Tom Scovel writes, “Overgeneralization means that whenever learners encounter a new rule or pattern in the target language, they assume the rule or pattern operates without exception” (53). In other words, overgeneralization describes the act of applying a linguistic/interlinguistic rule in situations when an exception rather than the rule is called for. Children and language learners alike overgeneralize as a natural part of the language acquisition process as they deploy what they already know about a language and in the process discover its limitations through feedback or negotiation.

Here are some examples of overgeneralization:

“I hurted myself.” (overgeneralization of the past tense -ed rule)

“My friend told me he saw sheeps on his way to school.” (overgeneralization of the plural + -s rule)

“Why you do go to that party?” (overgeneralization of S-V-O word order)


Searchinger, Gene. “Children’s overgeneralizations in language acquisition.” YouTube, uploaded by Laura McGarrity, 04 Apr. 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU9yUaZroq0. Accessed 04 March 2020.


Scovel, Tom. Learning New Languages. Heinle & Heinle, 2001.