10 Common Mistakes English Learners Make

Learning a new language is a life-long journey. The road to its mastering could be bumpy and winding. But the harder you try — the easier it gets. Find below the list of common mistakes English learners make. Let’s hit the road!  

Language is a dynamic and ever-evolving system. New words flow into its ocean every day, replacing the old ones. English is no exception. Learning English is essential for your professional life, so you should be a curious and persistent learner.

Do you keep making those common mistakes English learners typically suffer from? It’s time to fix this.

1. Uncountable nouns

There are two types of nouns in English: countable and uncountable. The first type is a piece of cake — you can count them (one car, 5 books, a thousand customers). The second one can be a headache. They don’t usually have a plural form and you can’t use a singular article with them. Hair, luggage, advice are uncountable nouns. Let’s compare:

  • My hair is long (not hairs).
  • I’ve got two pieces of luggage (not two luggages).
  • I’ll give you some advice (not some advices).

2. Watch, look, see 

These verbs are synonyms, but you can’t use them interchangeably. 

  • Look when you look at something directly. (I love looking at the sky). 
  • See you see something that comes into our sight even without your intent. (I see my colleagues testing a code every day). 
  • Watch you watch something that is moving. (I watch the rain falling).

3. Irregular verbs

There are no particular rules for mastering these verbs so you have to memorize them. They are so common that you can’t skip them. Here are just some of them:

  • break — broke — broken
  • dwell — dwelt — dwelt
  • forget — forgot — forgotten
  • forgive — forgave — forgiven
  • kneel — knelt — knelt
  • lay — laid — laid
  • rode — rode — ridden 
  • send — sent — sent
  • wear — wore — worn
  • write — wrote — written

4. Double negatives

“We don’t need no education.” You’ve probably recognized that famous song by Pink Floyd. It’s not grammatically correct though, as it contains a double negative. What would be the right way to say it? We don’t need any/an education. In lyrics, double negatives are used to emphasize a statement. We should avoid them in standard English.

5. Possessive nouns

We add ‘s to singular nouns to show possession.

My father’s car instead of The car of my father.

We add  to plural nouns ending in -s:

This is my parents’ car instead of This is the car of my parents.

6. Misuse of prepositions

Prepositions are tiny words that make a big difference. From, to, with, at, on, in — it’s just a part of them. Make sure to use them correctly.

  • She arrived in London in the evening.
  • She arrived at the restaurant ten minutes late.
  • The conference starts at 7 pm.
  • The conference starts on Saturday.
  • We are attending a conference in June.

7. Leaving out ‘the’

A lot of non-native English speakers tend to skip ‘the’ when talking about kingdoms and not only. Basically, there are two rules to remember:

  • We use ‘the’ with the countries that have the words ‘states’, ‘republic’, ‘kingdom’, ‘federation’ in their names: The United States, The United Kingdom, The Czech Republic, The Russian Federation, etc.
  • We use ‘the’ with the countries that consist of many islands: The Bahamas, The Philippines, The Maldives, The West Indies, The British Isles, etc.

8. Passive voice vs. Active voice

It’s quite a common thing to use a passive voice in tech documentation or official documents. However, we prefer not to use it in standard English as it makes it sound vague and weak. Let’s compare!

Active voice vs. Passive voice:

  • My uncle has stolen my wallet vs. My wallet has been stolen
  • We have cleaned the windows vs. The windows have been cleaned.

9. Lie vs. Lay

Ouch! Be careful with these words. They are one of the most common mistakes English learners make both in writing and speaking.

  • To lie (lied, lied) — to not tell the truth (My son lied to me about his grades).
  • To lie (lay, lain) — to be in a horizontal, resting position (I will go to the beach and will lie in the sun).
  • To lay (laid, laid) — to put down gently or carefully (Lay the book on the table).

10. Fewer vs. Less

Let’s distinguish these two adjectives once and for all.

“Fewer” refers to countable nouns (like candies). “Less” refers to uncountable nouns (like milk).

  • I ate fewer candies than yesterday. 
  • I need less milk for this cake.

Plus to this, find a list of specific English phrases and expressions English learners misuse from time to time.

common mistakes English - list

Watch a video on how to prepare a top-notch presentation in English here.

Remember one thing — making mistakes is part of the learning process. You learn even more from them than you do from success. We hope you’ll memorize and avoid these common mistakes English learners make.

Practice makes perfect. 

Don’t stop learning!

Learn how to write emails like a pro here.

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