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differences between error and mistakes in error analysis


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Error analysis is a very important area of applied linguistics and of the language teaching learning. Applied linguistics, as a field, tries to deal with the problems and issues related to language, as well as to its learning and teaching; it also attempts to give solutions for these problems and issues. Error analysis provides a deep insight for understanding of the process of language learning. Attempts for better understanding the process of language acquisition and learning have been made for a long time (Richards, 1971, 1974; James, 1989, 1998; Norrish, 1983; Ellis, 1995; Ziahisseiny, 1999; Keshavarz, 2003, 2006; Darns, 2009).

Results of these studies were applied in the second and foreign language teaching and learning. It was assumed that (Corder, 1967, 1971 & 1974) the learners learn the second and foreign language in the same way, to some extent, as the children acquire their first language.

While acquiring their first language, children also make a lot of errors and mistakes. Corder made a distinction between the error and mistake (Corder, 1974: 259). The difference is listed below:

Errors are the result of incomplete learning and linguistic incompetency of the learners and errors cannot be self-corrected while, mistakes are the results of poor performance of language due to many factors like fatigue and carelessness on the part of learners etc. Learners have the knowledge of the correct linguistic form and they can self-correct themselves on the basis of their linguistic knowledge.

A mistake refers to a performance error that is either a random guess or a “slip”, in that is a failure to utilize a noun system correctly. All people make a mistake, in both native and second language situations. Native speakers are normally capable of recognizing and correcting such “lapses” or mistakes, which are not the result of a deficiency in competence but the result of some sort of temporary breakdown or imperfection in the process of producing speech. These hesitations, slips of the tongue, random ungrammaticalities, and other performance lapses in native-speaker production also occur in second language speech.

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An error, a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a native speaker, reflects the competence of the learner. An error is most likely not a mistake, and error that reveals a portion of the learner’s competence in the target language.


This is the basic difference between errors and mistakes. And, for the correct analysis, one should be very much clear about the identification of errors. They produce ungrammatical and semantically incorrect sentences at the very earlier stage of their acquisition and later on, by getting the instructions and feedback from their adults they correct themselves. L2 learners also go through the same process while learning any languages. That’s why there is no much difference between the processes of learning the second or the foreign language and the first language acquisition.

In linguistics, it is considered important to distinguish errors from mistakes. An “error” is seen as resulting from a learner’s lack of proper language knowledge. In other words, the learner did not know the correct way.

Errors may occur repeatedly and are not recognizable by the learner. Errors are a part of the learner’s lack of understanding, and the learner does not generally consider them as errors. They are errors only from teachers’ and others native speakers’ perspectives. Errors cannot be self-corrected, because the learner does not know or recognize the problem. A “mistake” occurs when the person fails to utilize a known system correctly. In other words, a native language speaker, who knows the rules, makes an incorrect statement, such as incorrect grammar. Such mistakes are generally made by both the native speakers and second language learners.

However, native speakers are generally able to correct themselves quickly. Such mistakes include slip of the tongue, random ungrammatical formations. Mistakes can be self-corrected with or without being pointed out to the speaker.

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Like an error a mistake is also a deviation of the norms of the language but is not systematic. Norrish (1983:8) says that a mistake is an inconsistent deviation that is sometimes the learner ‘gets it right’ but sometimes wrong. Richards (1985:95) state that mistake, made by a learner when writing or speaking,  is caused by lack of attention, fatigue, carelessness, or other aspects of performance.

So we can say that a mistake is made by a learner because he does not apply the rule (s) that he actually knows.


1.         If a native English speaker says or writes, “I read much information today”. This is a mistake because the native speaker knows that “information” is an uncountable/non-countable noun, and therefore does not have or use a plural form. However, if an English language learner says or writes, “I read much information today”, they have simply made an error, not a mistake, because they may not have yet learned that the noun “information” is uncountable.

2.         Wrong choice of words, usually occurs as a result of learners poor range of vocabulary. For example, one can say “He performed a sin” instead of saying “He committed a sin”. 

3.  Incorrect use of Number, such as one may say “Brush your tooths” instead of “teeth”. 

4.  Error in Tense usually occurs as a result of the influence of mother tongue on the target language such as “He has gone yesterday”.

5. Error in Spelling, usually happen as a result of learners lack of attention as well as the inherent difficulties of the target language. For example, one may write the word ‘Embarrassment’ as “Embarrassment”since he knows the spelling of the word “Harassment” 

6.  Error in Voice usually happens as a result of over-generalization such as one can say “He was died in 1985”as he uses “He was born”. 

7.   Error in Article, a very common error found in SL/FL learners, includes error like “He is * richest person”, “He is a honest man” or “This is an unique idea”. 

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8. Error in Preposition deals with misuse of preposition or using one in place of other such as: “He discussed about the matter” or “He is blind of his son”. 

9. Error in Auxiliary verb usually found such as to say “politics are playing a dominant role in our society.” Here the auxiliary verb should be is as ‘politics’ is singular. 

10. Wrong use of connectors is often seen in the SL/FL learners such as “He is a meritorious student and his handwriting is illegible”.Here the connector should be “but” instead of “and”. 

Implications for language teaching

Errors and mistakes helps language teachers in understanding the new ways of teaching by giving the feedback on the errors made by the learners. It is certain and understood that learners make mistakes in the process of learning. These mistakes provide new insights and techniques to the language teachers and linguists in sorting out the problems related to language learning. In short, the role of the error analysis is no doubt very important in second and foreign language teaching and learning.


Error analysis is an activity to reveal errors committed by students both in writing and speaking.  Error analysis is the process to observe, analyze, and classify the deviations of the rules of the second language and then to reveal the systems operated by learner.” It is also a technique for identifying, classifying and systematically interpreting the unacceptable forms produced by someone learning a foreign language, using any of the principles and procedures provided by linguistics.”

From above explanations, I can conclude that; error analysis is an activity to identify, describe, interpret, evaluate and prevent the errors made by the learners. An error cannot be self-corrected, according to James (1998:83), while mistakes can be corrected if the deviation is pointed out to the speaker. Thus, students who make a mistake can correct it by themselves because they know the correct one. Differences between error and mistakes in error analysis, differences between error and mistakes in error analysis, differences between error and mistakes in error analysis

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