Here are 50 common errors that my college ESL students often make in their writing and speaking. Mistakes are shown in context, with incorrect sentences, corrections, and a rule to explain how to avoid the usual mistakes that students make in their writing. Search for an error using CTRL + F. If you see a mistake, gaff, slip up or blunder that you or your students make, be sure to eliminate it with the Virtual Writing Tutor grammar checker.
In time, I will add links to online practice activities for each one. Until then, try the offline error correction card game below. Students enjoy it and learn a lot from playing this mildly competitive group activity.
Sometimes, context plays a role in determining if a phrase is used correctly. It all depends on how you use it. If you want a good example of a contextual error, a phrase in a correct sentence and the same phrase an incorrect sentence, have a look at my blog post on “Make no sense and have no sense.” You’ll see how challenging it is to detect common errors using a grammar checker.
Download all 50 errors and play the error correction card game
Remembering how to correct errors
Of course, it is one thing to read a list of errors and another thing to make them stick in your memory. If you really want to remember how to correct mistakes and when the pressure is on, you should consider using an oral practice strategy.
But the best way of all is to use an online grammar checker to check your writing for errors while you are exchanging meaningful messages with other people or writing essays for your teacher.
1. Adjective agreement error
INCORRECT: We sell t-shirts and some
CORRECT: We sell t-shirts and some other clothes.
RULE: Adjectives and noun modifiers should not take a plural form when they modify plural nouns in English. There are, however, a few noun modifiers that end in an –s: operations, arms, sports, jobs, forensics, physics
2. Adjective form error
INCORRECT: When I heard the news, I was very
CORRECT: When I heard the news, I was very angry.
RULE: Use the adjective form not the noun form in this context.
3. Adverb error
INCORRECT: I trust
more my parents than my friends.
CORRECT: I trust my parents more than my friends.
RULE: The adverb is in the wrong place. Do not separate more from than.
4. Article and plural noun error
INCORRECT: My sister has
CORRECT: My sister has a child.
RULE: Don’t use indefinite articles with plural words.
5. Article and uncountable noun mistakes
INCORRECT: I have
a brown skin.
CORRECT: I have brown skin.
RULE: Don’t use an article with uncountable nouns like “skin”.
6. Aspect error
INCORRECT: Every day, I
am waking up late.
CORRECT: Every day, I wake up late.
RULE: Use the Present Simple, not the Present Progressive, for normal routines.
is deserving to win the award.
CORRECT: He deserves to win the award.
RULE: Use the simple aspect form of “deserving” in this context. When expressing a fact, these stative verbs tend not to use the progressive aspect: agree, appear, believe, belong, concern, consist, contain, deny, depend, deserve, disagree, dislike, doubt, fit, hat, hear, imagine, impress, include, involve, know, like, love, matter, mean, mind, need, own, pleas, prefer, promise, realize, recognize, remember, see, seem, smell, sound, suppose, surprise, taste, think, understand, want, wish.
7. Auxiliary error
don’t will have an exam next Tuesday.
CORRECT: We won’t have an exam next Tuesday.
RULE: You cannot negate a modal auxiliary in this way. Use “won’t” instead.
8. Capitalization error
INCORRECT: I work at Bordeaux
jail as a prison guard.
CORRECT: I work at Bordeaux Jail as a prison guard.
RULE: Capitalize every lexical word in the name of an institution. Don’t capitalize prepositions and conjunctions.
9. Collocation error
INCORRECT: I moved here to be closer
CORRECT: I moved here to be closer to school.
RULE: The usual collocation for closer is to not from.
INCORRECT: Success depends
CORRECT: Success depends on you.
RULE: The usual collocation for depend is on not of.
10. Comparative adjective error
INCORRECT: If I learn a second language, finding a job will become more easy for me.
CORRECT: If I learn a second language, finding a job will become easier for me.
RULE: Remove the word “more” and simply write “easier.” English has two comparative adjective forms. Add -er to the end of one or two syllable adjectives. Use ‘more’ with longer adjectives. Here is a list of adjectives that usually take –er: big, black, bold, brave, bright, busy, clean, clear, clever, cold, cool, dark, dear, deep, dirty, dry, easy, fair, fast, fat, fine, funny, great, green, happy, hard, healthy, heavy, high, hot, kind, large, late, lazy, light, long, low, lucky, mad, merry, narrow, naughty, near, new, noisy, old, pale, poor, pretty, proud, quick, red, rich, sad, safe, shallow, sharp, short, slow, small, smooth, strong, sweet, tall, thick, thin, tiny, ugly, warm, wealthy, wet, white, wide, wild, wise, young, angry, little, short, blue, yellow, pink, orange, simple, shy.
INCORRECT: So my job will be
more easier for me if I am able to speak English as well as I can speak French.
CORRECT: So my job will be easier for me if I am able to speak English as well as I can speak French.
RULE: Do not use both –er and more. This is called a double comparative. Remove the word ‘more’ and simply write “easier.”
11. Contraction error
INCORRECT: That’s who
CORRECT: That’s who I am.
RULE: Do not end a sentence with a pronoun + verb contraction.
did’nt know the answer.
CORRECT: I didn’t know the answer.
RULE: The apostrophe points to what is missing. In this case, it is the “o” in “not.” Revise: didn’t
12. Conditional error
INCORRECT: If I
will get a better job, I will buy a car.
CORRECT: If I get a better job, I will buy a car.
RULE: Do not put “will” in “If” clauses. Use the Present Simple instead.
INCORRECT: Wouldn’t it be great if there
is a Google grammar checker?
CORRECT: Wouldn’t it be great if there were a Google grammar checker?
RULE: In a second conditional structure, we put a past form in the if-clause.
13. Double negative error
INCORRECT: I made her cookies but she didn’t eat
CORRECT: I made her cookies but she didn’t eat any.
RULE: This is called a double-negative error since “didn’t” and “none” are both negative. Use “any” instead of “none.”
INCORRECT: In my opinion, video games don’t hurt
CORRECT: In my opinion, video games don’t hurt anybody.
RULE: This is called a double-negative error since “didn’t” and “nobody” are both negative. Use “anybody” instead of “nobody.”
14. Double subject error
Me, I like to dance.
CORRECT: I like to dance.
RULE: Start your sentence with “I” not “me, I.”
INCORRECT: What I’m sure about it’s that I was the first one to arrive.
CORRECT: What I’m sure about is that I was the first one to arrive.
RULE: The pronoun “it” in this sentence is unnecessary since you already have a subject, “What I’m sure about.”
15. Future tense error
INCORRECT: In the future, we go on a trip to Africa.
CORRECT: In the future, we will go on a trip to Africa.
RULE: Don’t forget the auxiliary verb “will” for future events. You can, however, use the Simple Present for future scheduled events. Here is an example: My train leaves at 10:20.
gonna be rich one day.
CORRECT: I am going to be rich one day.
RULE: The word gonna is slang. Make sure you develop full command of am/is/are going to for contexts where slang would be considered inappropriate.
INCORRECT: When I
will arrive, I will give you the money I owe you.
CORRECT: When I arrive, I will give you the money I owe you.
RULE: Do not use “will” in clauses that begin with as soon as, the moment, before, after, once, if, or when. These time clauses already have a future meaning. Use the Present Simple instead.
16. Gerund error
INCORRECT: We talked about
to go, but in the end decided to stay home.
CORRECT: We talked about going, but in the end decided to stay home.
RULE: You cannot use an infinitive form after a preposition. Use a gerund instead.
INCORRECT: The first thing I do when I arrive is
going to my locker to hang up my coat.
CORRECT: The first thing I do when I arrive is go to my locker to hang up my coat.
RULE: Use a bare infinitive not a gerund in this context.
17. H epenthesis
his my best friend.
CORRECT: He is my best friend.
RULE: An “h” was added to “is” by mistake. “His” is a possessive form. “Is” is a verb.
18. His or her instead of its
INCORRECT: The New Democratic Party is increasing
CORRECT: The New Democratic Party is increasing its popularity.
RULE: A political party is not a person. Use “its” for a non-person.
19. Idiomatic expression error
INCORRECT: They jumped on the occasion.
CORRECT: They jumped at the chance.
RULE: This is a rather unnatural phrase in English. Try “jumped at the chance” instead.
INCORRECT: This singer is
CORRECT: This singer is well-known.
RULE: This is a rather unnatural phrase in English.
20. Infinitive error
INCORRECT: I would like to
thanks all my friends for their help.
CORRECT: I would like to thank all my friends for their help.
RULE: Use the base form of the verb with “to”.
INCORRECT: We were supposed to
went early, but we woke up late.
CORRECT: We were supposed to go early, but we woke up late.
RULE: Use the base form of the verb with “to”. See more conjugations of “to go” here.
INCORRECT: While I was waiting for Courtney
for shopping, I dropped coffee on my new yellow shirt.
CORRECT: While I was waiting for Courtney to shop, I dropped coffee on my new yellow shirt.
RULE: Use an infinitive form after the verb “wait.”
21. Intensifier error
very like ice cream.
CORRECT: I really like ice cream.
RULE: Use “really” to intensify a verb, not “very.”
22. Irregular verb form error
meeted at a restaurant.
CORRECT: We met at a restaurant.
RULE: Review irregular past tense verbs. You cannot add -ed to this verb.
23. Its or it is
Its hard to remember all these rules.
CORRECT: It’s hard to remember all these rules.
RULE: It’s is it plus the contracted form of the verb is, not a possessive form. Do not forget the apostrophe in the contraction.
INCORRECT: Look at the dog chasing it’s tail.
CORRECT: Look at the dog chasing its tail.
RULE: Its is a possessive form, not a contraction. Do not use the apostrophe in the possessive form of pronouns.
24. Missing article
INCORRECT: I am accountant.
CORRECT: I am an accountant.
RULE: Use an indefinite article before the name of a job or profession.
25. Missing auxiliary
INCORRECT: You making me crazy.
CORRECT: You are making me crazy.
RULE: You need an auxiliary (helping) verb to go with the –ing form.
INCORRECT: I always be there for you.
CORRECT: I will always be there for you.
RULE: In a promise about the future, use the future modal auxiliary verb will with the infinitive form of your main verb.
26. Missing word
INCORRECT: I decided to put my swimsuit and go for a swim.
CORRECT: I decided to put my swimsuit on and go for a swim.
RULE: You are missing the word on after swimsuit. The phrasal verb put on means “get dressed.” The verb put without on means “to place.”
27. Modal error
INCORRECT: I will like to have a better job.
CORRECT: I would like to have a better job.
RULE: Use would not will to express a desire for a different present. Use will to express a prediction.
28. Negation error
was not very enjoy telling the bad news.
INCORRECT: I did not really enjoy telling the bad news.
RULE: To negate a Past Simple tense verb use did not instead of was not. Use was/were not for adjectives and nouns instead.
did not happy when she told us.
CORRECT: We were not happy when she told us.
RULE: Use was not or were not to negate adjectives and nouns.
don’t have gone there before.
CORRECT: I haven’t gone there before.
RULE: Negate the Present Perfect by putting not or n’t after the auxiliary have or has.
INCORRECT: Did you know that animals
have not the same rights around the world?
CORRECT: Did you know that animals do not have the same rights around the world?
RULE: In North American English, negate the verb “have” by adding the auxiliary do and not or n’t.
29. Non-standard phrase
INCORRECT: In life, you have to accept the goods and the bads.
CORRECT: In life, you have to accept the ups and downs.
RULE: This is a non-standard phrase. The usual way to express this idea in English is to say ups and downs or pluses and minuses.
30. One word written as two
CORRECT: My class is in the after noon.
INCORRECT: My class is in the afternoon.
RULE: This word sequence is usually spelled together as one word. Here is a short list of other combinations that should be written together: lookout, ourselves, overweight, straightjacket, workplace
31. Past tense error
INCORRECT: I have been living here since I am born.
CORRECT: I have been living here since I was born.
RULE: The phrase “since I am” means “because I am”. However, “since I was born” means “from the day that I was born”.
INCORRECT: She has arrived yesterday.
CORRECT: She arrived yesterday.
RULE: You cannot use the Present Perfect with a specific time in the past. Use the Past Simple instead.
32. Perfect infinitive error
INCORRECT: I often wonder how many opportunities I
would had had if I had finished university.
CORRECT: I often wonder how many opportunities I would have had if I had finished university.
RULE: There is a problem here with the perfect infinitive in this sentence. You cannot follow a modal with a past form. The correct form is modal + have + past participle.
33. Plural-Singular error
INCORRECT: It hurt my
CORRECT: It hurt my feelings.
RULE: When we talk about emotional pain, we use the word feeling with an -s on the end. It is never singular. However, if we want to talk about a sensation, we can can use feeling without an -s. For example, we say I have a strange feeling in my stomach.
INCORRECT: I am wearing a
short and a t-shirt.
CORRECT: I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
RULE: Some nouns are always plural. Here is a short list: shorts, jeans, pajamas, scissors, pliers, news, politics, sports.
34. Possessive form error
INCORRECT: The accident was no
CORRECT: The accident was no one’s fault.
RULE: When the fault belongs to no one, then a possessive form is needed.
INCORRECT: My keys are in my
CORRECT: My keys are in my coat pocket. OR My keys are in the pocket of my coat.
RULE: You do not need a possessive form here. Use “coat” as a noun modifier instead. To talk about parts of non-living things, use the noun + noun structure or the of structure, like this: in the left pocket of my blue coat.
35. Preposition error
INCORRECT: I live
CORRECT: I live in Montreal.
RULE: Use in for cities and towns. Use on for streets. Use at for a street address.
36. Present Perfect error
INCORRECT: It’s been 5 years that I work here.
CORRECT: I have worked here for 5 years.
RULE: Use the Present Perfect for past events that include the present.
INCORRECT: I am living here since 2012.
CORRECT: I have lived here since 2012.
RULE: Use the Present Perfect for past events that include the present.
37. Pronoun antecedent error
INCORRECT: This article is about how people learn words and remember it.
CORRECT: This article is about how people learn words and remember them.
RULE: In this sentence, the singular pronoun it incorrectly refers to the plural antecedent words. Your pronoun should agree in number with its antecedent. Use them with a plural antecedent.
38. Punctuation error
INCORRECT: Education should be free .
CORRECT: Education should be free.
RULE: Do not put a space before a punctuation mark. Put the space after it.
39. Quantifier error
INCORRECT: How much people were there at the party?
CORRECT: How many people were there at the party?
40. Question form error
INCORRECT: Are you work here?
CORRECT: Do you work here?
RULE: Use a form of the auxiliary do with simple aspect verbs in questions. Use are for adjectives and nouns.
INCORRECT: Did you are tired after work?
CORRECT: Were you tired after work?
RULE: Use a form of the auxiliary do with simple aspect verbs in questions. Use a form of be for adjectives and nouns.
41. Quoted and reported speech
INCORRECT: I said, « The test is on Tuesday. »
CORRECT: I said, “The test is on Tuesday.”
RULE: In English, we do not use « » for quoted speech. We use “ “ instead. (Hint: you can find the double quote symbol on the French keyboard above the number 2 key.)
INCORRECT: She said, that I was wrong.
CORRECT: She said that I was wrong.
RULE: Do not put a comma before reported speech (also known as an indirect quotation).
42. Redundant phrase and wordiness error
INCORRECT: I think practicing English with classmates is equally as effective.
CORRECT: I think practicing English with classmates is as effective.
RULE: Do not say equally as. Use either equally or as on its own.
INCORRECT: The college has sent everyone an invite to the event.
CORRECT: The college has sent everyone an invitation to the event.
RULE: The word invite used as a noun is slang. Avoid slang in formal writing. Here is a list of slang words that should be avoided in the formal register: anyways, gonna, kinda, sorta, wanna, ain’t
44. (Common) Spelling Errors
CORRECT: Come with me.
Wich one do you want?
CORRECT: Which one do you want?
tought you liked that.
CORRECT: I thought you liked that.
INCORRECT: I like my program even
tough it is difficult.
CORRECT: I like my program even though it is difficult.
INCORRECT: I live in Montréal,
CORRECT: I live in Montreal, Quebec.
RULE: Avoid using diacritics in English. They can appear (cliché, fiancé, resumé) but are never compulsory.
INCORRECT: This is
begining to make sense.
CORRECT: This is beginning to make sense.
RULE: Double a final single consonant before an –ing or –ed suffix when both of these conditions apply: (a) one vowel precedes the consonant; and (b1) it is a one-syllable word or (b2) a stressed syllable.
flys, ladys, citys, enemys, puppys, armys, supplys, skys, partys, librarys, relys, marrys, theorys, studys
CORRECT: flies, ladies, cities, enemies, puppies, armies, supplies, skies, parties, libraries, relies, marries, theories, studies
RULE: Change the y to -ie before adding –s when preceded by a consonant.
45. Verb agreement error
INCORRECT: One of my friends are driving.
CORRECT: One of my friends is driving.
RULE: Make sure your verb agrees with its subject. The noun phrase one of my friends is singular and therefore requires the singular form is not are.
46. Tense shift
INCORRECT: At lunch, Jane pointed straight at me, and she
says, “You are a liar!”
CORRECT: At lunch, Jane pointed straight at me, and she said, “You are a liar!”
RULE: Do not shift from a past tense verb to a present tense arbitrarily in the same sentence.
INCORRECT: I stayed with her for a while to be sure that she
will be okay.
CORRECT: I stayed with her for a while to be sure that she would be okay.
RULE: Use would not will in a sentence describing past events.
47. Word choice error
INCORRECT: There are
less people applying to Liberal Arts programs these days.
CORRECT: There are fewer people applying to Liberal Arts programs these days.
RULE: Less is the comparative form of the adjective little. Use less with uncountable nouns like salt or time. Fewer is the comparative form of few. Use fewer with countable nouns like people and cars.
48. Word form error
INCORRECT: I was
boring, so I thought it would be fun to go on a trip and visit the island.
CORRECT: I was bored, so I thought it would be fun to go on a trip and visit the island.
RULE: “Boring” is the wrong form of the verb “to bore” for this context. An easy way to remember the difference between “boring” and “bored” is anything that is “boring” is the cause of the boredom and anyone who is “bored” is affected by boredom. In this case you were affected by boredom.
49. Word order error
INCORRECT: My girlfriend has
blonde straight long hair.
CORRECT: My girlfriend has long straight blonde hair.
RULE: Adjectives appear in a particular order: → size → shape → colour → NOUN
INCORRECT: I am not
enough good, and there is not time enough to practice.
CORRECT: I am not good enough, and there is not enough time to practice.
RULE: Put the word enough after adjectives but before nouns.
50. Your or you’re
INCORRECT: Everybody knows
CORRECT: Everybody knows you’re crazy.
RULE: Your is a possessive word. You’re is the contracted form of you + are. When you want to link a pronoun to an adjective like crazy, use you’re not your.
INCORRECT: Is that
CORRECT: Is that your coat?
RULE: When you want to indicate possession, use your. You’re is the contracted form of you + are.
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Read more about this excellent card game here: Error Correction Card game.