November 15, 2017 All

16 Common English Mistakes even the Best English Writers Make

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Every English learner struggles with certain grammar or vocabulary choices that are different or strange in their mother language. These peculiarities in the English language can prevent an otherwise excellent English speaker from sounding and writing like a true native. We’ve listed some of the most common mistakes even the best non-native English speakers make below.

Most Common English Mistakes

1. Using “of” to show possession

While not technically incorrect, using “of” to show possession of a proper noun is a clear sign of a non-native English speaker. Any native would know that just adding the ‘s to most proper nouns is the most natural way to form a possessive. Got a name that ends in an s? Just add an apostrophe. For example, “This is Charles’ book.”


2. Mixing up word order for direct and indirect objects

Pro tip: In all of these examples, the preposition isn’t actually necessary. So “Rob gave me the apple”, “Sarah made me the dress”, and “John showed me his house” would all be correct, and actually sound better than the above “Correct” examples!
This is a big one among non-native speakers, especially among Spanish speakers. Remember that if you’re using a prepositional phrase (by using to, for, or any other preposition), it comes after the direct object. Remember this simple rule and you’ll never make this mistake again.


3. Until or by?

Here’s one all of our German natives will recognize. Using “until” when you want to set a deadline is a direct translation from several Germanic languages, and unfortunately an incorrect one. Remember, when you want to set a deadline for something, use “by”, not “until”.


4. Since or For?

Here’s one all of our German natives will recognize. Using “until” when you want to set a deadline is a direct translation from several Germanic languages, and unfortunately an incorrect one. Remember, when you want to set a deadline for something, use “by”, not “until”.


5. Borrow vs. Lend

Another one common among our German friends. You use “since” to refer to a fixed point of time, for example: “I have worked at BMW since August.” When you’re expressing a duration of time, however, “for” is the correct choice.


6. The ‘How do you call’ Mistake

This one is common among speakers of many languages…Spanish, German, Mandarin…everyone seems to have this problem in English. Just remember, if you’re referring to the person giving you something, they are lending it to you. If you are the receiver, you are borrowing it from them.


7. How to say…

This one is very common among German and Spanish speakers. You can say ‘how do you say…’ or ‘what do you call…’, but NOThow do you call’. This is one of the most common mistakes made by non-native English speakers who have a very high level of English fluency.

Here’s the equivalent of number 6 for Chinese speakers. This is a common mistake among those just learning the language, and comes from trying to translate your language directly into English (which in this case doesn’t work!).


8. Close that light!

This one only comes with 1 example, and it’s a common one in every language! It seems that no matter how your language treats “close” vs. “turn off”, speakers of just about every language, from Chinese to Portuguese to French make this mistake! You ‘close’ a door and ‘turn off’ a light, and not the other way around!


9. Past tense problems

This is a common one among German speakers, although French, Spanish, and Portuguese speakers are guilty of it from time to time as well. When you ask a question about something that has happened in the past, we conjugate only the first verb (“did”), but NOT the second. For some reason this error is especially common with the verb ‘go’ changing to ‘went’ for non-native speakers.


10. Verb after preposition

This one is incredibly common! After a preposition (like ‘to’), you ALWAYS need a noun, pronoun, noun phrase… basically anything that acts as a noun. NO VERBS! To make something that is usually a verb, like “meet” act like a noun, we turn it into a gerund by adding –ing to the end. Simple, right?


11. Verb placement in relative clauses

This is a tricky one because without the initial clause (“I want to know”), the wrong part of the incorrect sentences would be TOTALLY fine! “Where is the museum?” is PERFECTLY fine as a sentence on its own! It’s that pesky clause before it that means the verb has to go after the noun.


12. Make vs. Do

Without getting into all the details of when to use make vs. do (and there are many!), suffice to say that many English learners misuse these words. This is especially common among German speakers, who use make for just about everything. If you want to sound native, learn the rules! There are some great resources online to teach them! This link has some common phrases using each word if you need a little extra help: Difference between Make and Do


13.Rome is so touristic

This one is incredibly common among speakers with a good grasp of the English language. And it sounds like it could be right! An artist is artistic, science is scientific, language is linguistic, so why isn’t a tourist touristic? Unfortunately, in this case it doesn’t work that way, and touristic is not a word used by native English speakers. Use touristy to sound native.


14. Pluralizing the uncountable

On the surface, this is a simple rule, but in practice it can be a little tricky to use. As a rule of thumb, if you can count a noun you pluralize it with an –s at the end, and if you can’t you don’t. This gets tricky with words like ice, which may seem like they can be countable, even when they’re not. Ice CUBES may be countable, but ice is not. Tricky? Sometimes, sure. But master this and you’re one step closer to speaking and writing like a native.


15. Explain me…

Alright, if you speak Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, or French, you’ve probably made this mistake at some point in your quest to master the English language. And who can blame you? It sounds so simple and to the point! Unfortunately, it’s also unnatural and wrong for a native English speaker. And just as unfortunately, there’s no good reason why! We say ask me, bring me, take me, and call me, so why not explain me?! As a rule of thumb, you need a preposition for verbs with two or more syllables, while verbs with one syllable can go without it. There are some exceptions though, so when in doubt, err on the side of using the preposition, as that will never steer you wrong!


16. Continuously using the Continuous

The last one on our list! If you’re a German speaker you’ve probably made this mistake, which is ironic because the continuous tense doesn’t exist in German! We guess you’ve just been missing it for all these years and want to make up for lost time! As a general rule of thumb, use the continuous tense in the present when you’re currently doing something, or in the past when an action gets interrupted by something else. For example, “I was walking in the park when out of nowhere I saw a man dressed as a pirate start digging up a treasure chest.”


Now that you know better, let us know the next time you hear or see one of these mistakes in the comments!


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