University of Muhammadiyah Prof. Dr. Hamka

University of Muhammadiyah Prof. Dr. Hamka



University of Muhammadiyah Prof. Dr. Hamka


The research aims to analyze students’ written works in term of syntax and morphology category. There aretwenty-six students’ written works of the third semester of Mitra Keluarga Health Science Institute who took English presentation course focusing on medical cases with 186 error identifications. The result has revealed there are 132 syntactical errors and 54 morphological errors. The students make errors in the types of article, preposition, parallel structure, the use of be, passive voice, word order, tenses, infinitive to, modal auxiliary and subject determiner in syntactical category and the plural form, subject verb agreement, comparative adjective and word form in morphological category. Word order is as the most common language error in syntax category with 36 total errors or 19.35% out of 186. The second one is preposition with 26 total errors or 13.97%. There are 132 (70.96%) of error identification in syntactical category. While in morphology category, subject verb agreement is the most common one with 29 total errors or 15.59%. The second common one is word form with 13 total errors or 6.98%. There are 54 error identifications or 29.04% in morphological category. The causes of students’ errors are due to intralanguage and interlanguage errors since it has some differences between Bahasa Indonesia and English in term of grammatical structure.

Keywords: Syntax, Morphology, intralanguageandinterlanguage error, Error Analysis


Without having the knowledgeof the grammatical structures, vocabulary, dictions, pronunciation and others.Individuals cannot express their ideas in spoken or written work well. In addition, their mother tongue interferences in the areas of syntax, grammar, lexis and pronunciation, also lead the problem that they have been familiar with, particularly if the structures of the two languages are different. English teachers in Indonesia are familiar with erroneous construction, like “although” and “but” in the same sentence. It is all right to write or say: “Walaupun hujan, tapi anak anak masih bermain bola di lapangan” in Bahasa Indonesia. When a weak learner attempts to transfer the construction to English, he might say or write it as “Although it rains, but the children still play the ball in the field. Other common erroneous structure examples, “saya kira iya” and “saya sangat suka musik”, the learners may write or say: I think yes and I very like music.

Those above sentences are an instance of negative transfer in grammar. As Wilkins (1972:199) observes: “when learning language, an individual already knows his mother tongue, and it is this which he attempts to transfer. The transfer may prove to be justified because the structure of the two languages is similar, in that case we get ‘positive transfer’ or facilitation or it may prove unjustified because the structure of the two languages are different, in that case we get ‘negative transfer’ or interference. Those errors are mostly found in the classes that researcher teaches and such errors occur repeatedly and cannot be recognized by the learners in foreign language classroom. Not only do they have a lot of problems with oral and written skills, but also they are often unaware of the nature of their problems in learning English. In addition, quite many students are not aware of their errors in lexis, morphology and syntax. Hourani (2008:11) remarks that primary causes of errors can be as follows: “Interlingual errors and intralingual errors. Interlingual errors are those which are related to the native language, whereas intralingual errors are those which are due to the language being learned”.

Error analysis as a branch of applied linguistics has two functions or objectives. The first one is theoretical which has its place in methodology and describes the learner’s knowledge of the target language. Corder (1974:123) points out the theoretical objective serves to “elucidate what and how a learner learns when he studies a second language. The second one is practical which is to overcome the mismatch between the knowledge of the learner and the demand of situation. Corder (1974:123) added that the applied objective serves to enable the learner “to learn more efficiently by exploiting our knowledge of his dialect for pedagogical purposes”. Error analysis itself is one of the major topics in the field of second language acquisition research. Erdogan (2005) and Richard (1971: 1) explained, “the field of error analysis may be defined as dealing the differences between the way people learning a language speak and the way adult native speakers of the language use the language”. Erdogan (2005: 262) also explains that error analysis enables lecturers to find out the sources of errors and take pedagogical precautions towards them. As indicated above, the analysis of students’ errors has become an essential need to organize remedial courses, to compose appropriate material and teaching strategies based on the findings of error analysis”.

The number of student nurses has increased significantly for the last ten years, especially after many nursing academies are under supervision of Technology and Research Ministry in spite of under Ministry of Health. Because of this under supervision, there is no limitation of student admission number. In addition, the needs of nurses in many countries are in highly demand, such as in Japan, Germany, America, and other countries. Not only do professional nurses have capability in nursing duties but also the capability of English speaking and writing skills are mainly required when working overseas or English speaking countries. One of the main problems faced by Indonesian nurses are lack of English competence. Compared to Philippine’s nurses, their English is not as good as theirs. Under those circumstances, nowadays many nursing academies and health science institutes have collaborated with other English institutions in order for student nurses to be able to compete and communicate by using English well and fulfill the high demand of nurses in other countries. One of nursing interventions is that the nurses must be able to write a report progress of the patients. Thus, the knowledge of writing is also a must. As stated by Ulijn and Strother (1995:153) that writing is generally considered to be one of the active or productive skills of language usage. Bjorge and Raisanen (1997:8) said, “We highlight the importance of writing in all university curricula not only because of its immediate practical application, i.e. as an isolated skill or ability, but because we believe that, seen from a broader perspective writing is a thinking tool. It is a tool for language development, for critical thinking and extension for learning in all disciplines.”

As an integral part of language learning, errors in student nurses’ written works focusing on syntax and morphology were analyzed as writing skill is essential. In addition, it also provides English teachers or lecturers with a picture of linguistic development of a learner and may give them indications as to the learning process. Error analysis itself is very useful in second language learning or foreign language learning because this will reveal to teachers, syllabus designers and textbook writers about the problem areas. They could do remedial exercises and focus more attention on the trouble spot. In Agreement, Richard and Schmidt (2002:184) stated that Error Analysis may be carried out in order to: 1) identify strategies which learners use in language learning; 2) try to identify the causes of learner errors; and 3) obtain information on common difficulties in language learning as an aid to teaching or in the preparation of teaching materials.

Syntax and morphology have a great significance in L2 acquisition because how students’ performance are monitored and evaluated especially at lower levels, are based on their morphological and syntactic productions. To evaluate these productions, teachers generally tend to look into their pieces of writing. However, it is known that students commit many errors while forming sentences due to violation of the rules of syntax and morphology. Therefore, this study has aimed to identify and analyze the morphological and syntactic errors in a small corpus drawn from student nurses’ writing samples. Under these circumstances, the study emphasizes on following problems:

  1. What are the most common types of language errors in term of syntax made in English written work by students?
  2. What are the most common types of language errors in term of morphology made in English written work by students?
  3. What are the causes of students’ errors in term of syntax and morphology?
  4. How frequent do the syntactical and morphological errors occur in their English written works?

Theoretical review

  1. Syntax

In linguistics, syntax refers to the rules that govern the ways in which words combine to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. More simply, syntax can be defined as the arrangement of words in a sentence. The term of syntax is also used to mean the study of the syntactic properties of a language. (Nordquist, R, 2015).Radford, A. (2009:1) defined syntax as the study of the way in which phrases and sentences are structured out of words, and so addresses questions like ‘What is the structure of a sentence like “What’s the president doing? And what is the nature of grammatical operations by which its component words are combined together to form the overall sentence structure?. Newson, M. (2006:451) stated that syntax is the study of sentence structure. Victoria F, Robert R, Nina H. (2003:118) stated that the part of the grammar that represents a speaker’s knowledge of sentences and their structures is called syntax. Kenneth Slonneger and Barry L. Kurtz. (1995:1) added that Syntax refers to the ways symbols may be combined to create well-formed sentences (or programs) in the language. Syntax defines the formal relations between the constituents of a language, thereby providing a structural description of the various expressions that make up legal strings in the language. Syntax deals solely with the form and structure of symbols in a language without any consideration given to their meaning.

Syntactic errors are those, which disobey the phrase structure rule and, by this way, violate the formation of grammatically correct sentences. These errors can be exemplified as word order, ungrammatical sentence constructions resulting from faulty use of verb, prepositions, articles, and relative clause in sentences. These types of errors have captured the attention of a great number of researchers studying in different settings with learners of different backgrounds.

Dulay et al (1982). He pointed out that there are four major linguistic categories of errors. These are:

  1. Orthography (spelling)
  2. Lexicon and semantics (vocabulary and meaning)
  3. Syntax and morphology (grammar)
  4. Discourse (style).

In addition, Hendrickson (1979:362) also added the categories of errors by using grid, which is intended for use in the evaluation of language students as seen in following grid below.

Table 1. Hendrickson’s grid

Lexicon / Syntax / Morphology / Orthography
Problem areas

The grid format allows errors to be categorized along two scales. On the horizontal scale the categories are as follows:

Lexicon = vocabulary, semantics, or errors of meanings;

Syntax = grammar, including word order, verb phrase, and other elements of structure;

Morphology = grammatical agreement of various kinds, such as subject-verb agreement, plurals, etc.;

Orthography = spelling, capitalization and punctuation.

On vertical scale, “global” refers to errors that affect the organization of the entire sentence (for example, missing subjects or main verbs). “Local” errors affect only the constituent in which they appear (such as a noun phrase or prepositional phrase). “Problem areas” is meant to be filled in with sort description of the errors.

  1. Morphology

The study of the internal structure of words, and of the rules by which words are formed is morphology. This word itself consists of two morphemes, morph + ology. The suffix –ology means “science of” or “branch of knowledge concerning.” Thus, the meaning of morphology is the science of word forms.” (Fromkin, Robert R, & Nina H., 2003:67). So in other word that the study of word formation and internal structure of word is called morphology. (2003:107).Andrew Carstairs – McCarthy. (2002: 16) noted that “The area of grammar concerned with the structure of words and with relationships between words involving the morphemes that compose them is technically called morphology, from the Greek word morphe ‘form, shape’ and morphemes can be thought of as the minimal units of morphology” Andrew Radford (2009:1) defined morphology as “The study of how words are formed out of smaller units (called morphemes), and so addresses questions such as ‘What are the component morphemes of a word like antidisestablishmentariasnism. And what is the nature of the morphological operations by which they are combined together to form the overall word?.

Morphological errors could be portrayed as those resulting from misapplication of morphological rules in the formation of words. Hsieh, Tsai, Wible maintain that morphological errors indicate the learner’s miscomprehension about the meaning and function of morphemes and about the morphological rules quoted by Akande, A.T. (2005). These types of errors may include such errors as omission of plurals on nouns, lack of subject-verb agreement, the adjective noun agreement, verb tense or form, article or other determiner incorrect, omitted or unnecessary. Surprisingly, their research, more or less, found similar types of morphological and syntactical errors stemming from similar sources such as mother tongue interference and inconsistency of the rules in the target language.

  1. Error Analysis

Error analysis is one of the most influential theories of second language acquisition. It is concerned with the analysis of the errors committed by L2 learners by comparing the learners’ acquired norms with the target language norms and explaining the identified errors (James, 1988).For James (2001:62), error analysis refers to “the study of linguistic ignorance, the investigation of what people do not know and how they attempt to cope with their ignorance”. In addition, Nunan (2005:31) defines “error analysis involves studying samples of student’s written language to identify grammatical errors they make. This analysis is absolutely needed to be the basis for providing feedback to the students or for tabulating the errors. Although, these analyses are extremely time consuming and also probably not feasible in large classes, it is helpful for being basis to decide on the focus of review lessons.

Error and Mistake

An error is different from mistake, so we have to be careful to differentiate both of them. “Errors are breaking the rule, due to a lack of competence such as knowledge, which may or may not be conscious. As they are due to a lack competence they tend to be not self correctable”. (Corder, 1973: 257).

In addition, Rod Ellis (1993:700) explains that error is a deviation from accepted rules of a language made by a learner of a second language. Such errors result from the learner’s lack of knowledge of correct rules of the target language. Dulay (1982:139) states that error is the flawed side of the learner speech or writing. Those are part of conversation or composition that deviates from some selected norms of mature language performance. Corder (1973:257) states that errors are breaking the role due to lack of competence such as the knowledge of the language, which may not be conscious. Also, Brown (1994:217) states that error is a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflecting the inter language competence of the learner.

A learner makes a mistake when writing or speaking because of lack of attention, fatigue, carelessness, or some other aspects of performance. Mistake can be self-corrected when attention is called. (Erdogan, 2005:263).In other words, a mistake is slip that a leaner can self- corrects whereas an error is what a learner cannot self-correct.

Richard (1985:95) said that a mistake made by the learners is when writing or speaking and which is caused by lack of attention, fatigue, careless or some other aspect of performance. In addition, Corder cited by Ellis (2008: 961-971), a mistake is a deviation in learner language that occurs when learners fail to perform their competence. It is a lapse that reflects processing problems. An error, on the other hand, is a deviation in learner language, which results from lack of knowledge of the correct rule. To distinguish between error and mistake, Ellis (1996: 263) as mentioned by Erdogan also suggest two ways. The first one is to check the consistency of learner’s writing. If he sometimes uses the correct form and sometimes the wrong one, it is a mistake. However, if he always uses it correctly, it is then an error. The second way is to ask a learner to try to correct his own deviant utterance. Where he is unable to, the deviations are error; where he is successful, they are mistakes.

Research method

The research was conducted in Mitra Keluarga Institute of Health Science, east Bekasi, Indonesia from September 2015 to January 2016. The research adopted qualitative and description in nature. Yet, some quantitative number is also used as data in the form of histogram and chart to facilitate the qualitative description. The participants selected as a sample are 26 studentsof the third semester in the academic year of 2015 – 2016. All participants are student nurses who take English presentation course, which aims to improve their speaking and writing ability. The end of the course, students must write and prepare a speech that is related to medical terminology. For primary source, the data are derived from students’ written works about the topic of medical cases.

The medical cases include writing and speaking activities. Before presenting the topic in public, the students must write the composition that must be in line with the presentation steps, which consist of fifteen steps. The steps are 1) greeting, 2) introduction, 3) position, 4) compliment, 5) purpose statement, 6) sign post, 7) starting the main, 8) moving to a new point, 9) elaborating a point, 10) postponing elaborating a point, 11) referring to previous point, 12) highlighting an issue, 13) referring to an opinion, a research, a theory, a finding, or a study, 14) indicating the end of presentation, 15) closing. Since there are 26 students, so, there are 26 medical case topics. Such as hand wash, oral hygiene, obesity, face skin care, hypertension, stroke and others. The researcher as a key instrument identified, analyzed and classified the errors, which is made by the students and the deviations of the rules of the second language. There are various steps of analyzing the errors based on Corder as cited by Ellis (1996:51), Gas & Selinker (2001:67), Hubbard et al. (1996:135-141) and Huang (2002, as quoted by Chen 2000:6). Those include: