The English language can be especially
difficult to speak correctly because of the numerous rules and different types
or variants of the language. But still, we try. Below is a list of 20 common
mistakes made by English speakers. Go through them and apply any you find
- Using “centred around”: This is a common error. The phrase is wrong and should instead be “centred on.” So it is not “My paper was centred around the English language,” but “My paper was centred on the English language.”
- Using “I and some other person”: In a sentence where you refer to yourself as well as some other person, make sure to put the other person first before yourself. For instance, you should say “My sister and I went to the arena” instead of “I and my sister went to the arena.”
- Using “Its” or “It’s”:“It’s” is a contraction for “It is” and should be used as such. If there are any confusions about the usage, break down the contraction and reread the sentence to check if it makes sense. “Its” is used to express ownership. For example, “The cat stubbed its paw.”
- Tautology: This is a statement which repeats an idea using synonymous words or phrases. Repeating a word represented inside an acronym outside the acronym is an example of this mistake. For instance, saying “ATM machine,” “HIV virus,” “PIN number,” etc. are examples of tautology. Say instead “ATM” (Automated Teller Machine), “HIV” (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and “PIN” (Personal Identification Number).
- Using “adapt” or “adopt”: Adopt means to take on or assume while Adapt means to change something. Since they have different meanings, they should not be interchanged. For instance, you can adapt to the new government while you adopt a new policy system.
- Using “advise” or “advice”: The word Advice is a noun meaning the knowledge or counsel that is given while Advise is a verb meaning to offer suggestions and to give counsel. Therefore, you offer someone ‘a piece of advice’ when you ‘advise him.’
- Using “biography” or
“autobiography”: A biography is a story written about someone else while an
autobiography is a story written by a person about his/her own life. Note that
the prefix ‘auto’ means self.
- Using “breathe” or
“breath”: These words are often misused, misspelled, and mispronounced.
‘Breathe’ (pronounced like breeth) is a verb meaning to bring out air from your
lungs. ‘Breath’ (pronounced like breth) is a noun meaning the air you take into
your body. So you take a breath of fresh air while you breathe in air.
- Using “censor,”
“censure,” or “sensor”: These words all sound alike, but are different. Censor
means to hide a part of any information that is inappropriate or objectionable.
Censure refers to very strong criticism to criticize very strongly. A sensor
refers to a device that responds to physical stimuli.
- Using “moral” or “morale”: These words have different pronunciations along with their different meanings. The key to the pronunciation is in the stress pattern. Moral is stressed on the first syllable and refers to the practical meaning of something or to be righteous. Morale has the stress on the second syllable and means the mental and emotional attitude of an individual. So you can teach morals to a soldier, and then you can boost his morale.
- Using “feelings for” or “feelings about”: When you use the phrase “feelings for,” the message is always positive. However, when you use “feelings about,” the message can be positive or negative. So, you do not have a bad feeling for something, you have a bad feeling about something.
- Using “had better,” “ought to,” or “should”: These three verbs are used to give advice. ‘Had better’ has stronger emphasis because it implies a negative consequence if the advice is not followed. ‘Ought to’ and ‘had better’ are not used in questions.
- Using “many” or “much”: Both words mean ‘a lot of’. You use ‘much’ when the noun is singular, as in “You have much work on hand.” Use ‘many’ when the noun is plural, as in “You will invite many friends to the party.”
- Using “lightening” or “lightning”: Lightening means to make something lighter in colour or weight. Lightning refers to the phenomenon followed by thunder during a storm.
- Using “phenomena,” “phenomenon,” or “phenomenal”: Phenomena refers to a fact of scientific interest that can be scientifically described, appraised or explained. It can be used in a sentence as in “There are many phenomena in nature that beats the imagination.” Phenomenon is the singular form of phenomena. Phenomenal means extraordinary, as in “The young writer’s debut novel was phenomenal.”
- Using “rational” or “rationale”: Rational is an adjective that means having the ability to reason; while rationale refers to the explanation or reason. They can be used in a sentence as in “The debater’s argument was quite rational when he stated the rationale for the problem.”
- Using “high” or “tall”: Tall is used to express height and to compare items to each other. For example, “The building is tall.” The word ‘high’ is used to express elevation.
Fun Fact: Mount Everest is the highest mountain, but not the tallest. The tallest mountain is actually the Mauna kea!
- Using “grey” or “gray”: They both mean the same thing. Gray is the common spelling in American English while grey is the preferred spelling in British English.
- Using “saloon” or “salon”: A saloon is a place that sells liquor, like a bar. A salon is a store in which you could get your hair done and other fashion services.
- Using “anyway” or “anyways”: Though commonly used by some, ‘anyways’ is incorrect. Use ‘anyway’ instead. For example, you should not say “You can call me anyways.” Instead, say “You can call me anyway.”
One major mistake made by most is
combining two types or variants of spoken or written English, usually American
and British English. This mistake should be avoided at all costs in a formal
setting. Pick a side and stick with it. Practice continuously to keep errors to
a minimum. Practice makes perfect, or as close to perfect as possible.