The 4 Most Common Grammar Mistakes in English
We all know the feeling. You’re in an important meeting or giving a presentation, and you suddenly realize that you’ve made a mistake in your grammar. Your mind races as you try to figure out how to fix it without drawing too much attention to yourself.
But here’s the thing: grammar mistakes are not as big of a deal as you may think. Have you just dropped an -ed ending or an ‘s’ at the end of a third-person singular verb? No big deal. In fact, a few small mistakes here and there can actually make you seem more human and approachable.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work to improve your grammar. In English, as in any other language, there are some grammar errors that are best avoided, especially those that can affect the meaning of your sentences and create confusion.
In this article, we’ll take a look at four of the most common grammar mistakes in English made by foreign speakers, and we will give you a few tips on how to avoid them.
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1. Expressing agreement
Je suis d’accord.
Estoy de acuerdo.
In most languages, if you want to say that you agree with someone else’s ideas or opinions, you would use some form of the verb ‘be’. As a result, it’s very common to hear English leaners say “I’m agree” whenever they want to express agreement.
This is one of the most common grammar mistakes in English. But remember: In the English language, you are not agree. You simply agree.
With this in mind, can you choose the correct option in the sentences below?
- They don’t/aren’t agree with each other.
- Do/Are you agree with me?
- She says she agrees/is agree with everything you’ve said.
2. Personal pronouns vs. Possessive adjectives
If you go to the comment section on your favorite YouTube videos, you will find lots of comments such as:
“Its the best thing you’ve ever done!”
“I love they’re new album!”
This type of comment (often made by native speakers!) shows some of the most common mistakes made in English: the confusion between personal pronouns + verb be vs. possessive adjectives.
Let me explain.
‘Your’, ‘its’, and ‘their’ are possessive words. We use them to imply that a person or a thing has something. The problem is that they sound exactly the same as “you’re”, “it’s” and “they’re”, which are abbreviated verb phrases.
These pairs of words may have the same pronunciation, but they are different grammatical constructions whose meanings are also different.
So, if you’re not sure which spelling you need in any given sentence —”they’re” or “their”, for example—try it with “they are” and see if it makes sense.
Is it “They’re dresses are beautiful”? Or is it their dresses? If you’re not sure, try replacing the abbreviation in the first option with a full form.
Does “They are dresses are beautiful” make sense? It doesn’t, right? What you need is a possessive form: Their dresses (the ones that belong to them) are beautiful.
Now that you know how to use these words correctly, can you choose the best option below?
- I love you’re/your new haircut!
- I think it’s/its a great idea!
- We went to they’re/their house yesterday.
3. The Present Perfect Tense
Unlike the present simple and the past simple tenses, the present perfect tense does not have one-to-one equivalents in the majority of languages.
For example, if a Spanish person wants to say that they’ve been friends with a person for 10 years, they use the present simple tense: “Somos amigos desde hace 10 años”, which literally translates to “We are friends for 10 years”.
Or, if they want to say that they’ve already paid the bills, they simply say “Ya pagué las cuentas” (“I paid the bills”), opting for the past simple even if no clear time reference is given.
As a result, it may be difficult for non-English speakers to know when to use the present perfect tense. So let’s get started.
The main rule to consider is that the present perfect tense is used when an action has a connection to now. This means that we use it to talk about:
– Actions that have just finished (but the results may still be relevant now): “I’ve just spoken to John.”
– Something that started in the past and continues until now: “We’ve known each other for 10 years.”
– Actions that happened at an unspecified time before now: “I’ve seen that movie twice.”
The main differences between the present perfect and the past simple, then, are:
- The present perfect is used to talk about actions that are connected to now in some way, while the past simple is used to talk about finished past actions with no connection to now.
- When talking about a past action, we use the present perfect when the time reference is unspecified, while the past simple is used when there is a clear time reference such as “yesterday”, “last week”, or “in 1998”.
Now that you know the difference between these two tenses, can you choose the correct option in each sentence below?
- I saw/have seen Titanic in 1998.
- We spoke/have spoken on the phone yesterday.
- I didn’t brush/haven’t brushed my teeth yet.
- We‘ve been/were friends since we were 4. We just love each other.
4. False friends
When I first started to learn English, one of my most recurring mistakes was using the word ‘actually’ to mean ‘nowadays’. While this may seem like a strange error, it’s actually quite common. This is because, in Spanish, the word “actualmente” translates as “today” or “at this moment in time”. As a result, I mistakenly assumed that its English counterpart had the same meaning.
This mistake is known as a false friend, and it’s something that can trip up even the most advanced speakers of English.
A false friend is a word in one language that has a similar meaning to a word in another language, but not the same meaning. While this is technically a vocabulary mistake rather than a grammar error, it’s one you will not want to make.
Here is a list of false friends from different languages that can lead to confusion and misunderstanding in your communications:
English vs. Spanish false friends:
-Embarrassed (to feel ashamed or embarrassed about something) vs. Embarazada (pregnant)
-Excited (to feel happy and enthusiastic about something) vs. Excitado (aroused or excited)
-Interesting (something that is interesting to you) vs. Interesado (interested in something)
-Prejudiced (to have a prejudiced view of someone or something) vs. Prejuicioso (judgemental)
English vs. French false friends:
-Attend (to go to or be present at an event) vs. Attendre (to wait)
-Bras (the undergarment worn by women) vs. Bras (arms)
-Bouton (a pimple) vs. Button (a fastener)
-Déception (disappointment) vs. Deception (lying or cheating)
English vs. Italian false friends:
-Argomento (topic, subject) vs. Argument (disagreement, reasons given in support of an idea)
-Accidente (coincidence) vs. Accident (unfortunate incident)
-Confrontare (to compare) vs. To confront (to challenge, to tackle)
-Delusione (disappointment) vs. Delusion (deception or trickery)
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Now that you know about the most common grammar mistakes in English, as well as how to avoid false friends, you’re one step closer to becoming a proficient English speaker! Just remember to keep practicing and, before long, you’ll be making progress in no time.
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Personal pronouns vs. possessive adjectives
The Present Perfect tense
- have seen
- haven’t brushed
- ‘ve been