In sociolinguistics, hypercorrection is non-standard use of language that results from the over-application of a perceived rule of language-usage prescription. A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes through a misunderstanding of such rules that the form is more "correct", standard, or otherwise preferable, often combined with a desire to appear formal or educated.
Linguistic hypercorrection occurs when a real or imagined grammatical rule is applied in an inappropriate context, so that an attempt to be "correct" leads to an incorrect result. It does not occur when a speaker follows "a natural speech instinct", according to Otto Jespersen and Robert J. Menner.
Hypercorrection can be found among speakers of less prestigious language varieties who attempt to produce forms associated with high-prestige varieties, even in situations where speakers of those varieties would not. Some commentators call such production hyperurbanism.
Hypercorrection can occur in many languages and wherever multiple languages or language varieties are in contact.
Studies in sociolinguistics and applied linguistics have noted the over-application of rules of phonology, syntax, or morphology, resulting either from different rules in varieties of the same language or second-language learning. An example of a common hypercorrection based on application of the rules of a second (a.k.a. new, foreign) language is the use of octopi for the plural of octopus in English; this is based on the faulty assumption that octopus is a second declension word of Latin origin when in fact it is third declension and comes from Greek.
Sociolinguists often note hypercorrection in terms of pronunciation (phonology). For example, William Labov noted that all of the English speakers he studied in New York City in the 1960s tended to pronounce words such as hard as rhotic (pronouncing the "R" as rather than ) more often when speaking carefully. Furthermore, middle class speakers had more rhotic pronunciation than working class speakers did.
However, lower-middle class speakers had more rhotic pronunciation than upper-middle class speakers. Labov suggested that these lower-middle class speakers were attempting to emulate the pronunciation of upper-middle class speakers, but were actually over-producing the very noticeable R-sound.
Hypercorrection can also occur when learners of a new-to-them (aka second, foreign) language try to avoid applying grammatical rules from their native language to the new language (a situation known as language transfer). The effect can occur, for example, when a student of a new language has learned that certain sounds of his or her original language must usually be replaced by another in the studied language, but has not learned when not to replace them.
English has no authoritative body laying down and codifying norms for standard usage, unlike some other languages, such as Spanish (Real Academia Española), Arabic (Academy of the Arabic Language in Damascus), Italian (Accademia della Crusca), French (Académie française), and Hebrew (Academy of the Hebrew Language). Nonetheless, within groups of users of English, certain usages are considered unduly elaborate adherences to "formal" rules.
Such speech or writing is sometimes called hyperurbanism, defined by Kingsley Amis as an "indulged desire to be posher than posh".
In 2004, Jack Lynch, assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, said on Voice of America that the correction of the subject-positioned "you and me" to "you and I" leads people to "internalize the rule that 'you and I' is somehow more proper, and they end up using it in places where they should not - such as 'he gave it to you and I' when it should be 'he gave it to you and me.'"
However, the linguists Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum write that utterances such as "They invited Sandy and I" are "heard constantly in the conversation of people whose status as speakers of Standard English is clear" and that "Those who condemn it simply assume that the case of a pronoun in a coordination must be the same as when it stands alone. Actual usage is in conflict with this assumption."
Some British accents, such as Cockney, drop the initial h from words; e.g. have becomes ave. A hypercorrection associated with this is H-adding, adding an initial h to a word which would not normally have one. An example of this can be found in the speech of the character Parker in Thunderbirds, e.g. "We'll 'ave the h'aristocrats 'ere soon" (from the episode "Vault of Death"). Parker's speech was based on a real person the creators encountered at a restaurant in Cookham.
Hyperforeignism arises from speakers misidentifying the distribution of a pattern found in loanwords and extending it to other environments. The result of this process does not reflect the rules of either language. For example, habanero is sometimes pronounced as though it were spelled ⟨habañero⟩, in imitation of other Spanish words like jalapeño and piñata. Machismo is sometimes pronounced "makizmo", apparently as if it were Italian, rather than the phonetic English pronunciation which resembles the original Spanish word.
Some English-Spanish cognates primarily differ by beginning with s instead of es, such as the English word spectacular and the Spanish word espectacular. A native Spanish speaker may conscientiously hypercorrect for the word establish by writing or saying "stablish", which is archaic, or an informal pronunciation in some dialects.
As the locative case is rarely found in vernacular usage in southern and eastern dialects of Serbia, and accusative is used instead, speakers tend to overcorrect when trying to deploy the standard variety of the language in more formal occasions, thus using locative even when accusative should be used (typically, when indicating direction rather than location): "Izlazim na kolovozu" instead of "izlazim na kolovoz".
The last two hypercorrection examples derive from a confusion related to the Qamatz Gadol Hebrew vowel, which in the accepted Sephardi Hebrew pronunciation is rendered as /a:/ but which is pronounced /?/ in Ashkenazi Hebrew, and in Hebrew words that also occur in Yiddish. However, the Qamatz Qa?an vowel, which is visually indistinguishable from the Qamatz Gadol vowel, is rendered as /o/ in both pronunciations. This leads to hypercorrections in both directions.
Other hypercorrections occur when speakers of Israeli Hebrew (which is based on Sephardic) attempt to pronounce Ashkenazi Hebrew, for example for religious purposes. The month of Shevat () is mistakenly pronounced "Shvas", as if it were spelled *. In an attempt to imitate Polish and Lithuanian dialects, qamatz (both gadol and qatan), which would normally be pronounced [?], is hypercorrected to the pronunciation of holam, [?j], rendering ? ("large") as goydl and ? ("blessed") as boyrukh.
In some Spanish dialects, the final intervocalic /d/ ([ð]) is dropped, such as in pescado (fish), which would typically be pronounced [pes'kaðo] but can be manifested as [pes'kao] dialectically. Speakers sensitive to this variation may insert a /d/ intervocalically into a word without such a consonant, such as in the case of bacalao (cod), correctly pronounced [baka'lao] but occasionally hypercorrected to [baka'laðo].
In Swedish, the word att is sometimes pronounced /?/ when used as an infinitive marker (its conjunction homograph is never pronounced that way, however). The conjunction och is also sometimes pronounced the same way. Both pronunciations can informally be spelt "å". ("Jag älskar å fiska å jag tycker också om å baka.") When spelt more formally, the infinitive marker /'?/ is sometimes misspelt "och". ("Få mig och hitta tillbaka.*")
The third person plural pronoun, pronounced "dom" in many dialects, is formally spelt de in the subjective case and dem in the objective case. Informally it can be spelled "dom" ("Dom tycker om mig."), yet "dom" is only acceptable in spoken language. When spelt more formally, they are often confused with each other. ("De tycker om mig."* as a correct form, compared to "Dem tycker om mig" as an incorrect form in this case). As an object form to use "dem" in a sentence would be "Jag ger dem en present" - ("I give them a gift.") - In other terms in English when using them - dem is used in Swedish as a small thumb indication and to enhance the issue of when to use "de" and "dem".