Proud of Singlish But 4 Mistakes You Should Avoid in Formal Assessments
Are you wondering why Grammar Grandma is so horrified? Do you think that Low Mai Kai’s diary entry is spotless? If so, it might be because you are also used to the same way of writing and speaking as Low Mai Kai.
As Singaporeans, our vernacular is Singlish. Uniquely local, Singlish is a colloquial language that is part of our national identity. However, there is always a time, place and occasion to use it. As a vernacular, Singlish is more suitably used in informal situations and speech, not for formal situations and in writing.
It is easy for languages to affect one another. As such, it might not be surprising that Singlish will colour our Standard English. Today, I will be highlighting 4 common errors that students commit unknowingly in their Standard English. Let’s take a look!
1. Quantifiers for countable and uncountable nouns
In Singlish, the above phrase that is bolded is so commonly used that many students believe that it is accurate. However, it is not!
In English, words such as ‘much’ are called quantifiers because they indicate the amount of a noun in the sentence. Let’s look at how quantifiers should be used accurately:
As ‘people’ are countable, the quantifier that we should use is ‘many’ to indicate the number of people. Similarly, we should not use ‘so little people’. I don’t think the people are really tiny, are they? Instead, we should use ‘so few people’ to indicate the low number of people in a place.
2. ‘me and someone else’
In Low Mai Kai’s diary entry, this sentence is grammatically wrong because of the phrase ‘me and my family’. There are 2 mistakes in this sentence:
a. I versus me
In this sentence, ‘me and my family’ serves as the subject of the sentence. That is, they are the doers of the action ‘had to squeeze’. In English, ‘I’ is the pronoun that is used as the subject, while ‘me’ is the pronoun for the object of a sentence.
Therefore, instead of ‘me’, ‘I’ should be used here.
b. Arrangement of subjects
The second mistake is in the arrangement of the people. When writing a phrase that includes oneself with another person, we must remember to be polite: mention ‘me’ or ‘I’ after the other person. For example:
- My family and I had to squeeze through the crowds in order to see the fireworks.
- My uncle brought Janet and me to the zoo.
So, take note! Phrases such as ‘me and my family’, ‘me and my friends’, ‘me and my sibling’ are all colloquial and should not be used in formal writing and speech.
3. Usage of ‘already’
This word, ‘already’, is commonly abused in Singlish. We use it so often in daily life, but do you know the correct way to use it?
From the Cambridge Dictionary:
Meaning 1: To say that something has happened before the present time
If we use ‘already’ in the way as its first meaning, we should use the present perfect or past perfect tense. For example:
- Luckily, I had already done my work so I could fully enjoy the long weekend!
- The plane has already taken off; there is no need to rush to the gate anymore.
The simple present tense (e.g. I already do my work) is not suitable as this tense does not indicate that the action is completed at an earlier time and is in the past.
Meaning 2: to say that something happened earlier than the time expected
If we use ‘already’ in the ways as its second meaning, we can use the present tense. For example:
- It is ten o’clock already? I did not realise it!
- Are you planning a trip already? It is only September!
4. It’s vs. Its
This is one of the most common errors that students make in English. The only punctuation difference between the two pronouns is the apostrophe ( ’ ), but there is a world of difference in their meanings. Let’s take a look at their meanings:
How do we remember the difference? Here is a trick. Imagine that the ‘i’ in ‘is’ has jumped up and turned into the apostrophe:
After correcting the four errors, Low Mai Kai’s diary entry now looks like this:
As Singaporeans, let’s be proud of our vernacular, Singlish. At the same time, let’s remember that Standard English is also the way in which the world understands us. Hence, in the right place, time and occasion, such as during exams and formal assessments, let’s remember to use Standard English and avoid making the above Singlish-related mistakes!
If you want to find out more about the common mistakes students make due to Singlish, you can read the first part here.
Ms. Quek is an English Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. She is dedicated to helping her students do well in the language through a focus on the learning process. As an educator, she believes in creating a nurturing and stimulating environment for students to learn.