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Why You Should Learn About Common English Mistakes

Have you ever made a mistake while speaking in English? Perhaps you have had some awkward English language situations.

For example, after English class you want to give your teacher a compliment, so you say, “You teach English good.”

It took quite a bit of courage to speak with your teacher directly.

She says, “You think I teach English well? Thank you!” Ah, you forgot that you should not use “good” to describe a verb. Instead you should use “well” to describe a verb. English is so tricky. Instead of feeling pride in your attempt to speak—which is what you should always feel—you begin to feel ashamed of your grammatical mistake.

Here’s another example. Perhaps a good English-speaking friend of yours is moving away to another town or another country. To say goodbye, you tell them, “I will always forget you.” He begins to laugh, and says, “I will never forget you either.”

Later, you realize that you mixed up the words “forget” and “always,” and so the meaning of your well-rehearsed farewell speech makes you feel foolish.

Many English students seem obsessed with perfecting their language learning, and become frustrated when they make errors and spend hours trying to correct those errors. Shame and embarrassment bother every one of us from time to time.

However, while you might try to prepare for embarrassing moments, you can never fully prevent them. With a little bit of skill, those uncomfortable moments can turn into opportunities for learning, humor and maybe even friendship.

It might be a relief for some to learn that even native speakers make mistakes. So before we make fun of non-native English speakers, it’s important to realize that native speakers make mistakes all the time.

For example, on English-language TV programs, characters often say things like, “This is your guy’s cat, right?” Actually, that sentence is supposed to be, “This cat belongs to you guys, right?”

Television writers might be trying to match the level of correct English grammar spoken in “the real world,” but they end up creating more errors than they know.

After all, many English language learners are watching TV to learn how to improve their grammar. Misunderstandings and confusions occur when English mistakes prevent clear communication. Many of these problems can exist in both written and spoken English.

Native English speakers also replace “good” with “well” all the time, so if you’ve ever done it, you’re definitely not the only one!

What follows are the top 15 English mistakes that English language learners make, and how you can avoid making those same errors.

15 Common Mistakes in English You Can Easily Avoid Making

Each example has a common English mistake. See if you can figure out what the mistake is, and then read the tip for more information.

For more help learning how to avoid common mistakes, we recommend using authentic resources to hear the language used naturally. Luckily, FluentU is perfect for that!

FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks and turns them into English learning experiences.

Unlike traditional apps, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.

FluentU has a variety of engaging videos like popular talk shows, music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:

FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos because it has interactive captions. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.

For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned.

Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re using the same video.

You can start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.


Grammar Mistakes

1. It’s or Its

Example Mistake: The spider spun it’s web. Its a very beautiful web.

Tip: “Its,” without an apostrophe, is the possessive version of a pronoun. In the above example, we should use the possessive “its” to talk about the spider’s web, because the web belongs to the spider.

“It’s,” with an apostrophe, is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” When talking about the beauty of the web, we’re saying that it is a very beautiful web. Therefore, we should use the contraction “it’s” instead of “its.”

So, if you’re not sure which spelling to use—”it’s” or “its”—try adding “it is” or “it has” to the sentence. If neither of those phrases works, then its is the word you’re looking for. For example, “the spider spun it is web” and “the spider spun it has web” do not make any sense. That’s why you should say “the spider spun its web.”

Correction: The spider spun its web. It’s a very beautiful web.


2. Subject-verb Agreement

Example Mistake: The list of items are on the desk.

Tip: In the above sentence, the list of items is one singular list. Therefore, we should not use “are.” We should use “is.”

Correction: The list of items is on the desk.


3. Gone or Went

Example Mistake: She had already went to the bathroom before they got in the car.

Tip: If you aren’t sure whether to use “gone” or “went,” remember that “gone” always needs an auxiliary verb before it. Auxiliary verbs include: has, have, had, is, am, are, was, were, be.

“Went” can’t have an auxiliary verb before it.

In the sentence above, we used “went” even though the auxiliary verb “had” is also present. Since the word “had” is there, we should use “gone” instead of “went.”

Correction: She had already gone to the bathroom before they got in the car.


4. Watch, Look, See

Example Mistake: Stop watching my private journal. / I look at the snow falling. / I don’t play tennis, but I look at them playing every day.

Tip: “See,” “look” and “watch” are often confused in meaning. However, they should be used in different situations. The difference between the three verbs can be explained in the following way:

  • Look — to look at something directly.
  • See — to see something that comes into our sight that we weren’t looking for.
  • Watch — to look at something carefully, usually at something that’s moving.

So, we can “see” something even if we don’t want to, but we can only “look at” something on purpose.

Correction: Stop looking at my private journal. / I watch the snow falling. / I don’t play tennis, but I see them playing every day


5. Pronoun Misplacement

Example Mistake: Take a deep breath through your nose and hold it.

Tip: The singular pronoun in the sentence should stand in for nouns, but here it’s unclear which noun it’s standing in for. The singular noun closest to the word “it” is “nose,” so it seems that “hold it” means to hold your nose. Instead, we want someone to hold their breath—not their nose.

When we use pronouns properly, we must easily understand which single noun the pronoun stands for. Make sure to be very clear. If it’s unclear, don’t use the pronoun or change the sentence!

Correction: Take a breath through your nose and hold your breath.


Speaking Mistakes

6. Future Tense

Example Mistake: I will be going to the dance party yesterday.

Tip: The future tense is being used to talk about the wrong time in the sentence above, since the sentence is talking about something that happened in the past, yesterday. You should only use the future tense when something has not happened yet, but it’s going to happen in the future.

Correction: will be going to the dance party tomorrow.


7. Literally or Figuratively

Example Mistake: I’m literally melting because it’s so hot. / Figuratively speaking, it’s 100 degrees out here.

Tip: This is a mistake because “literally” means “actually” or “really,” and “figuratively” means not real. “Figuratively” is used to exaggerate, or enlarge the meaning of something.

Correction: Figuratively speaking, I’m melting because it’s so hot. / It’s literally 100 degrees out here.


8. Loan or Borrow

Example Mistake: Can you borrow me that book? You can loan me my notes.

Tip: The listener may be confused since “loan” means “to give” and “borrow” means “to take.” It’s simple memorization that’s required to get the correct meaning.

For example, “borrow me that book” means “take me that book” in the above example. Where do you want the listener to take the book? That isn’t what you meant to say!

Instead, you would like to use the book, so you want someone to give it to you.

Correction: Can you loan me that book? You can borrow my notes.


9. Casual or Formal

Example Mistake: (At job interview) “Hey, what’s up?”

Tip: Know your audience! Casual talk is for friends, not your boss. This isn’t formal, it’s slang. It can even be considered inappropriate or rude. To speak more formally in English, you should avoid contractions (say “how is” instead of “how’s”) and try to be more polite.

Correction: “Hello, how is everything going?”


10. Since or For

Example Mistake: I have known him for always. I saw him since last year.

Tip: You use “for” if you don’t have to calculate the period of time, because the amount of time is indicated in the sentence already. You use “since” if you have to calculate the period of time, because you only have the starting point.

Correction: I have lived here for two months. (You don’t have to calculate, you know the period is “two months.” ) / I have lived here since 1975. (You have to calculate now. If you came in 1975—the starting point—and now it’s 2016.)