Primary English Tips | Using Singlish : 6 Mistakes You May Not Realise You are Making

Thank you for all your participation in our poll and quiz! The past week has been pretty exciting as we watched your votes come in for our poll on the most challenging component in the new PSLE format. We will be reviewing the results of the poll and doing a post on the component with the highest number of votes in the following post, on next Tuesday at 10pm. Another activity that has been keeping us busy is our analysis of the results for our first Lil' but Mighty English quiz on Singlish and English. 

The rationale for setting up the quiz was actually to highlight certain Singlish structures that many children have been using in their conversations and writing. For the longest time, I noticed how these Singlish structures slipped out during formal settings like oral examinations and composition writing and children do not even recognise that they were actually using Singlish.

For those of you who did not attempt the quiz, the questions basically provided Singlish and standard English responses for doers to choose from in each given scenario. When I tried it with my children, some of them were surprised that the options which they thought were standard English turned out to be wrong. We are uniquely Singapore and Singlish is part of our Singaporean identity. In fact, I enjoy using Singlish with my friends in our casual conversations. However, the point here is that in formal settings such as during assessment, standard English should be used and we want to make sure that our children are aware of that. Practice makes perfect and that is also the reason why it will be good for our children to practise using standard English as much as possible.

In today's post, I will be highlighting 6 grammatical structures and words which many children are using inappropriately during oral and writing assessment. I will be asking a special friend to highlight these errors to you and she is none other than...

grammar grandmama front open.png


Grammar Grandma

Age: 99

Hobbies: Collecting jade jewellery, correcting grammatical errors 

Fun Fact: She perms her hair once every two weeks to get her perfect curls.


Here are 6 grammatical structures and words which many children have frequently misused, even during oral and composition assessment. If you are familiar with these items but cannot really point out what is wrong with them, read on now with Grammar Grandma to find out. 

Grammatical Structures

1) Missing 'be' Verb

Do you know that is, are, am, was ,were are actually a group of verbs called the 'be' verbs? These 'be' verbs can be a main verb (as in the first and second sentences) or a helping verb to be used with "going" in order to show continuous action. These verbs are important as without them, the sentence will not be complete.

2) Using "one" at the End of the Sentence 

In Singlish, using "one" at the end of sentences has an effect of adding emphasis to the sentence. In standard English, however, other than being used as a number and a pronoun (e.g. Do you have a bag? You should buy one. --> one refers to a bag) , "one" does not have this function of adding emphasis. A sentence can be structured grammatically to add emphasis instead of adding "one" at the end, take note!

3) Using "finish" to Indicate a Change of State

In the sentences above, 'finish' is used almost like an adverb (like completely) to describe the completion of an action. While 'finish' can act as a verb (I finished my breakfast.), noun (The day had been terrible from start to finish.) or adjective (The finished product was better than what I had expected.), it cannot act as an adverb. Although 'finish' does indicate the completion of an activity, use it in a grammatically accurate manner as shown in the examples above.


Word Usage

1) 'Colour' being Added After Colour Words

Words like red, blue and yellow already indicate a colour and hence, adding the word colour after them is unnecessary. Use the colour words on their own or add "-coloured" to form an adjective as seen in "The orange-coloured balloon is mine." Another way is to use "in colour" together with the colour word as seen in "My balloon is orange in colour".

Hence, if you are to use this in a composition, you should be writing:

I saw a blue van knock into a tree. 

NOT I saw a blue colour van knock into a tree. 

2) Stay Back vs Stay Behind 

Stay behind

— phrasal verb with stay 

to not leave a place when other people leave: I stayed behind after class.

Surprise, surprise! This is an extremely common mistake made by many in school. If you do a quick search in the UK English dictionaries under Longman, Cambridge and Oxford, you will find out that none of them contains any entry for "stay back"!

It is stay BEHIND, not stay back.

3) Horn vs Honk

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 2.05.52 am.png

According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online again:


noun (VEHICLE)

device on a vehicle that is used to make a loud noise as a warning or signal to other people:

The driver blew/sounded (informal honked) her horn.

Another meaning of horn is a "hard, pointed part that grows from the top of the head of some animal". The more accurate way to express the same meaning of cars making a noise from their horn will therefore be, "sound their horns" or "to honk" which may be a little less formal but still acceptable. 


That was quite a mouthful for Grammar Grandma! I hope that after reading this list of the 6 common mistakes that your children may not know they have been making, they will be more aware and rectify them immediately.

*Update: 03/08/2015 Thank you for taking part in our poll!*