Are you an English teacher or a grammarian? This article is about the most common grammar mistakes English learners make.
This will be a good resource for English Second Language teachers or people trying to improve their English.
Here are common grammar mistakes English learners make. You should be aware of them if you are trying to improve your English.
[Top Tip: If you need practical help with your grammar, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook]
The Most Common Grammar Mistakes English Learners Make
1. Adding Numbers To Uncountable Nouns
You can add numbers to countable nouns.
- One bag
- 12 bags
You cannot add numbers to uncountable nouns.
This is because we don’t measure these nouns by number. You cannot say “one flour”, but you can say “one bag of flour”. You could also say, “I want one kilogram of flour.”
How do you know if a noun is uncountable?
Well, with flour, it’s easy, because it’s a powder and all powders are uncountable.
- Anything that is difficult to measure is also uncountable, like liquid, money, or power.
- Things that are abstract are also uncountable, like love, advice, and respect.
You can’t give “two advices” to a person but you can give them two pieces of advice. In the same way, you can love or respect a person very much, but you can’t “ten respects” them.
2. Not Using Articles
“I drove the car to see the reindeer.”
New English speakers, especially if they are Asian, often leave out the articles “a” and “the”.
They would say “I drove car to see reindeer.”
This sounds weird in English. English needs to be precise. You must always have an article before a noun or a number. Without an article we would not know if you were talking about one reindeer or one hundred reindeer.
Also, if I say I drove “the” car, I know that it is the normal car I drive. If I drove “a” car, it could be anyone’s car. In fact people might ask you, “What happened to your car?” if you say that.
3. Misusing Prepositions
Prepositions are words like ‘at’, ‘with’, or ‘on’.
Because English needs to be exact, you need to use the correct preposition. If you don’t, your sentence will sound wrong, or worse, mean something different.
If I meet my friend “at” the café, I know he will be somewhere near to, or in, the business. If I meet my friend “in” the café, I know he will be sitting down at a table inside the building and probably not on the street.
If I go to a farm, I will be “at” the farm. If I was born there, I will have grown up “on” the farm. If I leave the farm, I will be “from” the farm. You can never be “in” the farm or any other piece of land.
There is no simple rule here. You just need to know what each word means and how it is used.
4. Incorrect Word Order In Questions
Most languages don’t change the word order for questions, but, like most European languages, English does.
This not only affects how you ask questions, but how you answer them.
Question: “Did you go to the shops?” (Note it also gets a “question mark”.)
You must answer: “Yes, I did go to the shops.” or “No, I did not go to the shops.”
You should not just say “I went to the shops.” or “I went.” It’s not wrong, but it does sound rude. Using “did” acknowledges the other person’s question. It tells them that you are addressing their question and not just making a statement.
5. Confusing –ing and –ed
“Did he go shopping?” or “Did he shopped?”
“Shopping” is correct. You cannot say “Did he shopped?” It’s not a correct English sentence.
Tip: Both are past tense but “-ed” endings are used when you know something happened. “-ing” endings are used when you are not sure.
You can say “He did the shopping.” or “He went and shopped.” or “He shopped.”
But, in this case, “shopping” becomes a noun called a gerund. This mean you have to treat it like a noun. You can tell because shopping has the word “the” in front of it and we only use “the” with nouns.
“-ing” is used with verbs when something is happening at the time. So, “I am shopping.” implies it is happening right now. While “Yesterday, I went shopping.” implies that you were actively shopping yesterday. People will imagine the shopping taking some time if you say it this way.
On the other hand “Yesterday, I shopped.” implies a shorter, less involved type of activity. It is like buying one pack of gum versus spending the whole day at the mall.
6. Confusing Its and It’s
Normally an apostrophe “s” means that something belongs to someone. For example “John’s car” is the car John owns.
However, with “it”, it is the opposite.
- “It’s” means “it is”. It’s Monday means it is Monday.
- “Its” means it belongs to it. The cat has a bed. It is the cat’s bed. It is its bed.
You can’t use “its” with people. You can only use it with animals and objects or legal entities like companies.
7. Confusing Borrow and Lend
Even English people get this confused. I don’t know why, but they do.
“Lend” and “borrow” have their own prepositions to make it even easier.
- Lend has “to”. You always lend to a person. This indicates that you are giving something to a person. “I lend money to my son” means that the money is “going to” the son from the parent.
- Borrow has “from”. You always borrow from a person. From indicates that it is not here, or that it does not belong to you. “I am borrowing money from Dad.” means that the child is taking money from his dad.
Additionally, both “lend” and “borrow” indicate that you will give the object you borrowed back to the person you borrowed it from. “The son gave the borrowed money back to his father.”
8. Infinitive (to)
The infinitive indicates that a sentence has additional information outside of its normal structure.
- “I go.” is a basic sentence indicating movement.
- “I go to bed.” tells us that you are going to the bed.
- “I go to bed to get some rest.” tells us that you are going to rest on the bed.
The first “to” only indicates that you have gone “until” you have reached the bed. The second “to” indicates you are doing something more once you have reached the bed.
In the same way, the word “want” needs you to add a “to”, unless you are talking about a noun. You can “want food”, but you must “want to eat”. You can want a holiday, but you must “want to go on a holiday”.
This is relatively simple in English. Everything in a sentence must have the same number.
For example: “The dogs are in the field.” Not “The dog are in the field.” and not “The dogs is in the field.”
“Are” is used with the plural and “is” is used with the singular (one). Because dogs is plural, we must use the plural form of “to be” which is “are”.
“That and this” are singular while “those and these” are plural.
So you can say “Those are good.”, but not “This are good.”
Except, we don’t do this for money or seconds.
- “100 dollars is all it cost.” is correct.
- “120 seconds is two minutes.” is correct.
Lastly, all of these are singular: each, everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, somebody, nobody, someone, none, no-one.
Even though they are talking about “everyone”, the “one” indicates that all the people are “one” singular entity and not many different people.
Anybody means any one body. Each is referring to every one thing individually. For example: “Each of them is guilty of something” or “No-one of them is guilty of anything.” (People do say “none of them are”. This is not correct, but it is fine to use casually.)
Must-read: 30 Examples To Help You Master Concord
10. Problems With Plural Nouns
English learners often say, “There are 10 childs/childrens at the school.”
This is wrong. It’s correct to say, “There are 10 children at the school.”
Plurals in English don’t make sense. Most of them are derived from a mixture of Latin and Germanic sources. Because child come from Dutch, we add “en” and not an “s”.
Some words, like sushi, don’t have plurals because they come from languages that don’t use plurals. English mostly follows the custom of the language that the word comes from, but not always.
Words like goose and geese or words like tooth and teeth come from old English.
Back then English did not use the “s” to mark a plural. It changed the sound of the last vowel of the word to a slightly higher tone. So foot moves up in pitch and becomes feet.
It’s really quite a mess and there is no clear rule that indicates how you should address this. The only method that might work is looking up the root of each noun. If you can find which language it comes from, you can guess how it will be made into a plural.
However, in some cases like “cactus” and “virus”, which should be “cacti” and “vira” if you use the Latin, we often say “cactuses”, and we always say “viruses”.
So, it is best to check in a dictionary if you are not sure.
This is for English speaker as well as learners. It’s not so much a rule as something that irritates me.
There is never any reason to use the word “myself”.
- “I did it myself” and “I did it” mean exactly the same thing.
In 31 years I have never found a reason to use this.
You can say “I did it by myself.” to indicate that you did it alone. But, in reality you can just say “I did it alone.” and it means the same thing. If you want to say you went somewhere by yourself, rather say “I went alone.”
If English lost the word “myself”, it would not be affected in the slightest way.
The only reason to use “myself” is if you want to sound casual, or to soften a sentence. By itself, it has no grammatical worth.
Myself is a difficult word to use for Second Language Learners, and, since you don’t need it, I would avoid using it.
Read more about Reflexive Pronouns
We hope these common grammar mistakes English learners make help you with your writing.
[Top Tip: If you need practical help with your grammar, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook]
by Christopher Luke Dean (Dangling participles as a way of life.)
Christopher writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisLukeDean
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