University of Cambridge

Common Mistakes in English

Introduction:

English is used everywhere as a part of necessity. It is a language that bridges the international finance, international relations, socialisations, politics, cyber world and what not. English is easy to use but not so easy to use correctly. The paper focuses on some of the most common mistakes found in everyday English. The accuracy in communication is most of the time neglected because fluency is expected and appreciated first. It comes to the point as smart English includes both accuracy and fluency; moreover, after certain level of achievement, the question of accuracy comes to productive skills. Nowadays correspondence, communications, commerce, co-operations and other activities have increased. For many years, the necessity of English is increasing day by day. English language has a cosmopolitan character. “It is not only the language of the English people, but spoken by several hundreds of millions in four continents” (Sarwar & Sultan, 2010). English is taught as a compulsory subject in most of the schools in Europe, Asia and Africa. Many countries have taken English as a second language. Yet, the correct English is a matter of question to be discussed and updated.

Errors may occur in speech or writing of a second or foreign language learner or user. Errors have been classified into various types in terms of grammar rules and the uses. If an error is resulted from incomplete or inadequate knowledge, it can be called an error. If a mistake is made by a learner for his / her carelessness, unintentionally, fatigue or lack of attention, it is believed to be a mistake. Error belongs to vocabulary can be called a lexical error. Error in pronunciation can be called phonological error. When it occurs due to lack of grammatical knowledge, it can be considered a syntactic error. Errors related to intention, meaning or understanding, can be considered as interpretive error. Production of wrong communicative effect may be identified as a pragmatic error.  Developmental error can be understood by the error made by an interrupted or imbalanced or creolised development from the childhood which may hamper the normal way of spoken or written English. Despite these, there are errors such as a fatal error which is totally a wrong pattern of sentence having no meaning at all or a very partial and incomplete meaning. This is the most critical part for correction. Many researchers have attempted to explain the importance of teaching grammar to avoid mistakes. The role played by grammar was revised time to time and was adjusted with the pace of time (Sarwar, 2011). Barclay (1743) emphasizes grammar claiming that writing will be improved with rules concerning the justness of expression, the force and harmony of certain phrases, the proper meaning of words, their connection one with another, and the necessary skill of placing them all in regular order.

In fact correcting incorrect English sentence is very complex and a vast matter. Even persons having sound knowledge of English language may make mistakes in framing English sentences which are unintentional. The mistakes include right form of verbs, articles, prepositions, sequence of tense, objectives, pronouns etc. In reviewing students and academic papers, browsing web sites, proofreading & editing over the years, the list of mistakes presented here has been compiled. Below are most common grammar mistakes of English communication I see routinely in editorial queries, academic submissions, exam scripts, presentations, scholarly writing, blogs, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, and even bestselling books and novels. The mistakes are not categorised in types as they are found very common though there are some other mistakes as well. Here, in this paper, the mistakes which are confusing are being discussed with examples and explanations for easy understanding.

Discussion of mistakes:

The mistakes are endless in there types and numbers in different areas, among different types of people, having different academic degrees in perspectives of different countries. The most common and critical mistakes are discussed according to their categories. The most common mistakes are following:

Subject Verb Agreement:

  1. Wrong: The taste of the Oranges are not good.

      Right: The taste of the Oranges is not good.

            Wrong: The colour of their eyes are black.

 Right: The colour of their eyes is black.

In above two examples, taste and colour are head-words (not ‘oranges’ or ‘eyes’) to affect the verbs. Hence, the two words are the subjects to control over the verbs.

  1. Wrong: He and I am friends.

Right: He and I are friends.

‘He’ and ‘I’ mean two persons, thus it takes plural form of verbs.

Note:  For the arrangement of persons, 231 (second person, third person & first person) to be followed, in case of confession, 132 (first person, third person and second person) to be followed}.

Example: You, he and I are friends no doubt.

  1. Wrong: The lecturer as well as his students are attentive in the meeting.

Right: The lecturer as well as his students is attentive in the meeting.

(Explanation: If the sentence contains as well as, along with, together with, with, accompanied by etc, first noun or pronoun will be treated as subject to control the verb. Hence, the lecturer is the subject here.)

Wrong: It is I who is responsible for it.

Right: It is I who am responsible for it.

(Explanation: Here, the ‘antecedent’ of relative pronoun ‘who’ is ‘I’, so, the verb will be ‘am’)

Sequence of tense:

Wrong: The student believed that the policeman will help him.

Right: The student believed that the policeman would help him.

(Explanation: Here, the principal or main clause is  in past tense but the subordinate or dependent clause is present tense, so, the later should also be in past tense accordingly)

Degree of adjectives:

Wrong: He feels comparatively better today

Right: He feels comparatively well today

  • or

He feels better today

(Explanation: At the same time, in a same sentence double degree of adjectives, double negative, double interrogative should be avoided. So, either ‘comparatively well’ or ‘better’ will be the correct answer)

Preposition:

There are several kinds of mistakes in terms of correct forms of preposition made by the users. Sometime wrong or inappropriate preposition, sometime preposition is omitted or redundant.  

Among the most common are:

Wrong: The book belongs her

Right: The book belongs to her

Wrong: We discussed about the matter in our meeting.

Right: We discussed the matter in our meeting.

(Exp: in the first case, preposition is missing, in the second, preposition is redundant)

Tag Questions:

Tag question is used as a repetition for affirming the statement by the user. The rule is, if the statement is affirmative, tag will be negative, vice versa.

Wrong: You have done this, have you?

Right: You have done this, haven’t you?

( Exp: If Statement is Affirmative: Statement,+ Auxiliary Verb with Contracted negative ‘n’t’+ Pronoun of Subject+ ?

If Statement is Negative: Statement, + Auxiliary Verb + Pronoun of Subject+?)

Wrong use of words:

Wrong: Our culture is effected by satellite channels.

Right: Our culture is affected by satellite channels.

Wrong: The teacher adviced the student to be serious in her studies.

Right: The teacher advised the student to be serious in her studies.

Wrong: They excepted my proposal.

Right: They accepted my proposal.

(Exp: ‘effect’ is not a verb, so, it is a wrong use, hence, is replaced by ‘affect’, which is a verb, same also in case of ‘advice’ which is not a verb, should be ‘advised’. ‘Excepted’ is wrongly used as it is close to ‘accepted’ in terms of pronunciation.)

Wrong use of Active/ Passive voice:

Wrong: English spoken/ speak all over the world.

Right: English is spoken all over the world.

Wrong: His father was died last year.

Right: His father died last year.

(Exp: ‘English spoken/ speak’ is wrong because it is not constructed as per rule of voice e.g. Subject + Auxiliary verb/s + Principal verb, so, should be ‘English is spoken’, on the other hand, the words such as die, occur, continue, disappear, wonder, appear etc usually do not take passive voice in framing sentences) 

Cyber Grammar Mistakes:

Sometime, unknowingly, we put punctuation at the end of web address. It is wrong as it may tend to search an invalidated address.

Example: URL: http://www.articlesbase.com/online-education-articles/umskal-a-feasible-electronic-classroom-technology-ect-enhanced-campus-5080824.html

(No comma/ full stop or any punctuation is needed at the end of the web address)

Punctuation Mistakes:

“It’s” and “its” are not same. They refer to different meaning. The possessive form of “it” is “its”, not “it’s” (“it’s” is a contracted form of “it is”)

Example:         It’s very hot today (Contracted form of “It is”)

                         The monkey is imitating its master. (Possessive form of “it”)

Conclusion:

It is easy to speak in English but difficult to speak and write correct English especially for them whose mother tongue is not English. In formal communication, academic and official matters English should be flawless. Unfortunately, windows/ web/ software spell checker are not capable of tracing most of these types of mistakes. We need enough practice lest we should forget the examples.

Reference:

Celce-Murcia, M.(1991). Grammar Pedagogy in Second and Foreign Language Teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 25(3): 459-480

Cowan, R.(2008). The Teacher’s Grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Ellis, R.(2006). Current Issues in the Teaching of Grammar: An SLA Perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1):83-107

Larsen-Freeman, D.(2001). Teaching Grammar. In M.Celce-Murcia(ed.), [3rd edn.], Boston, Mass, Heinle & Heinle

Leech, G. & Svartik, J.1975.A Communicative Grammar of English. London: Longman.

Litosseliti, lia.(2011). Research Methods in Linguistics

Rohani, Siyi. (2007). Teaching of Grammar: Teachers’ Beliefs, Instructional Contexts and Practices. PhD Thesis, Malaysia

Sarwar, A. & Sultan, A. 2010. Language: Grammar Reading, Writing & Comprehension. Bangladesh: Panjeree Publications 4: 48-91

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