How often do you say "until" when you should really say "by", or confuse "since" and "for"? This article points out some of the most common English mistakes you might be making, with explanations to help you avoid them in the future.
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.
1. Using “of” to show possession
This is the apple of Rob.
This is Rob’s apple.
The dress of Sarah is blue.
Sarah’s dress is blue.
The house of John is big.
John’s house is big.
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
Rob gave to me the apple.
Rob gave the apple to me.
Sarah made for me the dress.
Sarah made the dress for me.
John showed to me his house.
John showed his house to me.
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?
Please finish this until Friday.
Please finish this by Friday.
I’ll finish the project until next week.
I’ll finish the project by next week.
Can you do this until Thursday?
Can you do this by Thursday?
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?
I have been in the United States since 2 years.
I have been in the United States for 2 years.
I’ve been studying English since 6 months.
I’ve been studying English for 6 months.
I have worked at BMW since 5 years.
I have worked at BMW for 5 years.
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.
5. Borrow vs. Lend
Will you borrow me your pen?
Will you lend me your pen?
I will not borrow you my pen.
I will not lend you my pen.
Can you borrow me some money?
Can you lend me some money?
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.
6. The ‘How do you call’ Mistake
How do you call it when…
What do you call it when…
How do you call this object?
What do you call this object?
How do you call a baby dog in English?
What do you call a baby dog in English?
This one is very common among German and Spanish speakers. You can say ‘how do you say…’ or ‘what do you call…’, but NOT ‘how 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.
7. How do you say…
How to say this word?
How do you say this word?
How to say this object?
How do you say this object?
How to say a baby dog in English?
How do you say baby dog in English?
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!
Can you please close the light?
Can you please turn off the light?
This one only comes with one example, and it’s a common one in every language! It seems that no matter how your language treats “close” versus. “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
Did you went to the store?
Did you go to the store?
Did you ran this morning?
Did you run this morning?
Did you ate already today?
Did you eat already today?
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
I’m looking forward to meet you.
I’m looking forward to meeting you.
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
I want to know where is the museum?
I want to know where the museum is?
I want to know what is he doing.
I want to know what he is doing.
He wants to know how is he running so fast.
He wants to know how he is running so fast.
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
What are common mistakes people do when they are learning English?
What are common mistakes people make when they are learning English?
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 place is too touristic for me.
This place is too touristy for me.
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
Can you give me some informations about your class?
Can you give me some information about your class?
Do you have any advices for me?
Do you have any advice for me?
I need some ices to keep my drink cold.
I need some ice to keep my drink cold.
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…
Explain me this.
Explain this to 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
When I was being young, I was drinking a lot of beer, and I was partying a lot. Now, I’m studying a lot, and I’m working a lot.
When I was young, I drank a lot of beer, and I partied a lot. Now, I study a lot, and I work a lot.
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”.
If you can catch and change these 16 mistakes in your writing, you’ll be well on your way to sounding more like a native English speaker. If you need a little more help, sites like Grammarly (an online grammar checker) can help you find mistakes in your writing, or services like Writesaver (a website that has native English speakers proofread your writing) will clean up your errors for you with all the changes tracked, so you can learn from the mistakes they catch and make sure not to make them again! Services like these are also helpful when you’re writing for business or school, where making grammatical mistakes is not an option! It can also be helpful to have a native English speaking friend look over your writing and show you your most common mistakes, or have your iTalki teacher to the same!