The 10 most common mistakes English learners make

In general, English learners don’t like making mistakes. That’s not strange, because who does? But here is an eye-opening truth – mistakes are necessary for speaking better English. Some of them are more common than the other ones, and if you focus on fixing them, your English skills will become unbelievably better! Below, we listed for you the 10 most common mistakes English learners make – based on our experience. Check if you are making them as well:

1. An apple? The apple?

Omitting or misusing indefinite and definite articles such as “a”, “an” and “the” is a quite common mistake. But these are literally 1-3 letters words, how could they be important?

First of all, they slightly change the meaning of a sentence:

  1. Could you pass me a glass of water? (an indefinite article) -> meaning: Could you pour the water into a glass and pass it to me? I haven’t got any.
  2. Could you pass me the glass of water? (a definite article) -> meaning: I have already poured the water into a glass, but I left the glass somewhere I can’t reach. I need that glass.

If you omit an article it may sound awkward, as there are several nouns which cannot be used without a definite article. For instance: “the world”, “the moon”, “the Internet”.

  • I am reading an article on the Internet. (NOT: I am reading an article on Internet).

2. What are you looking… at? On?

Prepositions may cause you a headache, but it is vital that they are correct. What’s very effective is to learn them in context, reading whole sentences, not just words.

Phrasal verbs are a part of the problem because different preposition will change the meaning of the phrasal verb. Look how many phrasal verbs we can be created just using one verb:

  • To look at
  • To look for
  • To look out
  • To look back

3. Am I hearing things or listening to them?

Lots of English learners tend to confuse words if their meaning is very close – the most common pairs might be:

  • Make/do
  • Lend/borrow
  • Watch/look
  • Hear/listen

Again, what is advised in such cases is to check the explanation of the words, not just the translation. In some cases you might need to just learn few phrases by heart to understand the difference (like make/do) but usually, reading an explanation and a few example sentences (plus, practice!) should be fine.

4. You yawn because you’re boring… sorry, bored!

When should you use adjectives ending with “-ing” and with “-ed”?

The best explanation would be: “-ed” indicates a state of mind and body, while “-ing” indicates a nature of something – an action, a person, a thing. So, English is interesting, and you are interested in it!

5. Tuesday is not Thursday!

Somehow pronunciation is rarely a key aspect in English courses, which is a shame, because we cannot overestimate how important it is. Improper pronunciation might lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication and obviously, mistakes. You might also have trouble listening to new words, because how you pronounce influences the way you hear things.

Tip: listen and repeat after native speakers or your teacher as many times as needed. Furthermore, listen to English a lot – you might easier pick up the correct pronunciation.

6. How much is 10 milks?

Making a mistake related to countable and uncountable nouns might turn out awkward. If you say “I need 10 glasses of milk” (who knows what for, maybe you are baking a cake?) it’s obvious what you need, but if you say “I need 10 milks”, what does it mean? Do you mean 10 drops, 10 glasses, 10 bottles or 10 crates?

In general, most nouns are countable. The uncountable ones are those you can’t count (duh), usually these are abstract nouns or things like liquids, gases or powders – but not only. For example: flour, tea, coffee, knowledge, information. To express their quantity, you need to use words such as: a cup of, a glass of, a bit of, a lot of, and so on – never a number + noun.

7. Lack of capital letters.

Remember that in English, things like names of people, names of places, languages, months, days of the week all start with capital letters. Sometimes students tend to follow habits of their native languages, for example German students might capitalize all nouns, or Japanese students might not capitalize anything at all. This mistake really stands out in your writing – you might write beautifully but if there are no capital letters, everyone will focus on that one shortcoming.

8. I like she? Her?

This mistake might not apply to you but it is so frequent amongst Asian students (particularly Chinese students) that it needs to be pointed out. Be careful about pronouns!

First of all, “he” is used if we you are talking about a male, and “she” – a female. In Chinese, both pronouns are pronounced in the same way, hence it’s a habit the students adopt from their native language.

Another habit is not using possessive pronouns, especially after “like” – one of the most common English verbs. Remember – if you like somebody, use “her”, “him” or “his” after “like” – never “she” and “he”. So, it’s: I like her.

9. What does he… does?

When students speak too quick, they tend to add “-s” to verbs connecting with “he” and “she”, even when asking a question. Don’t be so quick! Slow down, but remember – when you form a question and use “does”, there is no need to add “-s” to the verb anymore. Why? Because “do” eats the “-s” from the verbs, changing into “does”! There is no need for the verb to carry the “-s” anymore.

  1. She likes swimming. -> Does she like swimming?
  2. I don’t know what he does in his free time. -> What does he do in his free time?

10. Past Simple vs. Present Perfect

This is probably the holy grail of English mistakes, as it is something that even advanced students have problems with. We’re going to give you two short tips that you might find helpful:

Past Simple is used when a precise time is given and the time is the main point, while Present Perfect is used when the time is not given/not important:

  • I lived in Australia in 1999.
  • I have lived in Australia for 20 years.

Usually, words such as “since” and “for” go with Present Perfect:

  • We have been together for 40 years.
  • I haven’t seen you since the prom!

Hopefully, you found our list useful! If you are still not sure what could you do to correct your mistakes – we will be more than glad to help! On italki, you can get in touch with over 8000 experienced English teachers, who exactly know how to take your English to next level. You can book a trial, one-on-one class to start your journey now. To learn English online with us is to choose a personalized, flexible, and effective style of learning.

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