Common Mistakes Singaporeans Make: Singlish and English

Some of you may use Singlish with buddies, but switch to ‘English’ when interacting with ‘ang mo’ friends, and while many of you smartly switch between English and Singlish, for many others, the difference is quite blurred. Here are 5 mistakes that commonly occur when you’re not paying attention:

  1. Sentence Shortcuts Without Tenses

Singlish is heavily influenced by Chinese – bizarrely, even if your mother tongue isn’t – and it’s a language that has a different sentence structure (which is often short) without tenses, so the grammar is often ignored. It makes Singlish seem lazy. Sample:

English: “This is so expensive, but I’ve already bought it.”
Singlish: “So expensive, but I buy already.”

  1. Wrong pronunciation of words

Since local schools tend to emphasise written rather than spoken accuracy when it comes to English, many of us speak with wrong pronunciations since the most common mistake is in putting the wrong emphasis on syllables.

English: OP-portunity, COL-league
Singlish: o-PPOR-tunity, ke-LEAGUE

Sounds like “th” is also often pronounced as just “t”, so “three” often becomes “tree”. People also seem to avoid consonants when it’s placed at the end of words, so “act” becomes “ac”, and “hold” becomes “ho”.

  1. Pluralising Uncountable Nouns

English is not the easiest language to master, and plurals may be one aspect of it. One child, two children. One moose, two moose. One house, two houses. For the most part, we tack an ‘s’ at the end of a word – and this is why many people tend to add ‘s’ to uncountable nouns.

Examples: feedbacks, informations, stuffs

The samples above don’t have plurals since they’re uncountable nouns – if your spellcheck didn’t pick up “stuffs”, it’s because it refers to the act of stuffing, which is a verb, as in “She stuffs cream puffs for a living.”

  1. Misuse of Words

For some reason, the Singish vocabulary differs to the English one, making sentences grammatically awkward. Here are common misuses:

English: “I have encountered horrible cyclists”
Singlish: “I ever encounter horrible cyclists”

English: “This one is damaged”
“This one spoil”

These words may seem frivolous, but articles and linking verbs add direction and focus to your nouns.

  1. Yoda Speak

This is something that stems from other languages like Chinese or Malay, since the sentence structure is sometimes reversed. This makes us sound a bit like Yoda.

English: “Don’t stick it on the wall anyhow”
Singlish: “Don’t anyhow stick on the wall”

While we don’t have to take away our national identity when it comes to our beloved Singlish, it does help to make ourselves more easily understood – and possibly make a better impression of ourselves when we travel.