Top 10 Most Common Errors by English Learners

We all know how hard it is to learn a second (or third or fourth) language. For the English teachers and learners out there, here’s a cheatsheet on the 10 most common mistakes made by English learners.

1. Articles

Indefinite and definite articles, “or” “a,” “an” and “the” as they are more commonly known, are difficult for even native English learners to keep straight. “The” is only used when you’re talking about something that is known to both the writer and the reader, while “a” or “an” can be referring to anything. Confusing indeed. Additionally, “an” is only used before a vowel. Yet, why do you say an hour but a horse?

(“An” is used before a vowel sound, even if it’s not actually a vowel)

2. Mass nouns

These are nouns that act “singular” but refer to more than one thing. A family or group is made up of more than one person, but functions like a single unit in sentences. Other often confused mass nouns advice, news, garbage and water.

3. Adverbs vs. Adjectives

Confused by many native English speakers as well, English learners often mix up adverbs and adjectives. Well is an adverb, good is an adjective. So technically you ran well but your run was good and the test was good but went well.

4. Prepositions

These are difficult in every language because every language uses them a bit differently. In English, “IN” is used both for closed spaces and periods of time, “AT” is used for a specific time or place and “ON” is used to describe the surface something is on or a day.

5. SVO Word Order

That is, Subject-Verb-Object word order. In English, unlike many other languages, the subject is ALWAYS necessary.

6. Pronouns

Mixing up “he” and “she” is another common mistake made by English learners. Some languages, like Japanese don’t distinguish in every occurrence of these articles.

7. 3rd Person “S”

When using 3rd person singular (he, she, it), always add an –s to the end of the verb. The “s” is often omitted by English learners!

8. Don’t

The use of “don’t” in negative sentences gives English learners, especially Spanish speakers a bit of trouble. In English you must add “do” and “not” to convey a negative meaning.

9. Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used in contractions or to show possession. However, they are not used with possessive pronouns like his, her or their.

10. Capitalization

What to capitalize is different in every language and often hard to keep straight. In English, we capitalize

  • “I” as a subject
  • First letter of a sentence
  • Proper names, national nouns and adjectives
  • Days of the week, months

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Research by Karenne Sylvester of Kalinago English.