Top 10 Common English Mistakes that People Make

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English is a hard language to learn. The lack of clear rules for grammar and spelling leave even the best of us stumped. Because seriously, WHY is there a ‘g’ in daughter? However, I sometimes display Grammar Nazi-like tendencies. Bad grammar and incorrect English annoy me a little. A lot. So I have compiled this list of top ten mistakes that a lot of people make, mistakes that are especially annoying to me and to a lot of other grammar snobs. Take a look.


10- “I prefer tea from coffee”

prefer to

The word ‘from’ in this sentence is incorrect. The correct way to frame this sentence would be ‘I prefer tea to coffee.’ In matters of preference, we always use the word ‘to’ for denoting our preference of xyz over abc. People often use sentences like ‘I prefer this from that’ or ‘I prefer tea than coffee.’ Both these sentences are incorrect. The word ‘over’ can also be used when there are two clear choices, like in this case.


9- Brought and Bought


Contrary to what most people think, there is actually a difference between the two words. Spell check can’t fix this one. Bought is related to purchasing something. Brought simply means bringing something. For example-

‘The guests brought a box of sweets for their hosts.’ Here, the use of the word ‘brought’ is appropriate because there is no reference to the guests going to a sweet shop and purchasing the box. They bring a box of sweets for their hosts.

‘I bought a new pair of heels for the party.’ Here, the word ‘bought’ is correct because presumably I went to a shop purchased a new pair of heels.


8- “We speak like this only”


The unnecessary ‘only’ at the end of every sentence is another typically Indian trait. We have this habit of adding ‘only’ to the beginning, middle and conclusion of almost every sentence. ‘I’ll do it right away’ becomes ‘Just now only I will do it.’ The word ‘only’ means ‘one of a kind/ single/ unique.’ The correct way to use this word is in sentence where it is actually needed, for example- “This is the only road that goes to Noida.” The use of the word ‘only’ is not needed in sentences like ‘I am going there only’ which can easily convey the meaning without the unnecessary ‘only’.


7- Literally


No. Your head did not just literally burst from all that noise. If it had actually, literally burst, you would have been long dead. Nobody can survive without a head. The word ‘literally’ refers to things that have really happened. What you mean to say is that your head figuratively exploded. ‘Literally’ is a word that refers to facts while figuratively is the correct word to use when you want to emphasize upon a point. Remember the memorable exchange between Penny’s super dumb boyfriend and Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. The one wherein the super dumb boyfriend says that he hasn’t been to the comic book store in literally a million years, peeving Sheldon out. Yes, that is literally how peeved out most people get when they hear the incorrect usage of the word ‘literally.’ Also, this comic strip from cyanide and happiness is one of my all time favourites.


6- “I didn’t had any idea”


The word ‘didn’t’ is never followed by the past tense verb. This is another very common mistake that a lot of people make. It is also my pet peeve. Sentences like ‘I didn’t ate that last piece of cake’ are incorrect. The correct format should instead be ‘I didn’t eat the last piece of cake.’ Most people make this mistake probably because ‘didn’t’ is a word in past tense and people assume that the verb following it should also be in the past tense. Like I said, English is a very complicated language.


5- Present Continuous Tense


We Indians have a particular affinity for speaking in the present continuous tense. How many times have you heard people say something like ‘I am having a headache’ or ‘I am liking the movie a lot.’ Wrong, completely wrong! Both these sentences should have been in the simple present tense ‘I have a headache’ and ‘I like the movie a lot.’ Why? Because English is a complicated language, that’s why. Present continuous tense should be used only to describe an action that is happening even as you speak. Having a headache is a state, not an action. So widespread is the use of the present continuous tense in India that Nissim Ezekile was prompted to write a whole book of poems that makes use (and makes fun) of this style of speaking. Go read ‘Very Indian Poems in Very Indian English’ by the poet for a good laugh


4- To, Too and Two


‘To’ with a single ‘O’ refers to motion in a particular direction. For example- I am going to Germany next week. ‘Too’ with the double Os means ‘also’ or ‘as well.’ It is also used to emphasize upon something. For example- ‘She can come with us too’ or ‘It is much too hot to study today.’ ‘Two’ with the ‘W’ is the number that comes after one. For example- ‘I had two chocolate bars after lunch.’ Easy peasy.


3- Loose and Lose


People often get confused between these two words, especially writing ‘loose’ in place of ‘lose’. ‘Loose’ with the double Os is used as the opposite of tight. It means that something is not confined and free to move about freely. ‘Lose’ with the single O refers to loss. One way to remember the difference is to memorize that ‘lose has lost an o.’ For example-

“You will lose your pearl necklace if you’re not careful” and “The string broke and all the pearls came loose”


2- There, They’re and Their


The number of people who think it is all right to use these two words interchangeably is astounding. ‘There’ and ‘there’, however, are two very different words with different meanings. The word ‘there’ signifies the position of an object, usually something kept at a distance. It is the opposite of ‘here’. ‘Their’ signifies that the said object belongs to a group of people. Like the word ‘your’, it refers to ownership. ‘They’re’ means ‘They are.’ For example-

“The family has gone there for the holidays. They’re having a gala time. Their dog is also with them.” Here, the word ‘there’ in the first and second sentence refers to the place the family is visiting. ‘They’re’ can be expanded into ‘they are’ and ‘their’ in the third sentence refers to the fact that the dog in question belongs to them.


1- You’re and Your


One of the most common mistakes that people make in written English. A majority of the population seems sadly unaware of the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’. It’s pretty simple really. The word ‘you’re’ is used as a convenient abbreviation of ‘you are.’ ‘Your’, on the other hand, means ‘belonging to the person the speaker is addressing’. It reflects ownership. One way of checking if the word you are using is right is to expand ‘you’re’ into ‘you are.’ If the sentence makes sense, you are using it correctly. If not, then you probably need to replace it with ‘you’. The difference should become clearer with this example-

‘I am using your comb’ and ‘I am using you’re comb’. Obviously the first one is correct because the second sentence literally means ‘I am using you are a comb’, which makes no sense whatsoever. Similarly, in ‘You’re looking good’ and ‘Your looking good’, the first sentence is correct.

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  • Saroja Vasanth

    Good Points..!!! Also, I have seen some people mistake the meaning and difference between the words 1)thought and taught 2)than and then while writing.

  • Aashima Singh

    Good article! Though you have made a typo in the second point, second line, first word. It should have been ‘their’ and not ‘there’.

  • Amanda Castellino

    A few common mistakes even those with good grasp of the language unknowingly make. Good job on your post! :)