English is a very important language: it’s spoken around the world and, in most cases, it will help you to make yourself understood while traveling or working in another country. It’s a great tool for surviving abroad, even in non-native English-speaking countries. If you don’t know the local language, it is fairly likely that someone will speak at least a little English.
A lot of people say that learning languages like Japanese, Mandarin, or Russian is tough; and though that’s true, we cannot minimize the difficulty of English. Have you ever tried to hold a casual conversation with a native English friend; or, write an essay for your English class? Did you fail to find the right words to express what you truly wanted to say?
That’s okay. It happens. Learning a new language always comes with making mistakes, but you can learn from them. These are some of the most common grammar mistakes English learners make, so you can improve and express your true self.
5 Common Grammar Mistakes When Learning English
1. Possessives / Contractions
This is a common mistake because the words sound almost the same way and are written similarly. It happens a lot with you, he, it, and they.
- You’re / Your
“You’re” is the contraction of “you are”. For example: You’re beautiful (You are beautiful.)
“Your” is a possessive adjective, used to show that something belongs to you, and it’s written before a noun. For example: This is your pen.
- He’s / His
“He’s” is the contraction of “he is”. For example: He’s a teacher (He is a teacher.)
“His” is a possessive adjective, used to show that something belongs to him. For example: He built a house for his dog. “His” is also a possessive pronoun, and it also shows that something belongs to him, except that it is not written before a noun. For example: This dog is his.
- It’s / Its
“It’s” is the contraction of “it is”. For example: It’s a rainy day (It is a rainy day.)
“Its” is a possessive adjective. For example: The toothbrush comes with its own toothpaste.
- They’re / Their
“They’re” is the contraction of “they are”. For example: They’re good students (They are good students.)
“Their” is a possessive adjective. For example: They lost their savings.
People also confuse these words with “there”, which is an adverb of place, used to know where something or someone is. For example: Their teacher is there. It can also be used as a pronoun or interjection.
*Tip: Contractions are always used with apostrophes.
2. People is…
This is a popular doubt because some languages, such as Spanish, say “people is” (la gente es). Though the meaning of gente is people or persons, it is thought of as a group or number of people, so it’s singular. While in English the word “people” is plural, because it is simply used as “persons”.
“People is” is a subject-verb agreement mistake. That means that the subject doesn’t match in number with the verb.
For example: They is doctors. / He are a good person.
It should be: They are doctors. / He is a good person.
So, if “people” is plural, then the verb has to be in plural too.
- People are meditating.
- People are crazy.
3. Adjectives that end with “ed” and “ing”
Have you ever said, “You’re boring.” to someone? Then you might’ve ended up in an embarrassing or awkward situation because you judged that person’s personality as dull; when maybe you just wanted to highlight that she seemed bored.
That is the consequence that this common English mistake has: you might end up saying something you don’t mean. It’s ok. It’s actually not that hard to learn the correct way of expressing yourself with these adjectives.
Adjectives that end with “ed” are used to express how you or other people feel or felt in a certain moment.
- I am bored of this movie.
- He is terrified of monsters.
- You were frustrated because you were losing the game.
Adjectives that end with “ing” are used to describe someone or something.
- I am boring. (You are saying your personality is dull.)
- Monsters are terrifying.
- The football game was frustrating.
Examples with both:
- I am surprised that the play was interesting.
- The soothing bath bombs make you feel relaxed.
- They were embarrassed because their show was disgusting.
4. In / On / At
Prepositions are a basic thing to express ourselves in English, but it can be complicated to know when to use each one. Three of the most confusing prepositions for English learners are in, on, and at, maybe because all are prepositions of time and place, so they are quite similar. Here are some basic rules to know when to use them.
In is usually used when something or someone is inside another thing.
- The keys are in the bag.
It’s also used with cities and certain areas:
- I live in London.
- He is camping in the woods.
It’s also used with seasons, periods of time, and moments during the day (except at night).
- In the summer, we are going to see our grandparents.
- He was born in the 80s.
- I’ll see you in the morning.
If you want to specify a time in the future, you should also use “in”.
- I’ll finish the project in one year.
On is usually used to express where something or someone is in terms of surfaces, including surfaces of water, like oceans and rivers.
- The vase is on the table.
- There’s garbage floating on the ocean.
It’s also used with dates and days of the week.
- I’ll see you on Thursday.
- They have a meeting on March 24th.
We also use it for specific days of the holidays.
- We are eating turkey on Thanksgiving.
At is used for specific places, as well as for addresses and events.
- I’m at the museum.
- Let’s eat at the restaurant.
- We had fun at the carnival.
It’s also used for specific periods of time.
- We are going to have fun at Thanksgiving. (doesn’t mean the exact day of Thanksgiving, but the time around it, or at the Thanksgiving event.)
- We are meeting at five o’clock.
*Tip: As a general idea you could think of “in” as something that’s inside the place; and “at” as something around that place. So you could say you’re meeting someone at the mall (not necessarily inside it) or that you saw someone in the mall (inside it).
*Fact: Prepositions are tricky, learning all the rules and exceptions can be tedious and confusing. The best way to learn them is through listening, reading, and watching (tv shows), basically learning within a context. This way you’ll get accustomed to when to use each one, and you’ll become fluent.
5. Is / It’s
This might seem obvious, but it is quite a common mistake English learners make. It might be due to the fact that “is” and “it’s” sound similar when spoken out loud. Or maybe because some languages don’t need to say the personal pronouns all the time; people understand who they’re talking about by the way the verb is conjugated.
Nonetheless, in English you need to specify the subject. So, if you don’t have another subject before, you need to add one or add the personal pronoun before the “is”.
For example: “Is red”. What is red? “The toy is red” / “It is red”.
If you do have a subject then that’s okay, never repeat the subject.
Start Thinking in English
Many English mistakes happen because you translate from your native language to English. And that doesn’t always work, because languages have different structures and vocabulary. There are even some words that sound the same but mean something different. There are many changes from one language to another, so things might get lost in translation.
Instead of translating in a literal way, try to listen to podcasts or music, watch Netflix shows from other countries, and practice the corrections for the mistakes above when speaking with your teacher or someone else. All of this will help you gain fluency in both writing and speaking. And little by little your brain will stop translating and start thinking in English.
You can also take a $35 trial class with us. Our TruFluency English teachers can help you with your language goals and gain fluency. Our method is fun and it will help you improve and become very aware of the way you think, so you start expressing yourself in English.