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Problems In The Use Of The Past Perfect Tense Among The Second Language Users Of The English Language; Case Study Of The Students Of Imo State College Of Education Ihitte-Uboma




The study is on the problems in the use of past perfect tense among the users of English language as a second language. A study of students of Imo State College of Education, Ihitte Uboma. The study made use of the descriptive survey design. The study was guided by three research questions. Method of data analysis used was percentage. The sample of the study was two hundred and fifty (250) students. The instrument for the study was an objective test. Copies of the test questions were administered on the students and marked subsequently. The findings revealed that the students do not have good knowledge of the English tenses. While some of them displayed a good knowledge of the past tenses, a reasonable number of the students performed poorly in the test on the use of the past perfect tense. Findings also revealed that this poor performances is as a result of poor teaching and learning. It is also discovered that the rot in the Nigerian system, do not encourage the students to take the studies in English language seriously. It is recommended that there should be an improvement in the teaching and learning of English language.



1.1 Background of Study

The demand for the English language in Nigeria has continued after the independence because of the numerous roles it plays in the modern day Nigeria. It is obvious that the English language is retained in Nigeria today because it is the language of expressing the institutions which the colonizers left behind. Thus, the business of education, technology, administration, judiciary and mass media, proceed in the English language. The English language in Nigeria is seen as the language of national stability and deveiopment. Ike (2007), asserts that the major function of language in national development is to facilitate communication among the citizenry and to coordinate the citizens’ joint actions and efforts towards the nation’s desired goals and objectives. The English language plays this vital role not because it is a native language, but because Nigeria is multilingual nation. Akindele and Adegbite (1999), claim that the Nigerian community is made up of more than two hundred and fifty ethnic groups with a conservative estimate of four hundred languages. Nigeria is therefore a multilingual speech community whereby diverse languages and cultures compete. The disadvantages of a multilingual speech community are made clearer in Genesis (11), The whole world was monolingual after creation. As such, they were united in every aspect because they understood one another. God realized that with the level of unity that existed among them, there was no limit to the things they could achieve God confounded their language. This made them scatter all over the earth. This goes to show us that multilingualism brings about disunity and retardation in a speech community except there is a national language.

The English language does not belong to any of the ethnic groups in Nigeria. It is the language of the British colonizers. The choice of the English language as a national language has been used to contain the political implication, which the choice of any of the native languages in Nigeria would have brought to the country. According to Onyema (2010), The role of the English language as an official language in Nigeria is situated by political convenience rather than pure linguistic consideration. The choice of one language over the others would bring such political problems as mutual suspicion and the fear of domination. The ethnic groups in Nigeria interpret the native language chosen as the country’s lingua franca as a way of conferring political domination on that particular ethnic group. Onyema (2010) Generally, despite talks about patriotism and national consciousness, the English language has retained its pride of place in Nigeria because of its political and social reasons. To allay the fear of domination, the English language is used as national language because of its neutrality, which none of the ethnic groups can lay claims to it. Ogu (1992) has expressed this thus; English language brought into one linguistic umbrella, people of diverse languages, ethnic groups… People found in it unobtainable linguistics unity that they so much craved for. Its non-ethnic nature provided them with a means of peaceful co-existence and communication.

In view of the prominent role assigned to the English language in the Nigerian constitution, the participating functions of the language become crucial to the lives of the people. Those who wish to participate in the social, political and economic life of the country must be proficient in the use of English language. Proficiency in English is generally required for admission to the parliament, to the bench and bar, civil service, essential services etc. Schools have also been entrusted with the task of socializing children to be active participants in the life of the nation. Eka (2000), indicates that in the language policy of Nigeria, the medium of instruction in primary schools is initially the mother tongue or the language of the immediate environment and at a, later stage English language.

English, among other roles in Nigeria also performs accommodating functions. It performs international functions. Onyema (2010), claims that the English language links Nigeria with the outside world. It is the language of international politics, trade, sports, diplomacy, technology transfer, among others. For instance, at the AU, UN and the Commonwealth, Nigeria has no language other than English for taking part in the deliberations. All these are made possible because of large number of English speakers. In terms of social mobility, Akindele and Adagbite(1999), assert that the ability to use English enhances both the horizontal and vertical mobility of people. Because of the prestige attached to the language, a speaker is considered an illiterate if he/she cannot speak English, even if such a person is literate in the mother tongue. The English language confers unity of the diverse ethnic groups in Nigeria. Otagburuagu and Anyanwu (2002), assert that the Nigerian national language dilemma makes the use of English a bridge language for inter-ethnic communication.

The Nigerian English is regarded as a variety of the British English. There are other varieties of the English language such as American English, the

Canadian English etc. These varieties of English that are different from the British standard variety arose as a result of the peculiar features which cannot totally be seen in the native English. Ogu (1992), posits that all languages are subject to variations the moment they leave their natural environments and spread to other areas… Bamgbose (1981), stresses that when two languages come in contact with one another, and one is performing an official role, such language will be influenced both cultural and linguistically in accordance with the reciprocal influence theory of language variation. It is then a common knowledge that no language leaves its natural environment without losing some of its features. This gives rise to the varieties of English we have, each variety reflecting its environment. The phenomenon known as the Nigerian English is that variety of English that has developed in the Nigerian non-native English situation.

According to Umera-Okeke (2009), it is evident that the cornerstone of the British introduction of the English language was not based on the evolution of a “standard” English but on the emergence of fairly communicative English. She also states that, the Nigerian English has come to stay as long as the official status of English in the Nigerian society is sustained. Umera-Okere also observes that many characteristic features of Nigerian dialectal forms of the English language exist at the syntactic, semantic, pragmatic and linguistic levels. Bokamba (1983), refer to it as the Nigerianism in Nigerian English. He defines it as any variety of English construction that reflects the phonological structural and semantic property of a Nigeria language(s).

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Umera-Okeke (2009), asserts that these ethnic traits do not simply disappear just because a speaker is educated. This is because variation in English reveals more of cultural differences. The language, as it is now, has been domesticated to reflect the general social context within which it functions. Some popular forms of Nigerian English include:

  1. Phonologic Features

Akindele and Adegbite (1999), discover that the Nigerian users of the English language obliterate the distinction in vowel quality between long vowels and short vowels. For instance, “beat” /bi:t/ is pronounced /bit/, ‘sheep’ /Ji:p/ uttered for /Jip/ and pot /pot/ for port /pO:t/. similarly, a reduced vowel system involves various substitutions such as lei is substituted for /ei/, /a/ for /a:/,/u/ for /u:/. Further, /6/ in think is pronounced /t/(tink), /s/for/z/,/f/for/v/, /[/for/

The author also expose that the syllable structure of many indigenous Nigerian languages is CV. Hence, the users of English insert /u/ in the following examples ‘bread’ /buredi/, ‘book /buku/ for /buk/. At the level of intonation, Akindele and Adegbite also posit that the Nigerian languages are syllable-timed rhythm characteristics of English.

  1. Grammatical features

Jowitt (1991), observes that some of the Nigeria users of the English language reclassifying noun, adjective and adverb as verbs. For instance:

  1. Off the light-: ln this case, the adjective “off’ functions as a verb.
  2. I want to friend her: the word ‘friend’ in the context shifts from functioning as a noun to function as a verb. Jowitt also observes that certain collective nouns, are given plural markers such as: staffs instead of staff, congregations instead of congregation etc. He also discovered that state verbs   are   also   used   in  the progressive form by some Nigerian users of the English language.
  3. I am seeing/hearing/smelling.
  4. I am not having much money
  5. Let me be going.

Another grammatical feature of the Nigerian English according to Akindele and Adegbite (1999), can be traced to the use of the ordinator “one” which is used in place of the indefinite article “a” as in:

  1. We saw one canteen
  2. One car is coming in front of us.

Jowitt (1991), also observes that the Nigeria users of the English language, use the English tenses wrongly. He states that the past perfect tense is used where the present perfect tense should be used. Examples:

  1. In 1986, the nation was selling her crude oil at 28 naira per barrel.
  2. Today, the price of oil had tumbled to an all-time low of 10 naira per
  3. Lexical features

Certain Nigeria lexemes have found their way into the English language. Some of them have become acceptable because there is no lexical placement for them in the standard British usage. Examples; Akara, buka, ogbono, agbada, dansiki etc. Other features according to Akindele and Adegbite (1999), include the redefinition of the characteristic pattern of a word within the semantic field so that its central context becomes

marginalized and vice versa. The following highlighted words in the sentences below illustrate the point.

  1. The machine broke down (machine for motorcycle).
  2. I want to drink mineral (mineral for soft drink)

Nigeria is a multilingual nation but virtually every citizen of Nigeria is bilingual except for a few cases of monolingual Nigerians i.e Nigerians who speak only their mother tongue and multilingual Nigerians i.e Nigerians who speak their mother tongue, English language and some other native or foreign languages. Every bilingual Nigerian speaks his/her native language as a first language and the English language as a second language. Akindele and Adegbite (1999), assert that bilingualism in terms of the user is of two types: the societal and individual bilingualism. Societal bilingualism is otherwise referred to as national or governmental bilingualism. That is, it is used within a single polity of more than one language. The two languages dominate the sociolinguistic repertoire of the speech community. The languages are assigned significant roles by the society.

Individual bilingualism according to the authors refers to an individual whose repertoire is dominated by two distinct codes of communication.

Such an individual may be a member of a bilingual speech community or a multilingual speech community. The individual bilingualism is the type practiced in Nigeria.

Ike (2007), identifies that there are three degrees of bilingualism.

  1. Coordinate bilingualism: This is a situation where a bilingual is able to speak two different languages and understand them well. According to the author, it implies the acquisition of communicative competence in the two languages. Some Nigerian users of English language are coordinated bilinguals.
  2. Subordinate bilingualism: This is a situation where a bilingual is fluent in one of the two languages and not fluent in the other. This implies that he is good in both the spoken and written forms of his/her language but not good in the other language.
  3. Incipient bilingualism: This is also another situation where a bilingual is able to speak one of the languages existing in his or her speech community well but only partially understands the second language.

Bilingualism and multilingualism have largely been seen as the major cause of the linguistic deviation seen in the use of the second and third languages. The concept called the Nigerian English; is a product of the contact between the British English and the native languages in Nigeria. The consequences of bilingualism gave rise to what is regarded as the Nigerian English. Akindele and Adegbite (1999), explore these consequences.

  1. Code-Switching: Code-switching can be described as a means of communication which involves a speaker alternating between one language and the other in communicating events. In page 36 of their work, they highlight the reasons for code- switching;
  2. It can occur when there is lack of facility in a language or by a

Speaker in discussing a topic in a language,

  1. It can also occur to serve a linguistic need of providing a lexical,

Phrasal or sentential filler in an utterance,

  • Code-switching is also used in quoting someone and also in

qualifying parts of utterance,

  1. Speakers sometimes switch languages to specify their involvement in communication or mark and emphasize group identity,
  2. They also switch to convey confidentiality, anger or annoyance and possibly to exclude someone or people from a conversation.

Another consequence of bilingualism is interference. It refers to those instances of deviation from the norms of either language which occur in the speech of bilingual as a result of their familiarity with more than one language. The term implies a re-arrangement of patterns that result from the introduction of foreign elements into the more highly-structured domains of language such as the bulk of the phonetic system, a large part of the morphology, syntax and some areas of vocabulary, culture and discourse.

Akindele and Adegbite (1999), also identify borrowing as another consequence of bilingualism. They define is as the occasional use of items from one language in utterance of another language. This arose out of the fact that there is no language in the world that can be regarded as self-sufficient; as such, every language borrows from another. The authors also see the emergence of contact literatures as a consequence of bilingualism. Contact literature has been defined as the literature in English written by the users of English as a second language to delineate contexts which generally do not form part of the traditions of English literature. In contact literature, the bilingual’s creativity introduces nativized thought process which does not conform to the recognized cannons of discoursal patterns, from one’s other dominant linguistic codes and cultural and literary traditions.

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The verb is the most important word class. It is the only word that can make a statement about the subject. A sentence cannot be complete without the use of a verb. Most of the commonly used verbs express action. The action is not always physical like the action expressed in the sentence below:

I will think about it. The verb in the sentence ‘think’ is not a physical action but a mental one.

The verb To Be does not express an action. With the help of some other word(s), it makes a statement about the condition of the subject, or the person, place of thing that is talked about. In this sentence, “Okoro is hungry”, the verb “is” does not express action of any kind, but it serves two purposes in the sentence. With the help of the word “hungry”, it makes a statement about the subject, “Okoro”. It also serves to connect the word, “hungry” with “Okoro”. The sentence simply means “hungry Okoro”, but one needs the verb “is” to make the statement a complete sentence. Because the verb has connecting functions; it is called a linking verb.

A verb is not always a single word. When the verb is composed of two or more words, it is called a verb phrase. The verb form at the end of a verb phrase is always the principal verb. It is the verb form that indicates the nature of the action. The other verb forms in the verb phrase are called auxiliary verbs or helping verbs, as in these examples;

  • The teacher flogs the children.
  • The teacher is flogging the children.
  • The teacher has been flogging the children.
  • The teacher must have been flogging the children.

In the first sentence, the verb consists of one word: ‘flog’. The verb ‘flog’, tells the kind of action that is going on. The verb in the second sentence consists of two words. The principal verb is ‘flogging’.

The auxiliary or helping verb is ‘is!. The verb phrase in the third sentence is ‘has been flogging’. The principal verb is ‘flogging’ and the two helping verbs are ‘have been’. The verb phrase in the fourth sentence is ‘must have been flogging’. The principal verb is ‘flogging’. The principal verb is ‘flogging’ and the three helping verbs are ‘must have been’.

One of the most important things to know in the study of grammar is to be able to identify the verb or the verb phrase in any sentence. Verbs have quite a number of properties which other word classes do not have. One of the properties that belong exclusively to verbs and verb form is tense. Other properties in a verbal group system include; modality, finite tenses, aspect and voice.

The system of modality describes the manner in which the verb expresses the action or state of being. We can estimate the probability or the frequency of an event and the obligation or the inclination of a person to perform an action. Modality can also indicate doubt. The two types of modality are modalization and modulation. These two systems allow us to temper our propositions or proposals as regards probability, usuality, obligation or inclination. Modalization and modulation is an important politeness strategy. Opara (2018) posits that we all use modulation when formulating a request, depending on the familiarity we have with the person with whom we are interacting. It is not compulsory that a verbal group chooses from the system of modality and since the initial verbal elements determine the choice in the system of finiteness, only finite verbs choose from the system of modality. Mood and modality carry interpersonal meanings. She goes ahead to state, that mood is seen as the form of grammar while modality relates to its function or to the speaker’s attitude. Commonly used modalities include; will, could, may, shall, can, might, must, should, could.

The modal verb, ‘will1, expresses certainty, ‘could’ expresses possibility, “may” expresses probability and politeness as in these sentences;

  • May I use your pen?
  • I may go to school today

The first sentence, expresses politeness while the second sentence expresses probability. The modal verb ‘shall1, expresses inclination, ‘can’, expresses willingness and ability, as well as the interpersonal relationship between the speaker and the listener, as in these sentences;

  • Can you do this?
  • 1 can drive a car
  • Can I use your chair?

The first sentence is asking if the addressed is able to do it. The second also expresses the addresser’s ability to drive a car. The third sentence expresses the interpersonal relationship between the addresser and the addressee. The modal verb, ‘might’, expresses probability, ‘must’, expresses compulsion, ‘should1 expresses obligation, ‘would expresses politeness and a certain level of obligation, ‘could’ expresses possibility.

The system of finiteness, according to (Opara 2018:128), Features at the group level to indicate choices made between a finite and non-finite verbal groups. The initial verbal element makes the choice of the entire group in a complex verbal group. The position of a finite verb, may also classify the verbal group. If the first member of a verbal group is finite, the entire verbal group becomes finite. Examples include;

  1. Okoro has been sweeping this house.
  2. Chioma and Chika have been studying.

‘Has’ in the first sentence shows tense number (Singularity) concord. “Have” in the second sentence shows plurality. The finite element or finite verb is therefore a verbal operation that expresses tense or modality. In some cases, the finite element and lexical verb fused in a single word, as in;

The teacher flogged the student.

A non-finite verb has no subject and no finite verb. It cannot make a statement about the predicate because it is limited by number, person and time. Example, in this sentence; she told me to sleep; the verbal phrase ‘to sleep is not limited to a performer or doer. It is infinitive or basic form of verb by which most verbs can be formed. It is usually introduced by the marker “to” or by an infinitive present and past participle that act as the modifiers.

Another property of the verbal group system according to Opara(2018), is the system of Aspect. It describes the state of completion of the action in the verbal group. It indicates if the verbs stated is in the continuous form (Progressive) or completed (Perfective). Aspect was coupled with the tense system of the traditional grammar. The modern grammarians regard tense and aspect as two different models in the verbal group that should be separated in grammatical description. Examples

  1. I am eating rice. (Present progressive with tense description present in present).
  2. I was eating rice. (Past Progressive tense with tense description, present in past).
  3. The boy has travelled (Present perfective with tense description past in present).

The system of voice comprises the active voice and the passive voice. A sentence is said to be in an active voice when the speaker or actor occupies the subject position and the receiver of the action occupies the object position. Example;

  • Chioma broke the glass (active voice)

The glass was broken by Chioma (passive voice).

Webster (1987:EH20) posits that There are six tenses in the tense system of a verbal group. They show differences in the time of action or the time of the state of being or condition. The six tenses include; the present, past, future, the present perfect, the past perfect and the future perfect tense. The present tense denotes present time. It is also used to express habitual action or an idea that is generally accepted

  • I see the moon (Present time)
  • Glory works in an airplane factory (Habitual action)
  • It pays to work hard (generally accepted truth).

The present tense is often used to express future time. As in this sentence;

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If it rains, we shall not go to farm.

This sentence, expresses a future idea in a present tense.

The past tense denotes past time. The past tense of regular verbs is formed by adding -d or -ed morphemes to the present tense form or in the root word; call-called, cook-cooked, cage-caged. Sometimes the ‘d’ in the regular verb, changes to T as in build- built.

The past tense of irregular verbs is formed in various ways; Sometimes, there is change in the root word, the vowel sounds at the middle changes; example sing-sang, swim-swam, begin-began. Sometimes, the past tense form could be zero fixed. The root word remains the same, for example; bid-bid, hurt-hurt, cut-cut, slit-slit, etc.

The future tense denotes future times. The future tense is formed by combining the auxiliary ‘shall’ or ‘will1 with the present tense form of the verb. The modal, ‘shall’ is used with the first person pronoun; I and we, while the second person; you, he, she, it, they, go with the modal verb, ‘will’. Examples;

  • I shall go to the mall tomorrow (Shall-first person).
  • He will clean up his room (Will-second person).

The only difference between the simple tenses and the perfect tense is that the perfect tense include the idea of completion. The word, perfect in grammars refers to an action or state of being that is completed at the time of speaking or writing. The present perfect tense denotes action that is completed at the time of speaking or writing. It may also indicate an action that is continuing into the present. The present perfect is formed by combining the finite have or has with the past participle of the lexical verb.

The finite, has is always used as the third person singular: She has cleaned the room.

  • I have seen the new building (have seen-first person).
  • You have earned a promotion (have earned-second person).
  • Mercy has cleaned the room (has cleaned-third person).

In the first sentence, the verb phrase is ‘have seen’. It is in the present perfect tense. The verbal phrase is made up of the finite ‘have’ and the past participle of the verb ‘see’.

The past perfect tense denotes action that was completed before some definite time in the past. The past perfect tense is formed by combining the finite ‘had1 with the past participle of the principal verb; had walked, had known, had drunk, etc. The finite, had, is the past form of have or has. It is used in a sentence to indicate that the action took place before another action in the past, example;

I had gone there before you came.

The future perfect tense denotes action that will be completed at some definite time in the future. The future tense is seldom used in informal speaking or writing. The future tense is formed by combining the modals

and finites; shall have or will have with the past participle of the principal verb. ‘Shall have’ is used in the first person and ‘will have’ in the second and third persons. Examples

  • The boy would have gone before I arrive.
  • By December,   the   committee   will   have   completed   the
  • I shall have crossed the river three times before night.

Many verb errors are made because the writer or speaker is not familiar with the form of the simple tense and the perfect tense. The tense system of the verbal group system will be judiciously explored in this work.

English language has undergone a lot of conscious and subconscious modifications in Nigeria due to her multiethnic nature, probably to soothe the language the situation the country has been faced with. Thus, we have a variety of English language called the Nigerian English. This variety of English is characterized by different forms of interferences from the first language (L-i).

It has been observed that the Nigerian speakers of the English language, amongst so many other rule violations, do not pay adequate

attention to the tense system of English language. Tense according to Webster (1987:EH20) simply means time. It means the time an action took place. The tense system is divided into two; the simple tense and the perfect tense. The simple tenses include; the present, past and future tenses. The perfect tense involves an idea of completion. It is also stated that the word perfect is an action or state of being that is completed at the time of speaking and writing. The perfect tenses include; the present prefect, the past perfect and the future perfect tenses.

Opara (2018), posits that the past perfect tense is used to indicate an action, which has been completed at some point in the past time before another action, was completed. This aspect of the tense system, (the past perfect tense) is yet to be extensively studied in the Igbo context. It is against the backdrop that I’ve chosen to use Larry Selinker’s Interlanguage theory to explore the various ways in which the past perfect tense is being used and misused by the users of the English language as a second language from the Igbo extraction.


It has been observed that previous researchers addressed the issue of wrong use of tenses by the second language users of English user of tenses by the second language users of English language but keen attention has not been paid to the use of past perfect tense. With regard to the above assertion; this study attempts to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. How well do the second language users of English language use the past tense?
  2. What are the factors that impede the correct use of past perfect tense?
  3. What can be done to make the teaching of the English tense system more effective?

The research will go further to discover the level of competence these learners of English language as a second language  have attained in the mastery of the tenses.

1.3     Objectives of the Study

The objectives of this study are to evaluate the use of the past perfect tense by the second users of the English language and to discover various ways in which the past perfect tense is misused. The work will also elucidate the various factors that impede the effective teaching and learning of the tense system and suggest possible solutions to the problems.

1.4              SCOPE OF STUDY

The work will focus on the use of tenses, from the communication perspective. It will critically evaluate the use of the past perfect tense by the students of Imo State College of Education Ihitte-Uboma.

1.5     Significance of the Study

The findings of this study will be beneficial to teachers, students, curriculum planners and researchers in the education sector to obtain valuable information on the investigation of poor grammatical usages among students in the colleges of education.

This research will provide information on the most effective way to teach grammar in the schools. To the curriculum planners, it is expected that the data from this study will create awareness among the curriculum planner on the best way to improve the study of grammar in school.  This research will help the students to understand the importance of tenses in their spoken and written English and suggest possible ways to improve learning. Researchers will also find the information from this research work valuable as reference materials for further research.

Pages:  130

Category: Project

Format:  Word & PDF         

Chapters: 1-5                                 

Source: Imsuinfo                            

Material contains Table of Content, Abstract and References.


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