10 common mistakes in english even native speakers make

Nobody likes making mistakes, but as language learners we know they are vital to our progress

If you’re studying English, you might want to keep an eye out for the following common mistakes. In fact, you might want to check them out if you’re a native speaker!

Good & Well

“Hey, how did you do in your final English exam, Mina?”

“I did good well. Thanks for asking.”

The confusion around when to use good and when to use well is easily cleared up when you think about what kind of words they are. Good is an adjective, which are used to describe nouns:

The little boy is good, he shared all of his toys.”

My sister is a good student.”

See how in the above sentences “good” describes the boy and the sister.

The word “well”, on the other hand, is an adverb. Adverbs describe verbs:

“He wrote well enough to get a job at the local newspaper as a journalist.”

“I did so well in my history test that the teacher congratulated me after class.”

The adverb “well” describes the verb “wrote” in the first sentence and “did” in the second.

When you know this about good and well, you see how inaccurate it is to say something like “I did good”. Did is a kind of verb (it’s called an auxiliary or helping verb), so we need to use the adverb “well” in this sentence.

That said, it is increasingly common for people to answer “How are you?” with “I’m good, thank you.” While the rules of English grammar state that this is incorrect, it is so often used that to most it sounds totally correct.

English is a living language, always changing to suit the the people who use it, so don’t be too scared to bend the rules sometimes.

Fewer & Less

Common Mistakes in English Even Native Speakers Make - Fewer or less

This mistake is so prolific it even ends up on signs at grocery stores, like the one above. What’s wrong with “20 items or less”? Well, “less” is actually used to describe the amount of a non-count noun (one that cannot be counted). Water is an example of a non-count noun; it wouldn’t make sense to say seven waters, you have to specify a unit of measurement in order to count it, like seven glasses of water or seven buckets of water.

Items at a grocery store are count nouns. You can physically count them as they are stand alone units: three apples, one loaf of bread, three tins of tuna and so on. Because these items are countable, the sign should actually read “20 items or fewer”.

Some nouns to use “less” with: time, air, love.

Some nouns to use “fewer” with: languages, reasons, possibilities.

Me & I

Many English native speakers have been led to believe that it is more proper to say “My friend and I” as opposed to “My friend and me” no matter what the situation. Some even go as far as to correct others when they correctly use “My friend and me”.

So how do you know when to use “I” and when to use “me”? You need to think about what the people are doing in the sentence. If they are the subjects (the sentence is about them) then use “I”.

Stella and I went to the library this morning.”

My father and I like to eat leftover birthday cake for breakfast.”  

If the people are the objects of the sentence (they are receiving the action of the subject), then “me” should be used.

“The police officer shouted at my sister and me to move away from the crime scene.”

“Miguel’s cat attacked my friend and me as we walked into his apartment.”

In these sentences the police officer and Miguel’s cat are the subjects, and the other people are the objects – they are being shouted at and attacked, so receiving the action of the subject.

An easy way to figure out if you should use “I” or “me” is by putting “we” or “us” in the same spot in the sentence. If “we” works, you’re dealing with the subject of a sentence and need to use “I”:

“Stella and I went to the library this morning.”

We went to the library this morning.”

If “us” works, you’re dealing with the object of a sentence and need to use “me”:

“The police officer shouted at my sister and me to move away from the crime scene.”

“The police officer shouted at my us to move away from the crime scene.”

Every Day & Everyday

This mistake is again an easy one to make. Many children are taught incorrectly by teachers in elementary school that the word “everyday” means that something happens each day.

This is incorrect. The word “everyday” actually means common. When you want to talk about something that happens each day, you need “every day”.

“I eat an apple everyday every day to stay healthy.”

“My mother walks the dog in the forest everyday every day.”

Common mistakes in English even native speakers make - every day or everyday

Some ways to use the word everyday:

“He was so sick of his everyday life that he packed up and went travelling around the world.”

“This is such an everyday dress. I need something cooler so I stand out at the party.”

Apostrophes

Have you eaten any apple’s this week? How about banana’s? See anything wrong in those two sentences? Many people who make signs for fruit and vegetable stores wouldn’t, but those apostrophes don’t belong there and here’s why.

Apostrophes have two main functions:

– They stand in place of missing letters in contractions, words like wasn’t (was not), it’s (it is) and couldn’t (could not).

– They make a noun possessive: Mary’s bag, My friend’s pencil and Mr. Jones’s jacket.

They do not, however, make a noun plural like in the above examples with “apple’s” and “banana’s”. To make nouns plural, all you need to do is add an “s” on the end.

“I ate five apples last week”

“Bob sold 450 bananas yesterday.”

Your Vs You’re

Mistakes in English even native speakers make - your or you're

Your and you’re are homophones, which means they sound the same but have different meanings. “You’re” means you are (notice how the apostrophe sits in place of the “a”). You would use it in sentences like these:

You’re looking very handsome today”

“If you’re interested, we could go for lunch at the new cafe downtown.”

“Your”, on the other hand, is a pronoun (like he, she, it them etc.). It stands in place of a person’s name, like in these sentences:

Your watch is broken”

“Am I your first visitor of the day?”

It’s quite common to see “your” used instead of “you’re”, so make sure you’re asking yourself “can I replace it with you are?” if the answer is yes, you need “you’re”. Easy peasy. 

That & Who

This one is easy if you stick with the rule: who for people, that for everything else.

“The woman who is eating the ice cream is making a mess on the floor.”

My friend, who is a movie buff, is coming with me to the new Star Wars movie tonight.”

The bicycle that rides the best is the red one at the back of the store.”

“If the colour that looks the prettiest is more expensive, I will stick with the one I already have.”

Lose & Loose

These words may only have a one letter difference, but their meanings are very different. The word “lose” means to misplace something. I’m always losing my phone, for example. I once found it half buried in earth in a plant pot after searching for it for hours. True story.

“Loose” is the opposite of tight or fixed. If it were a hot summer day, you might want to wear loose and light clothing to stay cool. Children’s teeth become loose before they fall out.

Now you can see how comical it could be to mix the two up – Am I loosing my mind? 

Lay & Lie

This one is tricky, and people often make the mistake of saying “I’m going to lay down” or “I’m going to have a lay in this weekend.” You should actually use ‘lie’ in both these sentences, and here’s why.

The word “lay” in its present tense is used when there is a direct object: “I’ll lay the laptop on the table.” Here the laptop is a direct object, it is being placed on the table. The word “lie”, on the other hand, does not require a direct object: “I’m so tired I need to lie down for half an hour.”

Common mistakes in English even native speakers make - lay or lie

This is relatively easy to remember, especially if you substitute the word “put”, which is like “lie”, and see how it sounds. “I was so tired I needed to put down for half an hour” isn’t right, so we know to use “lie”. The sentence “I put the laptop on the table” works, so we know to use “lay”. Easy, right? Well, that’s not the whole story where these words are concerned. When we start using the past tense, things get weird.

You see, the past tense of “lie” is “lay”! Why are you like this, English?! So you would say “I was so tired I lay down for half an hour.” the past tense of lay is laid, so our sentence about the laptop in the past tense would read “I laid the laptop on the table.”

Got it? Here it is one more time:

Lie

Present tense: “I’m so tired I need to lie down for half an hour.”

Past tense: “I was so tired I lay down for half an hour.”

Lay

Present tense: “I’ll lay the laptop on the table.”

Past tense: “I laid the laptop on the table.”

Which & That

Many assume that which and that are interchangeable, so they write either of the following:

“My car which I bought eight years ago drives like a dream.”

“My car that I bought eight years ago drives like a dream.”

In fact, one of these sentences is incorrect. Do you know which one? That’s right, it’s the “which” one.

In grammatical terms, “which” introduces clauses that are non-restrictive or not essential to the sentence – if you took it out, the rest of the words would work together as a sentence. For example, in the sentence “My new car, which I bought eight years ago, drives like a dream.” if you take out “which I bought eight years ago”, you would be left with “My new car drives like a dream.” This works as a sentence.

That extra information about when the car was bought is a kind of “by the way…” information; a little extra, but not essential for the meaning of the sentence.

Clauses introduced by “that” are called restrictive clauses, and they are essential for the sentence as a whole. If the person writing about the awesome car needed the person reading to know that it was bought as long as eight years ago to make the point that, wow, it still drives like a dream, then “My car that I bought eight years ago drives like a dream.” would be used.

To sum it up: Use “which” if the sentence doesn’t need the information you’re adding to express your meaning, and use “that” if it does.

***

So there you have it! Ten common mistakes in English that even native speakers make in their writing.

Now go forth and write well, with fewer mistakes. You and I will both be better writers if we keep these rules in mind every day we write. It’s important that you’re always updating your writing skills. A writer who is always improving is a writer who won’t lose his or her edge. So lay down your phone, pick up a pen, which is a tool used for writing, and write something great!  

***

Want to learn English from content you love?

Join LingQ for free today!

Follow LingQ members on their language learning journey.


We will not share your data with third parties and you will only receive newsletters from LingQ.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *