By Miranda González
As a teacher for LiveEnglish with Livemocha on Facebook, I usually like to start my class with a warm-up question like “What do you like to do in the summer?” or “If you had a million dollars, what would you buy?” These warm-up questions serve two purposes: 1) Students get a chance to practice their writing and 2) They get to share their interests with people from all over the world. These LiveEnglish students come from distinct nations and speak many different languages, but they make a lot of the same mistakes when writing in English. How can this be? English is tricky, and some parts are trickier than others, so to help you out, I’ve compiled a list of common English errors that I’ve seen while correcting sentences for LiveEnglish. Take a look and see if you have ever made any of these mistakes:
1. Mixing up “in” and “on” with modes of transportation
You get in a car. You get on everything else. (I got on the plane/bus/train/motorcycle/boat.) Remember, a taxi is a kind of car, so you get in a taxi.
2. Confusing “in time” with “on time”
“On time” = punctually
Example: I get to work on time. I am never late.
“In time” = before a deadline or a time limit expires
Example: I got to the bus stop in time. The bus was just about to leave.
3. Ending a sentence with a contraction
INCORRECT: A: Are you happy? B: Yes, I’m.
CORRECT: A: Are you happy? B: Yes, I am.
While it is normally fine to contract “I” and “am”, you cannot do it at the end of a sentence. This holds true for all pronouns contracted with verbs.
4. Confusing “would like” with “like”
Compare these two examples:
I would like to go swimming. <–This is something that you want to do at some point in the future.
I like to go swimming. <–This is something that you enjoy and do on a regular basis.
5. Forgetting to use a determiner in front of a singular count noun
MOST singular count nouns must be preceded by some kind of determiner. Some types of determiners are articles (a, an, the), possessive adjectives (my, your, his), and demonstratives (this, that, these, those).
Here’s a quick determiner test. Let’s look at the noun “dog”. Is it singular? (Yes, there is only one.) Is it countable? (Yes – one dog, two dogs, three dogs…) Then it MUST have a determiner. Don’t let your singular count nouns go naked!
INCORRECT: I saw dog outside.
CORRECT: I saw a dog outside. I saw your dog outside. I saw that dog outside.
6. Using “the” in front of indefinite plural nouns
INCORRECT: I went to the mall to buy the clothes.
CORRECT: I went to the mall to buy clothes. OR I went to the mall to buy some clothes. (“Some” simply means an unspecified amount.)
We don’t use “the” because we are talking about clothes in general.
If you were to add some information to specify what clothes, then you could use “the”.
Example: I went to the mall to buy the clothes that my mother had picked out for me earlier.
7. Counting noncount nouns
Noncount nouns can only be measured in units. Some common noncount nouns involve categories, fluids, solids, gases, particles, and abstractions. For this type of noun, you count the unit, not the noun.
INCORRECT: I bought three breads.
CORRECT: I bought three loaves of bread.
8. Making a noun plural when using it as an adjective
INCORRECT: I had vegetables soup for dinner.
CORRECT: I had vegetable soup for dinner.
While the soup may have a lot of vegetables in it, when you use a noun as an adjective, it must always be singular.
9. Using “for” and “since” interchangeably
“Since” is used with a point in time. Example: I have been here since 9:00 a.m.
“For” is used with duration of time. Example: I have been here for five hours.
10. Mixing up “I used to” with “I am used to”
I used to = I did something in the past, but I don’t anymore
Example: I used to climb trees when I was a kid. (I no longer climb trees.)
I am used to = I am accustomed to
Example: I am used to living in the desert. The heat doesn’t bother me.
Miranda is an English and Spanish teacher. Find her free English classes on Facebook every weekday at LiveEnglish with Livemocha. She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, where she and her husband are raising two bilingual children.