5 Common Errors of Non-Native English Speakers

English is tricky language. Even as you begin to master it, there are small errors that can make your conversation sound slightly awkward. Here are five examples.

1. Using Plurals on Words That Don’t Take Them

Some English words, such as mail or gum (as in “chewing gum”), are not countable. Therefore, it’s not correct to say, “Do you have any gums?” or “Did we get any mails today?” Nor should you refer to a single items with an article, as in “a gum” or “a mail.” Whether you have one piece of gum or many, you have gum. Whether you have one letter or several, you have mail.

2. Adding or Leaving Out an Article

English is inconsistent on which words require an article. The articles are “a,” “an,” and “the.”. Long-time English speakers do it properly without thinking about it. It’s correct to say, “Let’s go to the zoo,” but not “Let’s go to zoo.” On the other hand, “Let’s go to work” is correct, but “Let’s go to the work” is not. You introduce your profession by saying, “I am a lawyer,” not “I am lawyer.” Also, some countries require an article. It’s proper to say “We visited the United States” but “We visited Canada.”

3. Confusing the Forms of the Present Tense

“I go” and “I am going” are present tense expressions that mean close to the same thing. Their use in English, however, is slightly different. “I am going” is the present progressive tense and is used for something that I’m doing right now or will do in the near future. For example, “I am going to the store” could mean I’m on my way or I’m going sometime after I’m done talking to you. “I go” is the simple present and is used for a recurring event that isn’t happening right now. For instance, “I go to the store every Saturday.”

4. Adding or Leaving Out a Preposition

Different languages have different rules about when to use propositions. In English, there are verbs that require a preposition, especially when the object is a person. Therefore, it’s “Wait for me” and not “Wait me,” “Explain to me the situation” and not “Explain me the situation.” In other instances, the preposition is not used. It’s “Ask me a question,” not “Ask to me a question.” Sometimes the difference is subtle. For example, “Give to me the book” is not quite wrong, but “Give me the book” is better.

5. Agreeing with Negatives

If someone says, “I didn’t like that movie,” and you didn’t like it either, you might be tempted to say, “Me, too.” However, to agree with this kind of negative, “Me, neither,” is correct.

None of these mistakes are terrible. People will still understand what you mean. However, with attention and practice, you can clear up these issues and sound more like a native speaker.