This study investigates error analysis of tenses composition writing in senior secondary school in mikand local government area of pleatue state . The main aim of the study is to identify the  errors, their causes and proffer pedagogical solutions to the five randomly selected secondary schools were used for the study, the study used a survey design of descriptive type of research for the study. Findings from the study revealed that  most of the students commit tense errors. Also the students were found to represent past expression with present tense. Following the analysis and findings of this study, the following  recommendation are made. There is need to accord emphasis on the teaching of grammar. It is therefore necessary to review the English language teaching syllabus of  senior secondary school  students  to accept the importance of grammar teaching and accord it the right place in the syllabus by increasing its scope, coverage and instructional activities. Also there is need to increase contact hours for English language teaching. There is also a need to Adopt appropriate teaching method. It was also recommended that training and re-training of English teachers in the selected schools in order to keep them abreast of current development in second language learning research.





Background to the study

The  lamentable  state  of  students’  use  of  the  English  language  and  the


indiscriminate use of tenses is what urged the researcher to study the errors of their written performance; Identifying their types and how to minimize them, for the use of English is made mandatory for all students wishing to undergo degree courses, hence the medium of instruction for various disciplines in the university. The Secondary school srtudents are no exception since it serves as a make up for them at the remedial level. This goes to say that students learn only because it is made compulsory for them, not that they have interest to learn. Some may want to pick up quickly at new words, sentences and may wish to write them, while others worry when they do not understand what they have to learn and may try to look for explanations while others are less concerned to tolerate ambiguity. Many of them are shy and are afraid to make mistakes while others do not want to be corrected.


Studies of the role of aptitude motivation and difference in cognitive style have done much to clear out contribution of these factors to success or failure in language learning (Brown 2018; ). Richards, points out that students differs in the goals of why they learn English such as interest, learning habits and purpose which crucially affect how they do well in their learning activities. For this, many errors could be notice in the students’ written work as well as in their spoken English. This is therefore what prompted the present study on students’ errors of tenses in the writing of Secondary school srtudents of Kebbi


State University of Science and Technology, Aliero.


According to Lyons (2010:73) tense analyzes reality in terms of temporal or sequential relationship of an event to another or some fixed or moving part of reference, while aspect sees reality in terms of how speaker uses language to exert control over events or how events themselves exert control over the speaker. In grammar tense is a category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the event takes place. Tense is the grammaticalisation of time reference, often using three basic categories of “before now” i.e the past; “now”, i.e the present and “after now”, i.e the future. The “unmarked” reference for tense is the temporal distance from the time of utterance, the “here and now”, this being absolute tense. Relative tense indicates temporal distance from a point of time established in the discourse that is not the present i.e reference to a point in the past or future. Such as the future in –future, or the future of the future (at some time in the future after the reference point, which is in the future) and future-in-the-past or future of the past (at some time after a point in the past with the reference point being in the past).


Tense is normally indicated by a verb form, either on the main verb or on an auxiliary verb. The tense markers are normally affixes but also stem modification such as ablaut or reduplication can express tense reference and in some cases tense can be shown by clitics. Often combinations of these can interact, such as in ‘Irish’, where there is a proclitic past tense marker do (various surface forms) used in conjunction with the affix or ablaut modified past tense form of the verb. Languages that do not have grammatical tense, such as Chinese, express their time reference through adverbials, time phrases and so on. English is a two-tense language which expresses past and non past, thus covering both present and future in one verb form.

This explains the sequence of time reference where an action that has taken place


in the past shows the past tense, action that is happening at the time of speaking may be


referred to as the present tense, while future occurrence shows the time when an action is


taking place. This is what explain the basic categories of time.


Bernard (1976:6) opines that;


The semantic concept of time reference (absolute or relative) may be grammaticalised in a language, i.e. a language may have a grammatical category that expresses time reference, in which case we say that the language has tenses. Some languages lack tense i.e. do not have grammatical time reference, though probably all languages can lexicalize time reference, i.e. have temporal adverbials that locate situations in time.


The term tense is therefore at times used in language descriptions to represent any


combination of tense proper, aspect, and mood, as many languages include more than one


such  reference  in  portmanteau  TAM  (tense-aspect-mood)  affixes  or  verb  forms.


Conversely, languages that grammaticalise aspect can have tense as a secondary use of an


aspect. In many languages, such as Latin, Celtic and Slavic, a verb may be inflected for


both tense and aspect together, as in the passé compose/passé simple (historique) and


imparfait of French. Verbs can also be marked for both mood and tense together, such as


the present subjunctive (so be it) and the past subjunctive (Were it so), or all three, such


as the past perfect subjunctive (Had it been so).


English, like other Germanic languages, Japanese, Persian, and so on, has only


two morphological tenses, past and non-past (present-future). These are distinguished by


verb form, by either ablaut or suffix (sings-sang, walks-walked). The non-past may be used to reference the future e.g. The examination comes up tomorrow like in the participle future tense The examination is coming up tomorrow. This example shows that the ‘s’ form and the ‘ing’ form of the verb can be interchanged to reference future time. However, this proves difficult to most of the students of the study as some of them resort to constructing sentence such as I be having an examination tomorrow. The use of tense is very crucial in English Language, as tense formation is taught in school at all the levels of education from primary up to tertiary level in Nigeria. This goes to suggest how important tense is, as no sentence is expressed without a verb which indicates the time of an action.



No matter what amount of teaching done on tenses, students still commit errors which are indicative of their deficiency in understanding of this grammatical aspect. This is even more so at the tertiary level where it is expected that the students would have demonstrated a firm understanding of the use of the tenses.


It is on record, that students do commit errors in using the target language (which is L2) in accordance with situation. As Lawal (2014), points out,


Errors of usage are attributable to the complexity of the English language itself. The level at which people commit errors in terms of language usage vary from one person to another, depending on linguistic background of the speakers or users of the language.



There are various reports from examination bodies such as West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO), Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and other agencies which show that the students’ performance in English language has been very low particularly in the West African School Certificate Examinations (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO) as   students were unable to learn all the grammatical rules, nouns, verbs, phrases, clauses and sentences, hence fail to apply the correct rules.


It was from the colonial era that the importance of English had been emphasized. Today, the English Language has become so indispensable in Nigerian life that, according to Bamigbose (2001) “It could perhaps be regarded as the most important heritage left behind in Nigeria by the British, at the end of the colonial administration”. Efforts made by the colonial administration to encourage the teaching and learning of the English Language in Nigerian schools included the introduction of a system of certification into the country between 1882 and 1926 through a series of education codes. This system not only attracted Nigerians to lucrative jobs but also ensured that priority was put on English Language in all schools, for instance, a credit pass in the subject was a pre-requisite to obtaining a certificate in all examination.

The poor performance of students in English calls for urgent attention especially when we consider the crucial roles English plays in the country. The fact that (Nwogu 2003) “English Language is arguably the most significant, but most controversial subject taught in Nigerian secondary schools” need not be over-stressed. Apart from English being instrumental to getting a good job in many cases, it is a pre-requisite for post-secondary education in Nigeria. It is also one of the four official languages recognized by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is again the medium of instruction right from the “later” stage of primary school up to the university level Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN, 1998). In view of these and many other roles it plays in the country, it will be difficult, if not practically impossible, for any person to be socially reckoned with in all spheres of life without a functional knowledge of English. If English is as important as we have pointed out above, it becomes necessary for us as teachers, curriculum planners, policy makers etc. to help, in various capacities improve students’ and users’ performance in it by studying all its aspects, i.e. lexis, phonology, grammar semantics etc.

In Nigeria today, English is the usual language of government, business and commerce, the mass media and inter-ethnic communication among educated Nigerians. Besides, it is the principal medium of formal education in the country. And it is perhaps in its role in Nigerian education that the importance of the language is felt most.

The English language is widely recognized as the most commonly used language in the world today. As a result, it is very important for people who travel, conduct business, do academic and scientific research or study in an international setting to be able to use it correctly. Although

many people spend a large amount of time studying English in the classroom, a large number of them continue to have significant difficulties using the language correctly while communicating with others in real-life situations. These errors in accuracy are often related to the system of English language and some other environmental common factors.

In order to understand how and why these types of errors occur and to find ways to alleviate this problem, research into errors of English language inflection should be conducted. The findings can then be used to reduce the number and frequency of errors in inflection and to make the use of the English language more correct and accurate. Ultimately, revised methods of instruction and error correction could be applied to English language teaching programs.

Error analysis is 'a technique for identifying, classifying and systematically interpreting the unacceptable forms produced by someone learning a foreign language, using any of the principles and procedures provided by Linguistics. Errors are assumed to reflect, in a systematic way, the level of competence achieved by the learner; they are contrasted with mistakes which are performance limitations that a learner would be able to correct.

The field of error analysis in second language acquisition was established in the 2010s as an alternative to contrastive analysis. Error analysis is an approach that is applied in linguistics to predict areas of great difficulties for second language learners by using a formal distinction between the learner‟s first and target languages. However, contrastive analysis was unable to predict a number of errors in many difficult areas in which errors are expected. Thus, Error Analysis is an important instrument in first and second language learning\acquisition research. It sheds the light on the fact that learner‟s errors reflect a gap in their competence, order of acquisition and accuracy order of learning. The intralingual and interlingual factors determine the source of errors. The former involves difficulties faced by the learner because of different linguistic features of L2 itself; however, the latter involves the direct influence of L1 structures and other features on L2 (Olaoye 2012).

Statement of the problem

It is also observed despite the fact that the learning of English started at the primary and secondary school levels, many learners lack the ability when it comes to the use of basic structures in both spoken and written forms.However, despite frequent studies done on grammatical structure of English, the teaching and learning of second language, students are prone to commit errors in their writings. Based on the educational context in Nigeria, there is a need for English language learners to be equipped with good grammar knowledge since the educational system relies very much on written examination as compared to other language skills.     

However, learners in secondary schools, especially, despite having learnt English language since their primary schools, tend to commit common grammatical errors in speaking and writing. Those errors are thus believed to be caused by several factors including first language interference, lack of grammar knowledge and ignorance of learners of the grammar rules. As for narrative writing, students are supposed to be aware of the appropriate tenses that they should use. Despite all that, there are still many students who are not concerned about the choice of tenses which suit the nature of narrative essay.

Objective of the study

The major objective of this research work is to investigate the Error Analysis Of Tenses Composition Writing In Senior Secondary School in Mikang local government area of plateau state

The specific objective is;

(i)                 To investigate and analyze the types of tense errors in   students composition writing  in secondary school


(ii)               To identify the underlying causes of the tense errors of  secondary school students’ writing in English language in  Mikang local government area


(iii)             To proffer some pedagogical solutions to the identified problems.


Research Questions


The research seeks to answer the following questions:


(1)               What are the types of tense errors made by the Secondary school srtudents?


(2)               What are the causes of tense errors of the Secondary school srtudents   under the study?


(3)               What are the solutions to be proffer to the identified tense errors?



Significance of the study

This study is significant as it gears towards informing educators and language study material developers about the kind of inflectional errors that secondary schools students of the study make, and to show the errors’ frequency of occurrence. It is believed that if educators and study material developers become conscious of likely problem areas that face specific groups of students, they would be in a better position to put appropriate strategies in place.

Thus, this study, even though in a small scale is hoped to be useful for teachers to find out the  the causes of inflectional errors which are commonly committed by the students so that possible ways for learners to improve their grammar as well as language competency based on their writing might be later considered. In addition, the learners’ performance in English examination paper is expected to be improved too. As for the school, it has always been a healthy competition between the boarding schools that they compete to be in good positions in the schools ranking. This implies that this study might also contribute to finding alternatives and remedial implementations in increasing students’ language performance in the written examination and place the school in a good ranking especially for English subject.

For syllabus and curriculum designers, this study might be a useful additional reference since it is hoped to be able to extract the grammatical aspects which need to be emphasised on the students learning in school. The same goes to educational book publishers who might want to revise their publications by publishing grammar books on certain grammatical aspects according to the students’ needs. This is due to the finding which reveals that different students encounter different difficulties and problems in various grammatical aspects. Workbooks or references published with standardized quality could also be the additional materials for students to work out on their respective aspects of grammar problems.

Scope of the study

The focus of the study is investigating error analysis of tenses composition writing in senior secondary school The study is limited to five (5) selected secondary schools in in Mikang local government area of plateau state   


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