Learning English as a second language is a tough feat, especially when it comes to mastering its complex grammar rules. Even advanced learners still make some of the most common grammar mistakes but knowing about them and having some examples in mind of how to avoid them will help you towards a more fluent, mistake-free English. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most common grammar mistakes made by English language learners and provide tips on how to avoid them, as well as how getting help from a tutor can benefit both your learning curve and your confidence. So let’s dive right in an work our way through the most common grammar mistakes made by English language learners and how to avoid them.
One of the most common grammar mistakes made by English language learners is incorrect subject-verb agreement. Subject-verb agreement means that the subject and verb in a sentence must agree in number (singular or plural) and thereby adjust to each other. You can say that the subject dictates how the verb is conjugated, as it determines the whether the verb will be singular or plural. Together, the subject and the verb are called nexus. For example, “He goes to school” is correct, but “He go to school” is incorrect.
To avoid subject-verb agreement mistakes, it’s important to identify the subject of the sentence and make sure that the verb agrees with it in number. Remember that the subject can be a noun, pronoun, or a phrase that acts as a noun. Here are 3 steps to help you avoid subject-verb agreement mistakes:
- Pay attention to the subject of the sentence
- Identify whether it’s singular or plural
- Choose the correct verb form to agree with the subject
As an example, we can use the steps above to analyze the following sentences:
- The cat chases the mouse (Correct)
- The cat chase the mouse (Incorrect)
In the first sentence, “cat” is singular, so the verb “chases” agrees with it, because it (the cat) chases. In the second sentence, the verb “chase” is not in agreement with the singular subject “cat” because chase relates to they which is plural.
Prepositions are another area where English language learners often make mistakes, and for good reason, as they usually do not follow grammatical rules and will therefore largely need to be memorized. Prepositions are words that cannot be conjugated and thereby are always in the same form. Prepositions show the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. The relationship between the nouns, pronouns and other words is usually a placement: on, off, under, over, in, out of, behind, in front of, at, to, from, before, after, along, between, towards, among and so on.
For example, “He walked to the store” uses the preposition “to” to show the relationship between “walked” and “store”. As he returned home, he walked from the store, and so now the preposition (we might also call it the relationship word) “from” is showing the relationship between “walked” and “store”.
As you can see, there are quite a few examples of relationship words.
To use prepositions correctly, it’s important to understand their meanings and uses. Prepositions can be tricky because they don’t always follow a set rule and so you’ll mostly need to memorize how they relate to other words. Here 3 steps to help you use prepositions correctly:
Learn the most common prepositions and their meanings
Pay attention to the prepositions (relationship-word) in phrases and idioms
Use prepositions in context to ensure proper usage
As an example of how to use preposition, we might consider the following sentences:
- She is afraid of spiders (Correct)
- She is afraid for spiders (Incorrect)
In the first sentence, “of” is the correct preposition to show the relationship between “afraid” and “spiders.” In the second sentence, “for” is an incorrect preposition, and as a result the sentence changes its meaning. In this case, she is afraid for spiders would mean that she is afraid on behalf of the spiders.
Tense usage is another area where English language learners often struggle. Tense refers to the time of an action in a sentence, such as past, present, or future. The primary tenses are: present tense about what is happening here and now; past tense about what happened in the past; and future tense about what will happen later. In English, all three tenses can be represented by present tense; thus about something dated: I come into the room and see what has happened; about something present: I stand here and wait; of something future: I will come tomorrow. For example, “She is walking to the store” uses the present continuous tense to show an action that is happening now.
To use tenses correctly, it’s important to understand their meanings and uses. English has 12 tenses, which can be overwhelming for learners. Here are 3 steps to help you use tenses correctly:
- Learn the basic tenses (past, present, and future) and their uses
- Pay attention to time markers, such as “yesterday” or “tomorrow”
- Use tenses in context to ensure proper usage
As an example, we might consider the following sentences:
- Present: I have lived here for five years (Correct)
- Past: I lived here for five years. (Correct)
- Future: I will live here for five years (Correct)
- I am living here for five years. (Incorrect)
In the first sentence, the present perfect tense is used to indicate an action that started in the past and is still ongoing. In the second sentence, the past simple tense is used to indicate an action that occurred in the past and is now finished. In the third sentence, the future tense is used to describe an intent to live in a certain place for a determined number of years into the future. Finally, the fourth sentence is written in the present continuous tense is not used correctly to describe a duration of time.
Articles (a, an, the) are gendered word structures and are one of the main causes of English grammatical mistakes. Articles are used to indicate whether a noun is specific or general, and female or male. For example, “She ate an apple” uses the indefinite article “an” to refer to any apple, while “She ate the apple” uses the definite article “the” to refer to a specific apple. Articles require the speaker to know the genders of words by heart, so this grammatical rule is specifically hard because there are no rules to rely on.
To use articles correctly, it’s important to understand their meanings and uses. Here are 3 steps to help you use articles correctly:
- Learn the difference between definite and indefinite articles
- Pay attention to the context to determine whether to use an article
- Use articles in context to ensure proper usage
For example, consider the following sentences:
- He went to the store to buy milk (Correct)
- He went to a store to buy milk (Correct)
- He went to store to buy milk (Incorrect)
In the first sentence, the word “the” is used to refer to a specific store. In the second sentence, the word “a” is used to refer to any store, unknown by the reader. In the final sentence the article is missing, and the sentence sounds incomplete.
The final grammatical rule which causes problems for English language learners that we will look at is word order. Word order refers to the sequence of words in a sentence. English follows a subject-verb-object word order, but this can change depending on the type of sentence or the emphasis of the sentence. For example, “She ate an apple” follows a subject-verb-object order, but “An apple she ate” uses a different word order for emphasis. Thereby, the word order determines the meaning of the sentence, which can be completely different even though the same words are used.
To use word order correctly, it’s important to understand how sentences are structured in English. Here are 3 steps to help you use word order correctly:
- Learn the basic subject-verb-object word order
- Pay attention to the type of sentence (declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory)
- Use word order to emphasize certain words or ideas in a sentence
For example, consider the following sentences:
- She is my friend (Correct)
- My friend she is (Incorrect)
In the first sentence, the subject “she” comes before the verb “is.” In the second sentence, the word order is incorrect and sounds awkward.
There are also many common English words that are often confused by English language learners. These include homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings) and words with similar spellings or meanings. Here are some examples of commonly confused words and how to use them correctly:
There/their/they’re: “There” refers to a place, “their” is a possessive pronoun, and “they’re” is a contraction of “they are”. Wrong usage of any of these words will alter the sentence completely, for example, “they’re friends” means that two or more specific people are friends, whereas “their friends” means that you are referring to someone else’s friends.
Your/you’re: “Your” is a possessive pronoun, while “you’re” is a contraction of “you are.” Like the example above, wrong usage of any of these words will alter the sentence completely, for instance, “your friends” is a specific referral to a person’s friends while “you’re friends” means that you (two or more people) are friends.
Its/it’s: “Its” is a possessive pronoun, while “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.” For example, “a dog and its bone” makes sense, but “a dog and it’s bone” doesn’t because the sentence would read “a dog and it is bone”.
Getting Help from a Tutor or Enrolling in English Classes
While all of these grammatical tips can help you avoid common grammar mistakes, it’s important to remember that learning proper grammar is a continuous process. If you’re struggling to improve your grammar skills on your own, you can consider getting help from a tutor or enrolling yourself in an English class. A tutor can provide one-on-one support and help you identify your specific areas of weakness. Here are some to make the most of your learning process while working with a tutor:
- Look for a tutor who specializes in teaching English as a second language
- Find a tutor who can work with you on a regular basis
- Be prepared to ask questions and take notes during tutoring sessions
- Practice what you learn between sessions to reinforce the concepts
A tutor can also help you with more advanced grammar concepts, such as phrasal verbs, conditionals, and modal verbs. These concepts can be challenging for English language learners, but a tutor can help you understand them and use them correctly. Tutors can be found in most larger cities by searching for English tutor or English teacher followed by “your city”. Should you prefer to enroll in a class with other students, these can be found similarly by searching for English class or English lessons followed by “your city”. For example:
- “English tutor London
- “English teacher Glasgow
- “English class Leeds
- “English lessons Manchester
In addition to working with a tutor, there are also many online resources that can help you improve your grammar skills. These include grammar books, online courses, and grammar checkers. However, it’s important to use these resources in conjunction with a tutor or teacher to ensure that you’re learning correct grammar and usage.
In conclusion, learning English grammar is a continuous process, and it takes time and effort to master its rules. However, by identifying and avoiding common grammar mistakes, English language learners can improve their fluency and credibility in speaking and writing the language. Remember to practice consistently and seek help from a tutor or language expert if needed. By following these tips and strategies, you can become a more confident and effective English language speaker and writer.
Improving your grammar skills can also have many benefits beyond just speaking and writing in English. It can help you communicate more clearly and effectively in your personal and professional life, and it can also open up new opportunities for travel, education, and career advancement. With dedication and the right resources, you can improve your English grammar skills and achieve your language learning goals.