The Problem of Tenses Among Nigerian Speakers of English


The Problem of Tenses Among Nigerian Speakers of English




Tenses refer to the form of a verb in English Language that clearly indicates time. We use Tenses to show clear time specification. In this sense, it is seen that without verbs, there will not be Tenses as tense in grammar does not only refer to time but also the action of the verb or state of being at a given moment. Tense is a way of making us know that a thing has happened at ‘present’ (present tense), a thing happened some moments in the ‘past’ (past tense) and a thing will happen in ‘future’ (future tense).

Communication is the process or act of expressing ideas and feelings to one another or a process of giving out information to people.

Language as a medium of human communication, socialization, civilization and development has been given a full-length treatment by linguists. Language is quite complex and for this reason, linguists had to devise ways of making it easier to analyze and describe so as to present a true and full structure of any definition given. However, the attempt to describe and study language gave rise to a number of schools of linguists. All of them developed from the same root of traditional grammar.

Sidney Greenbaum defines grammar as “a general theory of language description” In this sense, grammar refers to the properties and processes that underlies the use of language. By implication, the speakers are expected to be equipped with the knowledge of the rules of the language they intend to speak and apply them properly when using them.

Traditional grammar precedes what is now regarded as a scientific approach to the study of language. Its approach is one that is normative, definition-oriented and prescriptive in nature. It represents an attempt to prescribe rules for language use. It prescribes rather than merely describe language. Emphasis is on correctly usage that is what speakers should say rather than what speakers actually say. Indeed, it is the attitude to correctness of the traditional grammar that has made it to always prescribe what sort of language ought to be used. Such terms as noun, verb, adverb, preposition, object, subject, etc. and of course, tenses are derived from the traditional grammar and are used to analyze sentences today.

It is interesting to note that traces of these grammatical terms or features are still found in use in schools today. However, the traditional grammar which is normative, prescriptive and definition-oriented has provided us with clear explanations on the uses of tenses in English and going by this, one is able to detect errors made by students in using tenses.

In this research work, the researcher intend to draw attention to the problem with tenses in communication using the students of university of Abuja as a case study.


When Nigerians speak English, especially the students whom the scope of this research is limited to, they tend to make mistakes in their usage of English Language tenses. It is the level this problem has reached that prompted the researcher to investigate into the problem with the aim of highlighting the causes as well as the features and also the gateway of solving this problem.


This study aims at discussing in some details the English tenses in order to examine the possible mother tongue interference on the speakers or learners of English as a second language and also to point out other factors responsible for the misuse of English tenses. This study seeks to explain at length the problems students encounter in the usage of tenses and tries to offer some ways with which to overcome these problems.


The study is important first, because it will help students to be aware of their grammatical problems and have them conscious of their usages when they speak the target language (English) in order to improve on their problems.

It also helps enlighten individuals as regards to the grammatical system of English so as to master and speak a form of English which is devoid of over bearing influence of their mother tongues, regional features, etc. similarly, this work also shows the path way to researchers who would want to take up the challenge for further studies in the field.


Our main focus here is the students; undergraduates of university of Abuja to be precise and it is within this scope that the researcher carried out this research.


The research procedure entails the research methodology. That is the method the researcher used to gather data for the study and the method intended to be used for the analysis of data collected for this research work.


The primary method of data collection as used by the researcher constitutes a nucleus of the research because it is through this method that the researcher actually got the materials to be used for the analysis this study. The method used in observations and written essays in the sense that some students were asked to write about their experiences on campus. Their essays were used to extract the data for analysis in this study.

Most of the students who wrote the essay had the Igala language of Kogi State as their mother tongue while few had pidgin as their mother tongue. This choice of students made it easier for the researcher to analyze their errors since the researcher has spent a reasonable number of years with the Igala people and can confidently identify the causes of the errors made if attributed to mother tongue interference or not.


The researcher embarked on an extensive analysis of her available data which is picking at least five essays from the ten scripts collected, selecting and analyzing the errors made as regards tenses and found the causes of these errors.


The theory that is adopted for this study is the theory of error analysis alongside the inter language approach. This theory entails the study of the language of the learners with a view to identifying the mistakes learners make and to figure out the causes and significance of such errors in the learning process.


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