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Grammatical Errors and Imperfect Learning (Verbal and Adjectival Government)

Speakers of Standard American English, perhaps more often than speakers of any other European standard, make grammatical errors that are clearly not lapsus linguae (slips of the tongue). Nowhere is this more evident than in the government of verbs and adjectives, where the prepositional complements are frequently being confused, particularly for, with, and to. This was glaringly observed in the mistakes made today by interviewees on the NPR program “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio.

One such mistake was *rife for instead of the correct rife with; the other was *complying to instead of complying with. That any adult native speaker of contemporary American English can commit such grammatical errors testifies not only to what is called imperfect learning but to a fundamental lacuna in their command of the language. Since the speakers sounded on the young side, these mistakes––which could be multiplied manyfold in public oral discourse––can only be attributed to insufficient experience with the written word and a near-ubiquitous reliance on social media, which by their very nature promote frequent heedless neglect of the rules of grammar.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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