Children's overregularization of English plurals: A quantitative analysis

Gary F. Marcus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper brings a quantitative study of children's noun plural overregularizations (foots mans) to bear on recent comparisons of connectionist and symbolic models of language. The speech of io English-speaking children (aged I; 3 to 5; 2) from the CHILDES database (MacWhinney & Snow, 1985, 1990) were analysed. The rate of noun overregularization is low, mean = 8.5 %, demonstrating that children prefer correct to overregularized forms. Rates of noun overregularization are not significantly different from their rates of past tense overregularization, and noun plurals, like verb past tenses, follow a U-shaped developmental curve in which correct irregulars precede the first overregularized forms. These facts suggest that plural and past tense overregularizations are caused by similar underlying processes. The results pose challenges to connectionist models, but are consistent with Marcus et al.‘s (1992) blocking-and-retrieval-failure model in which regulars are generated by a default rule while irregulars are retrieved from the lexicon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-459
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of child language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • General Psychology


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