10 Common Errors In English To Avoid
Here are some common errors in English that both native and non-native speakers of English make. If you can eliminate these errors when you write, it will be easier for people to understand your message – and you will look more professional.
10 Common Errors in English
1. It's – its
"It's" is the abbreviated form of "it is" or "it has", while "its" is the possessive adjective.
Here are some examples:
"It's time to go." (It is time to go.)
"It's started to rain again." (It has started…)
"The company has changed its hiring policy." (possessive – "its" refers to the policy of the company.)
2. You're – your
"You're is the abbreviated form of "you are".
"Your" is the possessive adjective.
"You're funny!" (You are funny.)
"Your jacket is too big." (The jacket that belongs to you.)
3. They're – their – there
"They're" is the abbreviated form of "they are".
"Their" is the possessive adjective.
"There" refers to place or as the subject in a sentence, as in "There are five people in my class."
"They're leaving now." (They are leaving now.)
"Their car is new." (The car that belongs to them.)
"She lives there."
4. There's – theirs
"There's" is the abbreviated form of "there is" or "there has".
"There's a new student in the class." (There is…)
"There's been an accident." (There has been…)
"Theirs" is the possessive form relating to "their".
"Which car is theirs?"
"That one, over there."
5. Who's – whose
"Who's" is the abbreviated form of "who is" or "who has".
"Whose" is a pronoun.
"Who's coming to the party tonight?" (Who is coming to the party?)
"Who's ordered this pizza?" (Who has ordered this pizza?)
"Whose book is this?" (Who does this book belong to?)
6. Who – whom
Native speakers often get confused about when to use "whom". In fact, the grammar rule is to use "who" for the subject of the verb, and "whom" for the object of the verb (and after prepositions).
"Who ate all the cake?" (Who is the subject of the verb "ate")
"Whom did they address?" (Whom is the object of the verb "address")
"To whom should I address the letter?" (Whom is used after prepositions)
In practice, we generally use "whom" only with prepositions, in expressions such as "some of whom", "most of whom", etc and in expressions like "To Whom It May Concern" (in a letter of reference).
"The students, none of whom had been abroad before, were very excited."
"He congratulated the winners, all of whom had overcome personal setbacks."
When we speak, we tend to use "who". So instead of "To whom am I talking", "Who am I talking to?"
7. Should of / Would of / Could of
"Should of", "Would of" and "Could of" are always incorrect. The correct form is "should have", "would have" and "could have".
"You should have left sooner."
"I would have told you if I'd known."
"He could have been a tennis champion."
8. To – too – two
These three words are commonly confused because they sound the same.
Remember: "to" is a preposition
"She walked to the office."
"Too" means "also".
"I'm going too," he said.
"Two" is the number.
"There are two things you need to remember."
9. Then – than
We use "then" to show sequence.
"I went home and then I had dinner."
We use "than" in comparisons.
"He's taller than me."
(Don't use "then" instead of "than" in these situations.)
10. Between you and I/me
We use I as the subject, and "me" as the object of the verb.
"You and I can go to the meeting in my car." (Not "you and me" because "I" is also the subject of the verb "go".)
But "Between you and me, the new boss doesn't have enough experience."
In this situation, "you and me" follows the preposition "between". After prepositions we need the object, and the object form of "I" is "me".
5 tips to reduce errors
These tips are especially useful if you need to write emails or short messages for work, or if you're preparing for an English exam such as the PET (Cambridge) exam.
1. Keep it simple
Write in short, clear sentences. Limit your sentences to one idea per sentence, and avoid writing any more than 15-20 words in each sentence. Avoid passive forms.
2. Use a simple word order
The "SVOMPT" word order makes it easy for you to structure grammatically-correct sentences.
S = subject
V = verb
O = object
M = manner (i.e. how)
P = place
T = time
Some examples of how this works:
I like playing tennis in the evening.
He drives his sports car fast to work.
3. Use linking words
Linking words help your reader follow your ideas and to see the relationship between them.
4. Keep an eye on singular / plural nouns
Ask yourself if a noun is singular, plural (or uncountable) and then make sure your verb endings are accurate.
The two girls were playing in the park.
The boy was reading his book.
The money was lying on the table.
5. Pay attention to personal pronouns and possessive adjectives
He loves his mother.
She respects her father.
Maria spends time with her friends. (as opposed to my friends or your friends.)
Common Errors in English Quiz
Level: Elementary and above
- ''Whose'' is a relative pronoun which we use to talk about possession. ''Who's'' is a short form of ''who is'' or ''who has''.
- When you use a relative pronoun (who, which, that, where) you don't need the noun or pronoun after it.
- After prepositions (for, with, by, from, etc) you need an object (not a subject) form. The object forms are ''me'', ''you'', ''her'', ''him'', ''it'', ''us'', and ''them''. Don't confuse these object forms with the possessive pronouns ''my'', ''your'', ''his'', ''her'', ''Its'', ''our'' and ''their''.
- A very common mistake with native English speakers is to use ''your'' instead of ''you're''. ''Your'' is a possessive adjective (''I like your new shirt'') while ''you're'' is an abbreviation of ''you are''. ''You're in the wrong queue for bus tickets.''
- ''Hair'' is an uncountable noun (when we refer to the hair on our head). For this reason you need the singular form of the verb (is) - not the plural form (are).
- This is another common native English speaker mistake. In past modals you need ''have'' and not ''of''. For example, ''should have called''; ''must have gone'', ''would have spoken''. The reason this mistake is so common is that in spoken English the ''have'' is unstressed and sounds the same as ''of''.
- When you make a compound noun with two nouns (bottle opener, mousetrap, seatbelt, etc) the first noun is in the singular form, not the plural form. This is because it functions like an adjective, and in English, adjectives don't have plural forms.
- Native English speakers often get confused between ''their'', ''there'' and ''they're''. ''Their'' is a possessive adjective, (''They talked to their bank manager'') and ''they're'' is an abbreviation of ''they are''.
- This is another common mistake. ''Its'' is the possessive adjective (of a thing) while ''it's'' is the abbreviation of ''it is'' or ''it has''.
- In indirect questions, the word order changes to look like a statement, rather than a question. For example, ''Who is she?'' (question) the subject ''she'' and verb ''is'' are inverted. In the indirect question, the word order after ''who'' is subject and verb, like in a statement such as ''She is a doctor''.
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