The acquisition of subject-verb agreement in written French: From novices to experts' errors

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Recent studies have shown that many subject-verb agreement errors consist of making the verb agree with the immediately preceding noun, as in “The smell of the rubbish-bins are foul”. Assuming that it is the automaticity of the agreement operation which is responsible for these attraction errors in expert writers, the present studies aimed at demonstrating the gradual automatization of this operation in young writers by examining developmental changes in the occurrence of agreement errors. In three experiments we found that subjects' performance moves from systematic errors in number agreement in young children (e.g., no use of plural marks) to attraction errors in fifth graders and older adults through an intermediate phase characterized by an attention-demanding and easily disrupted computation of verb agreement displayed by some second graders. Attraction errors are a byproduct of the automatization of the implementation of the agreement process.

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