The Colloquial Preterit

Language Variation and the ESL Classroom
  • Helaine W. Marshall
Part of the Topics in Language and Linguistics book series (TLLI)


A common cause of confusion for the learner of English as a second language (ESL) is the discrepancy between the rules learned in the classroom and the English used by native speakers outside the classroom. The mismatch is often the result of sociolinguistic factors that operate in spoken American English, causing native speakers to “break” the rules that ESL students have struggled to master. When language variation is not taken into consideration in ESL instruction and materials development, the students receive an inaccruate and confusing representation of current usage. This chapter focuses on syntactic variation, specifically in the present perfect, a notably problematic grammatical category in the ESL curriculum. Following a brief look at the most common approach to presenting the present perfect, the chapter describes a syntactic variation study, based on interviews with native speakers, and examines the findings of this study in light of the specific concerns of the ESL classroom. The final section proposes guidelines for a presentation of the present perfect that takes language variation into account and demonstrates how sociolinguistic analysis can have a direct bearing on ESL materials development.


Native Speaker Fair Price Language Variation American Play Time Adverbial 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Brockmann, K., and Kagen, A. (1985). Coping in English: Beyond the basics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  2. Celce-Murcia, M., and Larsen-Freeman, D. (1983). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher’s course. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar
  3. Danielson, D., and Hayden, R. (1973). Using English: Your second language. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  4. Dart, A. K. (1978). ESL grammar workbook 1. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Davis, P. (1977). English structure in focus. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar
  6. Defromont, H. J. (1973). Les constructions perfectives du anglais contemporain [Perfect constructions in contemporary English]. The Hague: Mouton.Google Scholar
  7. Dickerson, H. J. (1976). Phonological variability in pronunciation instruction: A principled approach. TESOL Quarterly, 10, 177–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dubois, B. (1972). The meanings and the distribution of the perfect in present-day American English writing. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of New Mexico.Google Scholar
  9. Eisenstein, M. R. (1983). Language variation and the ESL curriculum, No. 51 of Language in education: Theory and practice. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.Google Scholar
  10. Feigenbaum, I. (1981). The uses of the English perfect. Language Learning, 31 (2), 393–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fingado, G., Freeman, L. J., Jerome, M. R., and Summers, C. V. (1981). The English connection:A text for speakers of English as a second language. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop.Google Scholar
  12. Finocchiaro, M., and Brumfit, C. (1983). The functional-notional approach: From theory to practice. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Frank, M. (1986). Modern English: Exercises for non-native speakers, Part 1 ( 2nd ed. ). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  14. Greenbaum, S. (1975). Linguistic variation and acceptability. TESOL Quarterly, 9, 165–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Judd, E. (1983). The problem of applying sociolinguistic findings to TESOL: The case of male/ female language. In N. Wolfson and E. Judd (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language acquisition (p. 234–241 ). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar
  16. Kapili, L. V., and Kapili, B. H. (1985). Understanding American sentences. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  17. Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  18. Leech, G. N. (1971). Meaning and the English verb. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  19. Leech, G. N., and Svartvik, J. (1975). A communicative grammar of English. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  20. Marshall, H. W. (1979). The colloquial preterit versus the present perfect: A sociolinguistic analysis. Unpublished doctorial dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University,.Google Scholar
  21. Marshall, H. W. (1981). Tracing a syntactic change using a closely related linguistic constraint. In D. Sankoff and H. Cedergren (Eds.), Variation Omnibus (pp. 387–392 ). Edmonton: Linguistic Research.Google Scholar
  22. Marshall, H. W. (1987). The preterit in place of the present perfect: A study of acceptability. Paper presented at the Midwest Regional Meeting of the American Dialect Society, Cincinnati.Google Scholar
  23. Martin, A. V., McChesney, B., Whalley, E., and Davlin, E. (1977). Guide to language and study skills for college students of English as a second language. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  24. McCoard, R. W. (1978). The English perfect: Tense choice and pragmatic inferences. North Holland Linguistics Series, no. 38. New York: North Holland.Google Scholar
  25. Moy, R. (1977). Contextual factors in the use of the present perfect. TESOL Quarterly, 11, 303309.Google Scholar
  26. O’Neil, R., Kingsbury, R., Yeadon, T., and Cornelius, E. T., Jr. (1978). American kernel lessons: Intermediate. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  27. Peterson, B. (1970). Toward understanding the ‘perfect’ construction in spoken English. English Teaching Forum, 8, 2–10.Google Scholar
  28. Richards, J. C. (1979). Introducing the perfect: an exercise in pedagogic grammar. TESOL Quarterly, 14, 495–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shuy, R. W., Wolfram, W. A., and Riley, W. K. (1968). Field techniques in an urban language study. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.Google Scholar
  30. Staczek, J. J. (1985) Reflexive variation: L1/L2 speaker’s acceptability and grammaticality judgments. Paper presented at the 1985 TESOL Convention, New York, April.Google Scholar
  31. Traugott, E., and Waterhouse, J. (1969). Already and yet: A suppletive set of aspect markers? Journal of Linguistics, 5, 287–301.Google Scholar
  32. Vanneck, G. (1958). The colloquial preterite in modern American English. Word, 14, 237–242.Google Scholar
  33. Werner, P. K., and Nelson, P. (1985). Mosaic 11: A content-based grammar. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  34. Wishon, G. E., and Burks, J. M. (1980). Let’s write English, Book 2 (rev. ed.). New York: American Book Company.Google Scholar
  35. Wohl, M. (1978). Preparaton for writing: Grammar. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helaine W. Marshall
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Communication ProcessesUniversity of Wisconsin—Green BayGreen BayUSA

Personalised recommendations