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What Is Hypercorrection?

Hypercorrection occurs when individuals overcompensate in their use of language, often correcting themselves based on a misunderstood rule. This phenomenon reflects our desire to conform to perceived linguistic standards, sometimes leading to more formal or even incorrect usage. Have you ever found yourself overcorrecting? Dive deeper with us to explore the nuances of hypercorrection and its impact on communication.
Caitlin Shih
Caitlin Shih

Hypercorrection is a term used in linguistics that refers to some sort of error or mispronunciation in the language that usually stems from a desire to be too formal or overly correct. Usually, those who make the mistake of hypercorrection take a linguistic rule and apply it where it should not be applied. Hypercompensation and hyperforeignism are among the more common types of errors. In English, these errors are often grammatical, and some forms of hypercorrection in this language involve personal pronouns and using prepositions at the end of a sentence. Hypercorrection can also occur in pronunciation, usually in cases of individuals who are studying a new language.

Grammatical hypercompensation is probably among the most common kind of hypercorrection and refers to a situation where an exception to a rule is incorrectly believed to be the rule itself. An example is the verb "dig"; originally, the past tense of the word was the regular "digged," but this form has since become archaic. Overtime, the irregular form, "dug," became more widely used and is now the standard where it was before the exception.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Hyperforeignism occurs when grammatical rules from one language are applied to another. For example, the English term habanero peppers is sometimes pronounced "habañero," even though this is not correct according to the original Spanish word. This may have been influenced by English speakers who discovered the original Spanish pronunciation of "jalapeño" and mistakenly applied it to "habanero."

A common hypercorrection in English involves the issue of "you and I" versus "you and me." Grammatically, the former phrasing should be used before the verb of a sentence, where "I go to the movies" is correct compared to "Me go to the movies." Not understanding the rule and presumably being corrected towards "you and I" many times in the past, many overcompensate and say "He goes to the movies with you and I." In this case, "you and me" would be the truly correct term.

Using prepositions at the end of a sentence is another situation prone to hypercorrection in English. In reality, there is generally nothing wrong with a preposition at the end of a clause, even though avoiding it will usually make the sentence clearer. This usage of prepositions was, in the past, condemned and, as a result, many make their sentences clumsier trying to abide by this false rule. A famous example is the quote, "This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put!" believed to be stated by Winston Churchill.

When hypercorrection occurs in pronunciation, it usually means that a rule of pronunciation for a certain word is incorrectly applied to others. For those learning a new language, the error may also occur phonetically as a form of hyperforeignism. In this case, an individual mixes up the phones of his first language and the one he is learning, not knowing when certain phones need and don't need to be replaced. Another word for this is overregularization.

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