Some Common English Mistakes

Having spent several years in countries outside my homeland, I have encountered my fair share of non-native English speakers. I also get a large dose of ESL-ers in my hometown of San Francisco – where just under 40% of residents were born outside of the United States.

While I am blown away in most corners of the world by the English-speaking prowess of foreigners, there are one or two small (read: tiny) errors that I hear most frequently. Despite making these mistakes, your point will no doubt be understood, but I know language lovers generally strive for perfection, so I thought I’d give you a few hints about what to watch out for.

Good vs. Well:
Don’t be too hard on yourself for messing up the distinction between these two… mostly because I constantly hear my fellow Americans misuse them. But to clear up any confusion, good is an adjective, and well is an adverb. In other words, well should modify verbs in most cases, and good should modify nouns.

He speaks Spanish well. He speaks Spanish good.
You look really good. You look really well

Preposition misuse:
No one can blame you for this since prepositions (in my humble opinion) are the hardest part of learning any language… mostly because they are so idiosyncratic.

  • In: Italians tend to misuse this one when talking about destinations. It is not uncommon to hear an Italian person say “Next week I will go in Germany.” The correct preposition to use for any destination (unless you are talking about the past) is ‘to.’ No matter the place (city, country, the bank, school) ‘to’ is the way to go.
  • Since: This one is mainly an issue for German-speakers. I have met many German expats in America who have been living in the States for decades, and while their English is seemingly flawless and unaccented, this one little preposition can trip them up. When asked how long one has lived in the USA, many will say “since 15 years.” In English, since should only be used with an open ended amount of time. For example “I have lived here since 1990.” When discussing a definite amount of time, the preposition ‘for’ is used, so the answer to my first question should have been “I have lived in the US for 15 years.”

Fun vs. funny:
This is a mistake that is hard for us native-speakers to catch, as fun and funny are grammatically very similar, so accidentally substituting one for the other changes the meaning of a sentence dramatically, but doesn’t render it ungrammatical. In the simplest terms: something enjoyable is fun, something that makes you laugh out loud or is very peculiar is funny. (note: the comparative from of fun = more fun, while funny = funnier)

“How do you call…”:
When asking the proper word for something in English there are two options… “How do you say __________?” or “What do you call this [point at something]” The first option is usually a better way to go, because the second requires that you be in the immediate vicinity of whatever the object is you want to know the name of. This is BY FAR the most common of the mistakes I have mentioned, but also not a big deal – we know what you mean 😉

So that’s it from me… feel free to comment with any questions you may have or other examples you’ve noticed.

Ciao for now!

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