Switching Between Noun and Verb Agreement Rules Comes at a Cost: Cross-Sectional and Interventional Studies in a Developmental Sample

Open access


This study clarifies the impact of switching context between noun and verb number agreement rules in written language production. In Experiment 1, children from grade 3 to 6 were asked to fill in sentences with nouns and verbs in either a switching condition (noun followed by verb) or a repeating condition (noun followed by noun). The results showed that third- and fourth-grade children produced more erroneous agreements in the switching condition than in the repeating condition, showing that switching between rules comes at a cost, whereas fifth- and sixth-grade participants’ performance was not affected by the switching context. Based on these findings, Experiment 2 aimed to assess whether a switching treatment offers a greater opportunity to improve the acquisition of grammatical agreement production, as compared to a simple treatment. Teachers from grade 3 gave either a switching treatment (mixed noun and verb exercises) or a simple treatment (noun exercises followed by verb exercises). The results show that children learned better from the switching treatment than from the simple treatment. These findings highlight the cost of switching between noun and verb agreement rules during the acquisition of grammatical number agreement and also how grammatical spelling acquisition can be improved at school.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Alamargot D. Caporossi G. Chesnet D. & Ros C. (2011). What makes a skilled writer? Working memory and audience awareness during text composition. Learning and Individual Differences 21 (5) 505-516.

  • Alamargot D. Flouret L. Larocque D. Caporossi G. Pontart V. Paduraru C. Morisset P. & Fayol M. (2014). Successful written subject-verb agreement: an online analysis of the procedure used by students in Grades 3 5 and 12. Reading and Writing.

  • Anderson J.R. (1982). Acquisition of cognitive skill. Psychological Review 89 (4) 369-406.

  • Anderson J.R. (1996). ACT - A simple theory of complex cognition. American Psychologist 51 (4) 355-365.

  • Baayen R.H. Davidson D.J. & Bates D.M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language 59 (4) 390-412.

  • Beers C.S. & Beers J. W. (1992). Children’s spelling of English inflectional morphology. In S. Templeton & D.R. Bear (Eds.) Development of orthographic knowledge and the foundations of literacy (pp. 231-251). Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  • Cepeda N.J. Kramer A.F. & de Sather J. (2001). Changes in executive control across the life span: Examination of task-switching performance. Developmental Psychology 37 (5) 715-730.

  • Chevrie-Muller C. Simon A.-M. & Fournier S. (1997). Batterie “Langage oral langage écrit mémoire et attention” . Paris: ECPA.

  • Crone E.A. Bunge S.A. van der Molen M.W. & Ridderinkhof K.R. (2006). Switching between tasks and responses: a developmental study. Developmental Science 9 (3) 278-287.

  • Crone E.A. Somsen R.J.M. Zanolie K. & Van der Molen M.W. (2006). A heart rate analysis of developmental change in feedback processing and rule shifting from childhood to early adulthood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 95 (2) 99-116.

  • Davidson M.C. Amso D. Anderson L.C. & Diamond A. (2006). Development of cognitive control and executive functions from 4 to 13 years: Evidence from manipulations of memory inhibition and task switching. Neuropsychologia 44 (11) 2037-2078.

  • Dibbets P. & Jolles J. (2006). The Switch Task for children: Measuring mental flexibility in young children. Cognitive Development 21 (1) 60-71.

  • Ellefson M.R. Shapiro L.R. & Chater N. (2006). Asymmetrical switch costs in children. Cognitive Development 21 (2) 108-130.

  • Fayol M. Hupet M. & Largy P. (1999). The acquisition of subject-verb agreement in written french: from novices to experts. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinarity Journal 11 (2) 153-174.

  • Frith U. (1985). Beneath the surface of developmental dyslexia. In K.E. Patterson J.C. Marshall & M. Coltheart (Eds.) Surface Dyslexia: Cognitive and Neuropsychological Studies of Phonological Reading (pp. 301-330). London: Lawrence Erlbaum.

  • Kirkham N.Z. Cruess L. & Diamond A. (2003). Helping children apply their knowledge to their behavior on a dimension-switching task. Developmental Science 6 (5) 449-467.

  • Largy P. (2001). La révision des accords nominal et verbal chez l’enfant. L’année psychologique 101 (2) 221-245.

  • Lété B. Sprenger-Charolles L. & Colé P. (2004). Manulex: a web-accessible lexical database from French primary school reading. Behavior Research Methods Instruments & Computers 36 (1) 156-166.

  • Liefooghe B. Barrouillet P. Vandierendonck A. & Camos V. (2008). Working memory costs of task switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition 34 (3) 478-494.

  • Lobrot M. (1967). Batterie pour mesurer la lecture et l’orthographe. ORLEC. Beaumont/ Oise: Bureau d’études et de recherches.

  • Miyake A. Friedman N.P. Emerson M.J. Witzki A.H. Howerter A. & Wager T.D. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology 41 (1) 49-100.

  • Nadeau M. (1995). Propositions pour améliorer le transfert des connaissances en orthographe grammaticale. Québec français 99 35-38.

  • Nunes T. Bryant P. & Bindman M. (1997a). Learning to spell regular and irregular verbs. Reading and Writing 9 (5-6) 427-449.

  • Nunes T. Bryant P. & Bindman M. (1997b). Morphological spelling strategies: Developmental stages and processes. Developmental Psychology 33 (4) 637-649.

  • Pothier B. & Pothier P. (2003). Echelle d’acquisition en orthographe lexicale. Paris: Retz.

  • Sweller J. (1994). Cognitive load theory learning difficulty and instructional design. Learning and Instruction 4 (4) 295-312.

  • Totereau C. Fayol M. & Barrouillet P. (1998). Overgeneralizations of number inflections in the learning of written French: the case of noun and verb. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 16 (4) 447-464.

  • Totereau C Thevenin M.G. & Fayol M. (1997). The development of the understanding of number morphology in written French. In C.A. Perfetti L. Rieben & M. Fayol (Eds.) Learning to Spell (pp. 97-114). Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  • Van Merriënboer J.J.G. & Sweller J. (2005). Cognitive load theory and complex learning: Recent developments and future directions. Educational Psychology Review 17 (2) 147-177.

  • Van Reybroeck M. & Hupet M. (2009). Acquisition of number agreement: Effects of processing demands. Journal of Writing Research 1 (2) 153-172.

  • Van Reybroeck M. Penneman J. Vidick C. & Galand B. (in press). Orthographe grammaticale: Effet de trois interventions manipulant le coût cognitif l’autoévaluation et le feedback sur la performance et le sentiment d’efficacité personnelle. In L. Mottier Lopez & W. Tessaro (Eds.) Le jugement professionnel au coeur de l’évaluation et de la régulation des apprentissage. Bern: Peter Lang.

  • Vandierendonck A. (2013). On the role of dissipating inhibition in task switching. Zeitschrift fur Psychologie / Journal of Psychology 221 (1) 61-62.

  • Yehene E. & Meiran N. (2007). Is there a general task switching ability? Acta Psychologica 126 (3) 169-195.

Journal information
Impact Factor

CiteScore 2018: 0.29

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.118
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.410

Cited By
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 228 142 9
PDF Downloads 104 65 4