Incipient Grammatical Variation in Educated English Use in Nigeria: A Decline in the Use of the -s Third Person Singular Verb Inflection in Nigerian Newspapers


  • Bernadette Ogbonna Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, Nigeria



Key words and phrases:  incipient grammatical variation, third person singular,-s verbal inflection, Nigerian print media, educated English use


In language variation studies, existing literature on domains of English use asserts that the language of English-medium newspapers globally is the educated, acrolectal, Standard English variety and that variation is not found in educated written English. Contrary to these two key assertions, this study notes the copious and progressive use of an unusual verb form in the Nigerian print media. The -s inflection performs two functions in grammatical number. It is a marker of plurality in count-nouns and singularity in lexical verbs. This study observes a decline in the use of the -s third person singular, present tense inflection in lexical verbs in Nigerian English-medium newspapers and investigates this phenomenon to establish its significance. Data collected from news reports and feature stories in a cross-section of Nigerian newspapers over a period of seven years (2015 to 2021) were examined. The study is situated within variation theory; it adopts observational, quantitative and interpretive methods of enquiry. The findings reveal that the use of the -s third person singular, present tense inflection in lexical verbs is declining in new generation Nigerian newspapers and the uninflected verb form is increasingly replacing it. This suggests an incipient, morphosyntactic variation, emerging in the Nigerian print media. The findings of the study counter existing literature which asserts that variation does not occur in educated written English but rather establish that variation can be found in educated written language. Through its findings, the study re-directs research in language variation to hitherto unexploited sources of data.



Adger, David & Trousdale, Graeme. 2007. Variation in English syntax: theoretical implications. Volume 11, Issue 2: 261-278. (Special issue on English dialect syntax) Published online by Cambridge University Press on 12 July 2007. Retrieved on 16 Dec. 2016 from

Alo, Moses. A. & Mesthrie, Rajend. 2004. Nigerian English: morphology and syntax. In B.

Kortmann & E. W. Schnider (Eds.). A handbook of varieties of English: a multimedia reference tool. Vol.2. Berlin: Mouton de Gryter. 323 – 339.

Ayeomoni, Stella. A & Akande, Timothy. A. 2013. Aspect in Standard Nigerian and American English. Ibadan Journal of English Studies. 9. 103 – 118.

Bamiro, E. 1995. Syntactic Variation in West African English. World Englishes. 142. 189 –204.

Biber, Douglas. Johansson, Stig. Leech, Geofffrey. Conrad, Susan & Edward Finegan. 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman.

Bussman, Hadumond. 2006. Routledge dictionary of language and Linguistics. London: Taylor and Francis.

Carter, Ronald & McCarthy. Michael McCarthy. 2006. Cambridge grammar of English: a comprehensive guide – spoken and written English grammar and usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Crystal, David. 2008. A dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. Sixth edition. U. K. Blackwell Publishers.

Embick, David. 2008. Variation and morphosyntactic theory: competition fractionated. Language and Linguistics Compass. 2.1. 59 – 78.

Honeybone, Patrick. 2011. Variation and linguistic theory. In M. Warren & M. Mcahon (Eds.), Analyzing variation in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 151 -- 177.

Huddleston, Rodney & Geoffrey. K. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Jowitt, David. 1991. Nigerian English usage: an Introduction. Lagos: Longman.

………. 1994. The English of Nigerian newspapers. English Today. 10. 04: 23-28.

Kroch, Anthony. 1994. Morphosytactic variation. In K. Beals, J. Denton, R. Knippen,

L. Melnar, H. Susuki & E. Zeinfield (Eds.) Papers from the 30th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society: Parrasession on variation and linguistic theory. 180-201.

Labov, Willian. 1971. Some principles of linguistic methodology. Language in society. 1: 97-120.

………. 1981. What can be inferred about change in progress from synchronic descriptions? In D. Sankoff and H. Cedergren (Eds.), Variation Omnibus. [NWAVE VIII]. Edmonton, Alberta: Linguistic Research.

………. 1984. Field methods of the project on linguistic change and variation. In J.

Baugh & J. Sherzer (Eds.), Language in use. Englewoods Cliffs: New Jersey: Prentice Hall. 28-53. GURT '84: 43-70.

Lado, Robert. 1957. Linguistics across cultures. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Nigeria: news & media: open directory project

Most widely read Nigerian newspapers

Retrieved January 5, 2015 from

Nigeria newspapers worldcat. USA

Most widely read Nigerian newspapers

Retrieved January 5, 2015 from

Palmer, F. R. 1965. A linguistic study of the English verb. London: Longman.

Poplack, Shana.1993. variation theory and language contact. In D. Preston (Ed.) American dialect research: an anthology celebrating the 100th anniversary of the American dialect society. 251-263. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Quirk, Randolph & Sydney Greenbaum. 1973. A concise grammar of contemporary English. USA: Harcourt Brace Jovanich Inc.

Quirk, Randolph, Greenbaum, Sidney, Leech, Geoffrey & Svartvik, Jan. 1985. A grammar of contemporary English. USA. New York: Seminar Press Inc.

Sankoff, David. 1982. Sociolinguistic method and linguistic theory. In L. Cohen et al (Eds.), Logic, methodology, Philosophy of Science VI. Amsterdam: North Holland. 679 -- 687.

………. 1988. Sociolinguistics and syntactic variation. In Frederick Newmeyer (Ed.), Linguistics: the Cambridge survey. New York: Cambridge University Press. 140-161.

Sankoff, Gillian & Labov, William. 1985. Variation theory. Paper presented at NWAVE-XIV. Georgetown University.

Svartvik, Jan & Leech, Geoffrey. 2006. English: one tongue, many voices. New York:

Palgrave Macmillan.Taiwo, Rotimi. 2013. Morphosyntactic features of Nigerian English. In Bernd Kourtmann (Ed.), The Mouton World Atlas of Variation in English (WAVE). Berlin: Mouton de Gryter. 410 – 416

Weinreich, Uriel. Labov, William. & Herzog, Marvin. 1968. Empirical foundations for a theory of language change. In Lehmann, W. P. & Malkiel, Y. (eds.), Directions for historical linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press. 95–188.

Wolfram, Walt. 2006. Variation and language, an overview. In Encyclopedia of language and Linguistics. 2nd edition. New York: Elsevier.




Similar Articles

11-20 of 362

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.