Hypercorrection (Grammar and Pronunciation)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Hypercorrection is a pronunciation, word form, or grammatical construction produced by mistaken analogy with standard usage out of a desire to be correct.

In some cases hypercorrection may be a sign of language change. For example, in Understanding Language Use in the Classroom (2014), Susan Behrens points out that a "hypercorrection such as Whom is it? would be rejected by everyone. However, Who did you see?

would be rated by many as acceptable, even correct."

Examples and Observations

  • "[H]ypercorrection crucially is motivated by the relationship between different dialects or languages--or rather by the relationship between these as perceived by their speakers.

    "In many case, speakers focus on differences in prestige. Speakers of less prestigious dialects try to imitate a more prestigious one by adaptations in their pronunciation. . . .

    "As the result of a variety of sound changes and analogical developments, English at a certain stage had two competing forms of the so-called gerund, a form in -ing (as in going) and a form in -en (as in goen). At a later stage, Standard English leveled out the form in -ing at the expense of -en. Many nonstandard dialects generalized -en, instead. This difference has since become one of the major features distinguishing standard from nonstandard English, and the use of the form in -en is often referred to as 'dropping one's gs.' As speakers who 'drop their gs' try to speak the prestige dialect, they replace their -en by -ing. And again, in many cases they go too far and extend their substitution to words like taken (as in I have taking it)."
    (Hans Henrich Hock and Brian D. Joseph, Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship. Walter de Gruyter, 1996)

    "I heard a good one on the preacher last week. You know somebody got into his barn a while ago, and stole every blessed chicking he had to his name."
    (Fred Lewis Pattee, The House of the Black Ring: A Romance of the Seven Mountains, 1905)
  • Whomever
    "[W]e saw a t-shirt proclaiming 'I am for whomever beats Harvard.' The 'whomever' usage is nonstandard in this sentence since the pronoun is the subject of the predicate 'beats Harvard.' Such overuse of supposedly correct words, pronunciation, or structure is called hypercorrection. If you don't quite know the way 'whom' should be used, but believe that it is more prestigious than 'who,' you might indeed overuse it."
    (Susan J. Behrens and Rebecca L. Sperling, "Language Variation: Students and Teachers Reflect on Accents and Dialects." Language in the Real World: An Introduction to Linguistics, ed. by Susan J. Behrens and Judith A. Parker. Routledge, 2010)

    "My friend, you are yesterday. Whomever pulled off this caper is tomorrow."
    (Robert Vaughn as Ross Webster in Superman III, 1983)
  • The Use of I for Me and Whom for Who
    "Perhaps the most common example of hypercorrectness is the use of I for me in a compound subject: between you and I. Other common hypercorrect forms include whom for who, as for like (She, as any other normal person, wanted to be well thought of), the ending -ly where it doesn't belong (Slice thinly), some verb forms (lie for lay, shall for will), and many pronunciations."
    (W. R. Ebbit and D. R. Ebbitt, Writer's Guide. Scott, 1978)

    She had very little to say to Cathy and I.

    Whom are we inviting to the party?

    "The phrase between you and I looks like a hypercorrection (and is confidently described as such by some) starting with latter-day harping by school teachers on such supposed errors as It is me. But between you and I is far too ancient and persistent to be any such thing."
    (A. Sihler, Language History: An Introduction. John Benjamins, 2000)
  • False Plurals
    "[T]he attempt to foist 'proper' Greek and Latin plurals has bred pseudo-erudite horrors such as axia (more than one axiom), peni, rhinoceri, and [octopi]. It should be . . . octopuses. The -us in octopus is not the Latin noun ending that switches to -i in the plural, but the Greek pous (foot)."
    (Steven Pinker, Words and Rules. Basic, 1999)
  • The Grammar of Anxiety
    "Who is to give [schoolchildren] warning signals about the whole Grammar of Anxiety, which springs from the chronic fear of being thought uneducated or banal and coins such things as 'more importantly,' 'he invited Mary and I,' 'when I was first introduced,' and 'the end result'?"
    (Alistair Cooke, The Patient Has the Floor. Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
  • Virus Theory
    "The key construct of Virus Theory [a term coined by linguist Nicolas Sobin, 1997] is the grammatical virus, which is envisaged as a surface rule that is acquired relatively late (for example during schooling). The effect of a virus is to trigger (or 'license') a prestige usage that core grammar would not normally be expected to produce. . . .

    "Unlike normal grammatical rules, viruses typically make reference to specific lexical items. Consider, for example, the It was/is I construction that is sometimes found in prestige English usage. The nominative case form of the post-copular pronoun in this construction clearly diverges from the unmarked pattern, according to which post-copular position correlates with accusative case. . . . We can thus infer that the rule that allows It was/is I in prestige varieties is an addition to the basic usage."
    (Nigel Armstrong and Ian E. Mackenzie, Standardization, Ideology and Linguistics. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)
  • Labov-Hypercorrection
    "Labov-hypercorrection [is a] secular linguistic term associated with the embedding problem in which style stratification of marker is such that (usually) the second highest status group in a speech community uses higher status variants in formal styles more frequently than the highest status group. This linguistic behaviour can be interpreted as being the result of linguistic insecurity. Labov-hypercorrection should be distinguished from hypercorrection, whch is a feature of the speech of individuals. Labov-hypercorrection is term which is due to the British linguist J.C. Wells, who suggested that it was necessary to distinguish terminologically between individual hypercorrection and group hypercorrection of the type first described by William Labov in his research in New York City."
    (Peter Trudgill, A Glossary of Sociolinguistics. Oxford University Press, 2003)

Pronunciation: HI-per-ke-REK-shun

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Hypercorrection (Grammar and Pronunciation)." ThoughtCo, Dec. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/hypercorrection-grammar-and-pronunciation-1690937. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, December 20). Hypercorrection (Grammar and Pronunciation). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hypercorrection-grammar-and-pronunciation-1690937 Nordquist, Richard. "Hypercorrection (Grammar and Pronunciation)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hypercorrection-grammar-and-pronunciation-1690937 (accessed January 21, 2018).