No matter how long you’ve been learning a language, you’re likely to make a mistake every once in a while. The big ones that cause a breakdown in communication soon get corrected. But what about the little mistakes that slip through the net and go unnoticed?

Small mistakes make you sound less fluent and might hurt you during job interviews or in professional or academic settings – so it’s a good idea to understand the most commons ones.

Here’s our selection of common grammar mistakes that even advanced learners of English sometimes struggle with!

 

1. The invisible articles

Articles are small words that come before nouns (e.g. a, an, the). In some languages, like Spanish, articles are used nearly all the time. In other languages, like Russian, they don’t exist at all!

In English, there are certain circumstances in which the article can be omitted. This is sometimes called the ‘zero article’. Here are some examples to remember:

Plural Nouns (with general meaning)

In Spain the children start school at 3 years of age.

Uncountable Nouns

The Education should be free for everyone.

Proper Nouns

Paris is the capital of the France.

Percentages

The 30% of methane on Earth is produced by cows.

 

2. Countable or uncountable?

Let’s face it, English nouns are pretty easy! They only change according to number (e.g. one horse, two horses) and possession (horse’s). However, there is one other important distinction: countability.

Countable nouns are nouns that can, well, be counted! You know…three cakes, five bottles, a smile. Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, cannot…food, wine and happiness.

 
Countable and Uncountable nouns | Stop making these 7 grammar mistakes | Oxford House Barcelona
 

All clear so far, but the problem is that not all languages categorise words in the same way. Here are some key differences between Spanish and English.

Countable and Uncountable in English and Spanish | Stop making these 7 grammar mistakes | Oxford House Barcelona
 

3. When ‘what’ is better than ‘which’

There are times when ‘what’ and ‘which’ can be used interchangeably. For example:

  • What car did you buy?
  • Which car did you buy?

 

There’s almost no difference in meaning and both versions are perfectly acceptable.

Although in other situations, the difference is much greater and we tend to use one over the other. As a rule, ‘what’ is used to ask a question when the answer can be any number of things and ‘which’ is used when there is a limited choice.

  • What’s your name?
  • What’s your favourite type of music?
  • Which bag is yours?
  • You can have pizza or pasta, which would you prefer?

 

4. When the present must be perfect

A quick note on tense and aspect. What’s the difference? Basically, tense is the ‘when’ (e.g. past, present, future) and aspect is the ‘how’ (e.g. simple, continuous, perfect).

In general, English and Spanish match up quite nicely. That is, more often than not, the verb tenses of each language correspond.

Present Perfect | Stop making these 7 grammar mistakes | Oxford House Barcelona
 

Easy, right? Yes, but, of course, there are always exceptions. One to look out for is when you want to express the duration of something that started in the past and is still happening now.

You might be tempted to say something like ‘I live in Barcelona since 3 years’, but it’s a mistake. In fact, it’s two mistakes! The verb tense is incorrect and ‘since’ has to be used with a specific time in the past, not a duration (e.g. since 2016, since January). When we talk about duration we use ‘for’ (e.g. for 6 days, for a month).

It’s an easy mistake to make, but in this kind of sentence, you need the present perfect (simple or continuous).

Present Perfect Continuous |  Stop making these 7 grammar mistakes | Oxford House Barcelona
 

5. The past, keep it simple

As we’re on the topic of verb tenses, let’s have a little chat about the past. It’s true that there are a lot of irregular verbs to get your head around. But once you’ve learnt them, you don’t have to do much conjugating!

Interestingly, most mistakes come from using the past form too much. It’s common to here learners say:

  • ‘I didn’t saw the car’ (I didn’t see the car)
  • ‘How did you felt yesterday?’ (How did you feel yesterday?)
  • ‘I wanted to bought a book’ (‘I wanted to buy a book)

 

What do these examples all have in common? The problem is that the past form is being used when it’s not needed. You see, if we already have an auxiliary verb in the past (e.g. did, didn’t) or modal verb in the past (e.g. wanted), then the main verb can stay in the base form or infinitive.

You’ve spent a lot of time memorising that second column (eat/ate/eaten), but you won’t always need it!

 

6. Bored by boring adjectives?

Many English adjectives end with ‘-ed’ or ‘-ing’. They originate from verbs, normally describe feelings, and almost always come in pairs.

For example, we have the verb ‘to bore’ and the adjectives ‘bored and boring’ (*bonus point if you can think of the noun).

  • Grammar really bores me.
  • Grammar books are boring.
  • I’m bored, let me read something else!

 

These adjectives actually have a special name: ‘participial adjectives’. More important than the name is how to use them correctly, as many learners get them mixed up.

Just remember that, with these pairs, the -ing ending describes the cause of a feeling and the -ed adjective always describes how someone is feeling as a result; this book is boring (it makes me bored), that concert was exciting (it makes me excited), this race is tiring (it makes me tired).

Bored or Boring |  Stop making these 7 grammar mistakes  | Oxford House Barcelona
 
Adjectives | Stop making these 7 grammar mistakes | Oxford House Barcelona
 

7. When ‘tener’ is not ‘to have’

‘Tener’ in English is ‘to have’, except for when it’s not! If you look around, there are plenty of examples of English phrases that use ‘to be’ instead. Here are some of the most common ones:

When tener is not to have | Stop making these 7 grammar mistakes | Oxford House Barcelona

In these examples, the Spanish language opts for nouns (e.g. hambre, sed), while English favours adjectives (e.g. hungry, thirsty). This difference alone can cause a lot of trouble for language learners, but it actually goes further than that.

You’re up in the Pyrenees on a winter’s night – what might you say?

‘…tengo mucho frío’.

You remember to use ‘to be’ + adjective, but what about ‘mucho’? Careful, ‘cold’ is an adjective, we’re not going to use ‘a lot’, but ‘very’ or ‘really’.

‘I’m really cold!’

Now, you can come back from the mountains, find a nice warm café and keep practising your English, error-free!

Glossary for Language Learners

 

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Slip through the net (exp): to tell someone about something they might not know.

Silly (adj): stupid or foolish.

Tense (n): arranged in a tidy way, in good order.

Aspect (n): to finish, or have nothing remaining.

To get your head around (exp): to control or organise your time.

Auxiliary verb (n): to take a lot of time.

Modal verb (n): to put a line through a word or phrase to delete it.

Key

adj = adjective

n = noun

exp = expression

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