It’s normal for students of English to make mistakes (from beginner to advanced!). Hey, whenever I'm learning a new language, I make a ton of mistakes, too.
Some mistakes are more glaring than others, and some are more common than others.
Below, I’ve included a list of three mistakes that English students often make in different situations and easy fixes to make you stand apart from other learners of English. In fact, correcting some of these mistakes can you make stand apart even from native English speakers, because they are likely to make the same mistakes!
Less and Fewer
Have you ever noticed a sign at the store that says, “Ten items or less only”?
Guess what, even though you see this sign everywhere, it’s wrong! The correct phrasing should be “Ten items or fewer!’
The reason for this is simple:
We use “less” to refer to nouns/objects that cannot be easily counted.
For example, water:
“Can you please pour less water next time?
“I want to eat less candy so I don’t gain weight!”
We use “fewer” for items that can be counted — like clothes!
“I want fewer wrong questions on my next English test.”
“Don’t take fewer than ten towels to the beach!”
Their, there, and they’re
This is a common mistake even for English-speaking college students, and you’re going to want to make sure you’re using the right version of this word in your writing. It’s true, English can be challenging to learn sometimes because there are so many homonyms and exceptions to rules — but I like to think of these as one of the great joys of English (once you know it, it’s impressive!).
Here’s a quick and simple guide to the differences between the three words:
“Their” refers to possession.
“There” refers to place.
“They’re” (the contraction of “they are”) refers to a state of being.
I am at the Smith’s house and I like their pool. (The speaker likes the pool that is owned by the Smiths.)
I am there, at the Smith’s house, by their pool. (The speaker is standing by the pool).
They’re starting to swim in the pool. (The speaker is commenting on how the Smiths are beginning to swim in the pool.)
Can you take a picture of me?
This last one is purely for fun and is also extremely useful when traveling. Now, it might seem that saying “Can you make me a picture of me?” is not a huge deal. And in a way it’s not, since most English speakers will understand what you mean.
However, what we’re doing here is talking about ways to make you stand out from the other learners of English, and one of the most common mistakes you hear from tourists in English-speaking countries is the error: “Can you make a picture of me?”
The correct phrasing is what I’ve written above: Can you take a picture of me?
There’s not a concrete reason for this one; it’s just the way it is! If you say “make” instead of “take” it sounds a little strange to native ears.
There you have it, a small dose of common English mistakes and easy ways to help you get further in your studies!
Ben moved from Israel to New Jersey when he was ten, and now lives in Queens. He is a graduate of Princeton University (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), where he majored in English with a minor in Creative Writing.
Are you interested in learning English as a second language, or simply looking for more to read on the subject? Check out some other interesting blogposts on the matter: