”.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
This study strives to ascertain the implications of the
problems of the English irregular verbs to second language
learners, and offer suggestions on overcoming them. Specifically,
the study aims at finding out the following:
-The degree of competence of ESL Learners in using irregular verbs
in sentences.
-The various problems ESL Learners encounter in forming past
tense and past participle tense of irregular verbs.
-To characterize the patterns of difficulty in the use of the irregular
verbs by Nigerians and propose briefly the solutions to these
-The actual errors emerging from such problems.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The major significance of any ESL study is its
contribution to the corpus of work in the English language pedagogy
and learning. The verb holds sway over many parts of speech. The
irregular type of verb constitutes the greatest source of error in the
English grammar. As such, a good use of the English verbs,
especially irregular verbs in sentences, makes for grammaticality
and acceptability. This may only be realized as envisaged in this
work by improving the standard of English in our schools, colleges
and institutions of higher learning.
-The significance of this study also lies in being an important source
material for language teachers who would now be placed in a better
position by consulting this work to predict areas of difficulty and
help the learners to overcome them.
-The result of this work would be a source for curriculum planners
and textbooks writers to re-evaluate the course contents of the
-The result obtained would also be an added resource or reference
material for researchers for further research.
1.5 Scope of the Study
This study is limited to the problems of the English
irregular verbs and their implications to ESL learners. It discusses
the several ways these verbs form their past/past participle forms.
Auxiliary verbs of the English except the form of “Be” are not
treated under this study. Only two higher institutions of learning
are used and students are randomly selected.
1.6 Research Questions
The following research questions guide the present
-To what extent can students use correct verb forms to indicate
tenses in the English language?
-To what extent can learners use the class of the English
irregular verbs whose past tense and past participle forms are
-To what extent can respondents use correctly the class of the
English irregular verbs whose base forms, the past forms and
the past participle forms are the same?
-To what degree can learners use correctly in sentences the class
of the English irregular verbs whose three forms are different?
-In what ways can students use the more confusing verbs
Lie/lay, sit/set and rise/raise correctly in sentences?
-To what degree can learners use forms of “BE” correctly in


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