What are the top 3 most common English mistakes?

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Answered by: Ellen, An Expert in the English as the Second Language (ESL) Category
Learning English as a second language (ESL) can be challenging, particularly at advanced levels. Many ESL learners know that their English is not perfect, but they keep on making errors in speaking because they don't know about the most common English mistakes. To make matters worse, many native English speakers use colloquial or incorrect grammar, so it can be extremely tricky to figure out what's wrong and what's not. Below are the top three most common English mistakes that ESL learners make.

1. Forgetting about irregular plurals.

As everyone knows, most words in English are pluralized by adding -s to the end. For example, the plural of "mistake" is "mistakes." A few words, however, have different plurals. For example, the plural of "person" is "people," and the plural of "woman" is "women." If ESL learners aren't careful, these words can make grammar very difficult. One of the very most common English mistakes is to use a singular verb with these irregular plurals. For example, many people say, "Lots of people goes to the beach in the summer." Of course, this is wrong! It should be, "Lots of people go to the beach in summer." Since "people" is actually plural, it takes the plural form of the verb "go."

2. Incorrect use of articles.

Articles in English can be very difficult. When do we use "the," or not? When do we use "a" or "an"? In general, we use "the" if we are talking about something specific, like "the pencil on the desk," and we use "a" or "an" when we are talking about something non-specific, e.g., "do you have a pencil?" In the first example, we are talking about a particular pencil, and in the second example we are talking about any pencil--we don't care which one! This rule is easy enough, but there are many exceptions and other rules about articles in English. One example is the rule about university names: if the name of a college or university doesn't begin with "University of..." then we don't use an article. For example, "I go to Harvard University." It's a specific university, but no article is used. It takes time and practice to learn to use articles correctly. Because it is one of the most common English mistakes, ESL learners should be aware of their article use at all times.

3. Incorrect use of prepositions.

In English, prepositions are almost as difficult as articles. In, at, on--which one to use, and when?! The problem with prepositions is that most of the time they don't actually mean anything, they are just used by convention. Another difficulty with prepositions is that they are used differently in British English versus American English. For example, Americans say "on the weekend," while British say "at the weekend." There's no difference in meaning; that's just the way it is! Unfortunately, many prepositions have to be memorized--there is no better or easier way to learn them. That's why preposition use is among the most common mistakes English speakers make, and should be practiced again and again by non-native speakers.

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