Fix your broken English!!!!!I took these 29 grammar-fixing tips from my ESL book: New York City Sucks, But You'll Still Wanna Live Here.
The book is available at amazon.com as an e-book for the affordable price of $3.50. However, if you want a free copy, please send me e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you a free copy via e-mail attachment. It's a good book!
Common Mistakes –
1) “If” statements
Here’s where I’m going to deal with common mistakes foreign students make. For instance, if you want to speak English, you are going to have to use “if” statements a lot.
Take a look at that last sentence. That’s a simple conditional statement. You have the present tense in the first part and the future in the second part. But, please notice, instead of “…you will have to use…” I wrote “you are going to have to use…” Americans don’t use the word “will” a lot. They use “going to” more often.
However, “will” is still used a lot in the conditional so feel free to use it that way if you want to. As you get more familiar with English and get some experience with it, you can begin using “going to” more often.
Let’s take a quick look at the three big ways that the conditional is used. 90% of the time you’ll use one of these three sentence structures. Learn this thoroughly please! It is so useful.
The simple conditional. Present tense and future tense. I would guess that 75% of the time you use the conditional, you can use the simple conditional. If you drink too much soda you are going to get fat. Or: If you drink too much soda you will get fat. “Drink” is in the present tense and “going to get fat” or “will get fat” is in the future tense.
If we drive to Jersey we are going to pick up Bob (or: we will pick up Bob). If Joe eats much more he is going to get sick (or: will get sick).
The unreal conditional. Past tense and would. If Bob ate pork, he would get sick. If I wrote this down, it wouldn't get lost.
But, there is also a way to use the unreal conditional with the verb "were." If Bob were to eat pork he would get sick. If I were to write this down it wouldn't get lost. So it would involve: were + to + a verb.
Why "were"? In English we still have the "subjunctive" rule in regard to unreal situations using the word "if." This rule states that if you use "if" in the unreal conditional, you should use "were" instead of "was."
Most Americans don’t even know this. Only 25% of Americans go to college.
This is supposed to help people realize that the situation is unreal. You will often, however, hear many Americans say, "If I was in his place I would not go home." But it's better to follow the subjunctive rule and use "were" instead of “was”: If I were in his place I would not go home. If I were not tired I would walk over to your house. If he were not to drive, he would have to walk. The subjunctive rule seems to be dying in the English language. Because too many Americans are too uneducated to understand it? I didn’t say that! Who said that?!
All of this is about a hypothetical or theoretical or non-real situation – something that hasn’t happened but someone is thinking of doing it and thinking of the consequences of doing it. This is a type of situation which might or might not happen.
"If I drank soda, I would get fat." More instances of the other way to convey the unreal conditional: If I were to drink soda I would get fat. If I were to drive to Jersey I would pick up Bob. If Joe were to eat pork he would get sick.
Do you want the truth? Educated Americans seem to use “were to” and uneducated Americans seem to use the past tense. That’s how it seems to me. Actually, here's the real truth: most Americans don't even know how to use conditionals correctly. Even journalists mess up the conditional in their newspapers. One important rule of thumb (brief rule): never follow an "if" immediately with a "will" or "would". You will never say: "If I would…" or “If I will…” Never in a million years. Never in a zillion years. This is an impossible structure, but Americans use it anyway. Please don't follow their example.
Past unreal (or whatever the hell they call it). Basically, if you have to use “if” and it refers to something in the past, you use this weird structure. If I had driven into Jersey I would have picked up Bob. So this type of “if” statement is about a hypothetical situation that might have happened in the past. If Bob had eaten the old stale food he would have gotten sick. If I had drunk a lot of soda I would have become fat.
So it is: had + p.p. -----à would have + p.p. It’s so easy.
Oh my God! I can’t believe it when foreign students make mistakes with “if” statements! If you use “if,” 90% of the time you are only going to have THREE sentence structure choices. So, people, PLEASE, pretty please! Please stop for just a second and determine which of the three structures you will need to use when you use “if.” These “if” statements are so easy but so many foreign students make mistakes when they use if! Every time you are about to use "if" please catch yourself and think, just briefly: Present + will? Past + would? Had + p.p. + would have + p.p?
Oh! I almost forgot. You don’t always have to use “will” or “going to” or "would” in the second part of an “if” statement. You can use other “modals” like “can” or “should” or “might”. i.e. If you go to Astoria you can buy some good Greek groceries. If I had known about the sale, I might have bought some clothes from there. But the structure is the same. Please nail down these conditionals; they are essential. "To nail down" means to really master or understand something. You hit a nail with a hammer. If you nail something down using a hammer and nail, that object cannot move any more. Please be aware, however, that the type of nail you can hit with a hammer is different from the type of nail on your fingers.
2) How to use “recommend” and “suggest” correctly
Many foreign students totally use the verbs “to recommend” and “to suggest” incorrectly. A student will often say: He recommended me to go to the Metropolitan Museum. No! No! No! Never use an object pronoun after recommended or suggested. It sounds TERRIBLE to a native English speaker. Really terrible!
There are two ways to use “to recommend”: 1) He recommended the Metropolitan Museum to me. Or 2) He recommended that I should go to the Metropolitan Museum.
So it is: Subject + recommended + object + to + object pronoun
Subject + recommended + that + object pronoun + should + infinitive verb etc.
Examples: I recommended that he should try the sushi at that Japanese restaurant. We suggested that they should try to get home by midnight because the bus stops running at that time.
recommended that…should suggested that…should
If you just remember that recommended or suggested can always be followed by that and then should you will never go wrong. He recommended that my friend should visit Northern Avenue in Flushing if he wants to get good Korean food. I recommended that he should go to the Bronx Zoo on Wednesday because it is free day there. They suggested that we should avoid going to certain areas of the Bronx because they have been neglected by city hall and are very dangerous.
You can also ask: Can you please recommend a place where I can find a reasonably priced Korean restaurant? (Here “recommend” is followed by a direct object)
Would you recommend that I should eat at this restaurant? Did he recommend that you should go to the Film Forum to see the Hitchcock films?
3) Never mind! Vs. Don’t worry!
Lots of foreign students make this mistake. “Never mind!” is actually kind of a rude statement if not used properly. Most of the time, foreigners really mean the nicer expression: “Don’t worry!”
If someone is running late and she texts you, and you text back, “Never mind!” that person, if she is a native speaker, might think you are telling her that you are upset and you should not bother coming. What you need to say is, “Don’t worry! Please take your time!”
How do you use “never mind”? Very carefully. Mi might tell Bob that she needs his help. But by the time Bob arrives, Mi has already finished what she has been doing. She can then say, “Oh, Bob, never mind. I was able to finish this by myself.”
You use “Don’t worry!” when you want a person to relax. You use “Never mind!” when you want a person to forget something.
4) tell vs. say
The distinction between these two verbs really seems to drive foreign students nuts. Nuts means crazy. Nobody knows how nuts came to mean crazy. The difference between “to tell” and “to say” is so easy however. And, you can often use these words interchangeably. He told me that I should go to the Met Museum. He said that I should go to the Met Museum. Do you see one of the big differences between how these verbs are used?
You use “tell” when you can follow it with an object pronoun or other object. Tell me the latest news from Hong Kong! Can you please tell me where the nearest bathroom is? I tried to tell her that going to that neighborhood might be dangerous.
“To say” does not take this direct object pronoun. What did he say about coming to Philadelphia tomorrow? I remember that you once said to me that you were born in Berlin. You can also say: You once told me that you were born in Berlin. He said that Bob was coming along with us for the ride.
Often times you’ll use “say” when you are quoting or kind of quoting someone. A quote is something like this: Bob said, “I will go on vacation soon.” A quote is surrounded by quotation marks. Did you once say that Bob is gay? I want to know what she said about me. But you could also have said, Did you once tell me that Bob is gay? I want to know what she told you about me.
By the way, “tell” can also mean "determine" or “see.” This is very confusing for foreign students. I can tell that it is raining outside because you came in all wet. I could tell that he was angry because he was not smiling as usual. I think I have a few gray hairs, can you tell? I can tell that you are in a good mood today. Practice a little! Please.
5) should vs. have to
Oh my God! This drives me crazy. There is such a huge difference between “should” and “have to” that I honestly don’t know why so many foreign students in America make mistakes using these terms.
If you should do something, it would be a good idea to do something, or it would be right to do something. If you really have no choice in the matter, then you have to do something.
He did not know whether he should stay in New York City longer or travel around the country.
In America every citizen should vote in every political election but in Australia every citizen has to vote in every election or he/she will be punished.
I have to go back to my language school by Thursday if I want to fill out my transfer papers.
I should have gone to sleep earlier last night because I am so tired now. (It would have been a good idea to do that.)
They have to take the number 1 train if they want to get off at the Canal Street stop.
A young person should make every effort to take advantage of every learning activity in school.
6) The imperative – telling someone to do something
The big problem that foreign students seem to have with the imperative is that they often use a pronoun before the imperative form of the verb. For instance, You take the garbage out! No. It should just be: Take the garbage out. Or, Please take the garbage out.
Now, nobody likes to take orders. So unless you are a total asshole, please don’t just tell someone to do something, use “please” before your imperative statement in English. So basically, don’t use a pronoun and try to use "please" and you’ll be ok. If a person uses the imperative with you without "please," he’s an asshole.
Please throw that garbage out before you leave! Please give me my bag! Please hand me my coat.
There are other ways to soften an imperative sentiment or command. If you want to tell another person you are with that she should cross the street, you can say, “Please cross the street with me.” But that sounds a little silly. So you can use “let’s.” Let’s cross the street now! Let’s get some dinner now! Let’s go to a movie.
“Why don’t we…” is very useful. Why don’t we cross the street now? Why don’t we get some dinner? Why don’t we go to a movie? Please practice this.
Here’s something somewhat related to the imperative. Foreign students who are studying with native-speakers who have to leave a table to go to the bathroom are often not sure what to say. Please try this: Would you mind if I went to the restroom? Would you mind if I answered this call? So it is going to be “Would you mind if…” plus some past tense of a verb.
7) “So” vs. “Such a”
Almost every foreign student makes this type of mistake over and over and over again. Basically, you use “so” with an adjective and “such a” with an adjective and noun.
She is so beautiful! She is such a beautiful woman!
He is so fat! He is such a fat guy!
That book is so good! That is such a good book.
Please practice because it drives me crazy when people make this type of mistake.
8) articles (a, the)
Look at this terrible sentence: They need table.
Why is this type of statement so frustrating for a native-speaker to hear? Because “they” would seem to mean/imply that more than one table might be necessary. But, then again, maybe a small group just needs one table. Without the right article, or without pluralizing the word “tables,” the native speaker doesn’t know what the hell you are trying to say.
This is why articles and pluralization are so important. A native-speaker doesn’t know whether you are saying: They need *a* table. Or: They need tableS. “They need table” could mean either of those sentences.
“I have friend who like that.” OMG! Do you mean “I have friends who like that.”? Or “I have a friend who likes that.” You’ll drive English speakers crazy if you don’t use your articles.
I once heard another person say: He did stupid thing. He did a stupid thing? Or, he did stupid things? It turns out that she meant he did stupid things. I thought she had meant he did a stupid thing. This gets really frustrating to people who have been trained their whole lives to listen for the article or the plural form.
Articles are huge! You have to use articles! You really do need to nail these articles down! Many foreigners do not even try to use articles and they sound terrible. They don’t even realize how bad they sound.
Oh man, when I hear foreign students speak, their inability to use articles really drives me crazy. Every Asian or Russian student then makes this excuse: “Hey! We don’t have articles in our languages!” I don’t care. You are here to speak English, yeah? You are not here to speak broken English, right? Use your goddamn articles! They are so freaking easy. Sorry. I’m Ok. Let me check my blood pressure.
Here’s the rule again: countable stuff has to have a freaking article. Non-countable stuff doesn’t need an article. When people speak they usually speak about countable things, so always be ready to use an article. Think, “Can I count buildings? Yes. OK, THE building is close by.”
What’s the difference between “a” and “the”? If you are talking about one thing among many, you have to use “a.” I need a new laptop. The new laptop, which I recently bought, is quite good. “The” is for one special thing you are pointing out. I am going to visit an historic church today. The church I visited was built In the 1700s.
Here’s what drives me nuts. If you mention a person’s profession, you have to use an article. A teacher, a doctor, a nurse, an accountant etc. You don’t say: I’m going to see doctor. You do say: I’m going to see a doctor. I think that elementary and high school English teachers around the world should be shot by the NYPD’s huge machine guns for not stressing the articles. When you learn a vocabulary word you should also learn whether it is countable or non-countable.
That’s why in my vocabulary word lists I don’t write: “sacrifice” I write “a sacrifice.” “A sacrifice” is countable. You can have two of them. You can’t have two “waters” though. Water is a general thing. You can, however, have two cups of water. A cup of water. Lots of people make mistakes with the word “advice.” You can’t say “advices.” You have to say, “a piece of advice.” Let me give you a piece of advice. Let me give you two pieces of advice.
The word “person” always has to take an “a” or “the.” I am a lonely person. I am a skinny person. He is the only person I know who has been to Nepal.
Here’s another problem I have noticed. Many foreign students use “some” instead of “a.” This sounds terrible too. They need some table. No! They need a table. Yes.
They need some book about history. No. They need a history book. “Some” does not equal “a.” “Some” only works with a plural noun or something non-countable. I need some water. Give me some money. I need some potato chips. Dan needs some more patience.
9) Will vs. Would
Basically “will” indicates that something is going to happen, “would” means something can or might happen if something else happens. Both “will” and “would” are commonly used in ”conditional” statements. “Will” is used in the simple and would in the “unreal.”
Think of using “will” or “going to” in a scientific sense. If you place a certain amount of a chemical into a container with another chemical, something WILL happen. It is like a scientific law. In regard to “would” however, it’s as if you are thinking of doing the scientific experiment. If I placed this chemical in that container with that other chemical, something WOULD happen.
If you want to know for sure whether a person is going to do something, you will use “will.” "Will you be leaving town this weekend?” “Yes, I will.”
When you ask a person what he or she wants, you usually use “would.” Would you like to have a cup of coffee? Would you like to dance? Would you like to borrow this book?
If you need to excuse yourself you also use “would.” Would you mind if I took this phone call? Would you mind if I went to the bathroom? Would you mind if I + past tense (this is an unreal conditional situation).
Please also remember that “would” can be used in English to mean “used to.” A couple years ago he would play basketball on Saturdays. A couple years ago he used to play basketball on Saturdays. My mother would rock me in a rocking chair when I was a child. My mother used to rock me in a rocking chair when I was a child.
Please remember that you use “used to” when you talk about something you used to do, but don’t do any more.
10) this type of vs. these types of, this, these, that, those
Many students get these types of statements mixed up. Furthermore, many foreign speakers do not know how to use “type of” correctly. Let’s say you see two dogs and one is a German Shepard and the other is a Rottweiler. You can’t say: There are two different dogs there. To say “two different dogs” means there are two non-identical dogs, but they could still be of the same breed. You would have to say, “There are two different types of dogs there.”
If one neighbor is very nice and cooperative and the other is mean and nasty, you don’t have two different neighbors, you have two different types of neighbors. If you have formal and casual clothing you have two types of clothing.
The big problem, however, is that students do not show consistency when using the term “type” or “types.” Sometimes a student will say: “This types of beer is good” Instead of correctly saying: These types of beers are good”. This type of dog is gentle. These types of dogs are gentle. This stuff is important.
Do you know what the real problem is? First, most Americans don’t even speak grammatically correct English. Second, they don’t care whether you speak grammatically correct English either. Many foreign students are surprised to learn that if an American can basically understand what you are trying to say, he/she is happy. Americans don’t often care whether your English is broken or not.
Well, kind of. Of course, if you speak really broken English they’ll never give you a job here. But, if you are asking directions or just casually chatting, they won’t care about your English.
This person, these people. Please know that people is the plural of person. You will never say “persons.” That person, these people. This really matters. If you do not maintain your consistency using this, that, these, those, your English will sound terrible, even to an American who speaks bad English.
11) Past tense vs. present perfect
Oh my God. This is so easy. I don’t know how students still make this type of mistake. If you are referring to a particular time that something happened, like “last Tuesday” or “ten years ago” or “yesterday,” then you have to use the simple past tense. You have no freaking choice!
Last Tuesday I called my mother in Chicago and told her the good news concerning my upcoming wedding. Ten years ago I attended a university in New York City. Yesterday I ate a hamburger.
If you do not indicate a specific time in the past, you have to use “has” or “have” and the past participle. I haven’t called my mother recently. I have been to Niagra Falls. But: I went to Niagra Falls when I was younger. I have eaten at Sophie’s many times in the past.
I once read that book. I have read that book.
“used to” is used a lot in the past as well. I used to attend The University of Wisconsin. I used to eat in that restaurant every Thursday. I used to buy the New York Times until the price went up again. “Used to” indicates that you did something continually but stopped at some point.
Using the past tense and then going even farther back is used in English alot. He told me that he had finished his work at 6pm. She felt that Bob had violated her trust by seeing another woman. So you use the past tense and then a past participle after it.
Honestly, if a person asks you a question, listen for the verb form that he/she uses. Have you ever been to Kentucky? No I haven’t. Did you ever eat at Sophie’s? Yes I did, in fact, I have eaten there many times. (This implies you are going to eat there again). Or: Did you ever eat at Sophie’s? Now, you can say, “Yes I did.” Or, if you have eaten there a lot: “Yes, I have eaten there a lot.” Or: “Yes, I used to eat there often.” (This means you have stopped eating there.) This is kind of easy isn’t it? English is so easy.
Stories, In English, can be told in the present or past tense. Yesterday a guy became angry at me because he thought I had taken his parking spot. After I parked, he ran out of his car and banged on my window and demanded that I leave the spot. I refused. I then got out of the car and called the police. This guy got so scared he ran away.
You can also say: So yesterday this guy becomes angry at me because he thinks that I took his parking spot. After I park my car he runs out of his car and starts pounding on my window. Then he demands that I leave! So I refuse to do that, step out of my car and call the police. The guy gets scared and runs away.
12) Scary vs. Scared, boring vs. bored, interesting vs. interested
This is often a real problem for foreign students. This situation is scary, therefore I am scared. This class is boring, therefore I am bored. This book is interesting, so I am interested in it.
A situation will have the “ing” and your emotional state will have the “ed.”
This movie is so scary! I was so scared by this movie.
This book is so boring. I am so bored reading this book.
Bob is such an interesting guy. I am interested in meeting Bob.
13) the subjunctive
The subjunctive is dying in English. It is really only used when “was” is changed into “were” in situations which are unreal. But because formally educated Americans tend to use the subjunctive, you should know about it.
If I were that fat guy, I would not eat so much fried food. You would think it should be “If I was that fat guy”…however, to indicate unreality “was” is changed to “were”.
Basically, the rule for the subjunctive is that you always change “was” to “were” after “if.” This helps more clearly indicate that this is an unreal situation.
It’s the same for the third person singular as well.
If he were feeling better, he would go to the baseball game.
If she were not interested in literature, she wouldn’t be writing a book about it.
If he were a bit more relaxed, he would live longer.
Just remember that if you use “if” and the verb “to be” in the past tense in the first clause, you should use “were” and not “was.” Many Americans use “was” anyway. As I said, the subjunctive seems to be dying out.
If he were more handsome, he would be able to date more women.
14) How to use “explain”
Many students will say, “He explained me how to get to the Metropolitan Museum.”
No. No no no no no NO! That sounds worse than something a child would say in broken English. Seriously, if you want to sound really stupid, keep saying “explain me.”
He explained how to get to the Metropolitan Museum to me.
When you use the verb “to explain,” you have to use: explain + object + to pronoun
Can you explain to me how I can get to the Met Museum? That works too.
Joe explained the problem to Bob. He explained the situation to her. We explained the book to them.
You often have to use “how” after “explain.” Can you explain how this works to me? Can you explain how I can get to Yankee Stadium from here?
You really have to get out of the habit of saying “explain me” “explain you” “explain him” etc. It sounds TERRIBLE to a native-English speaker. Really terrible.
Lousy: Bob explained her that she can buy a metrocard here.
Good: Bob explained to her that she can buy a metrocard here.
Good: Bob explained that she can buy a metrocard here to her.
Lousy: Mark explained me the story of the book.
Good: Mark explained the story of the book to me.
Lousy: Let me explain you the story.
Good: Let me explain the story to you.
At this point you should practice many sentences in which you use the verb “to explain” properly. Almost every foreign student makes this mistake over and over again, and it sounds so bad. Please stop driving me crazy and practice this! J
15) How to say when something will happen in the future
Many students will say: I am going on vacation two weeks later.
No. I am going on vacation in two weeks.
Please practice this because most students make this mistake and it drives me crazy.
No: Five months later I will go home.
Yes: In five months I will go home.
No: I will be a bit late. I will be there 20 minutes later.
Yes: I will be a bit late. I will be there in 20 minutes.
If you are running late and want to send a text message to someone, you can type: “I will be about 20 minutes late.”
You can use “3 days later” or “20 minutes later,” but be careful! Joe washed his car. 20 minutes later it rained. I arrived in San Francisco on Monday. 3 days later I went to LA.
Do you see the difference? If you are talking about doing something at a future time, you have to use “in 3 days.” If you are describing something that happened, you have to use “3 days later.”
16) one of _______s
This is one of the most common mistakes foreign students make. Notice that I wrote “mistakes.” If you use “one of…..” you have to have a plural at the end of that phrase. One of my friends is studying in Barcelona.
One of the uncles of my cousin is a millionaire. One of his friends is Danish.
One of the people at my office is a Japanese guy. (people is plural)
So what seems to be confusing to students about this is that you have to use a plural, but then you use the third person singular form of the verb. That is because the subject is “one.” “of the people” is a prepositional phrase. One of the people at my school is an ice skater.
So in this sentence, “one” is the subject, “of the people” and “at my school” are prepositional phrases “is” is the verb and “a star ice skater” is the object. People has to be used because it is plural.
One of the students in my class is sexy. “Students” has to be plural – this is what I’m saying: 95% of foreign students do not use the plural here and it sounds TERRIBLE to native English speakers.
17) to marry, to get married, to divorce, to get divorced
Many students will say Joan got married with Bill. No.
Joan got married to Bill. Or, Joan married Bill.
So basically, if you use “got married,” you’ll have to use “to.” If you just use the verb “to marry,” you’ll have to use an object.
Harry got married to Mary. Harry married Mary. Harry will get married to Mary. Harry will marry Mary.
It’s the same with “to divorce” or “to get divorced,” except for the fact that you have to change ‘to” to ‘from.” Joe will divorce Helen. Joe will get a divorce from Helen. Joe is divorcing Helen. Joe is getting divorced from Helen.
18) there is, there are etc.
This is huge. You have to get used to saying “there is” “there are” “there was” “there were” “there will be” etc.. In fact, this occurs in all verb forms: There have been, there will be, there should be etc.
Most students will say something like, “We had four children in our family” or “we were four children in our family”…no no no no…There were four children in our family.
Most, if not all, western languages have this. In German it is “es gibt” and in Spanish it is “hay.” “There are” indicates existence. There are 30 students in my class. There are 50 states in the United States of America. There are three children in my family. There is a funny squirrel that lives in the tree in front of my house. There is a good TV show on tonight.
There were a few reasons why I quit my job. There was a period of time when half of Europe was communist. There were no students absent yesterday. There were very few crimes on the New York City subway system last year.
There have been 44 presidents of the United States of America. (We use “have been” because there will be more presidents.) There have been a number of suicides that took place at the Empire State Building. (This anticipates that there will be more – there is the possibility that there will be more).
It’s going to be tough for you to make this change if you are not using “there is” correctly, unless someone points it out to you, but try to be aware of situations where you have to express “existence” without a definite subject and you should start to catch on. J
19) confused, confusing, embarrassed, embarrassing etc.
To confuse and to be confused are very confusing to foreign speakers.
To confuse is a transitive verb. That means it takes an object. I confused him when I spoke in Italian. He confused me when he told me that story. “Me” is the object.
To be confused is an adjective. I was confused by his story. I became confused, or I got confused, when he spoke to me in Italian. I got confused by what you said. What you said confused me.
Do you see the difference?
Before you use “confuse” or “confused” think about whether you are using it as a verb or as an adjective. If you are using it as a verb, use a subject, confuse, and an object. She confuses me when….
If you use it as an adjective, use it as an adjective! The confused person looked confused. He was confused by the difficult math problem. (adjective) The math problem confused him. (verb)
It’s the same with embarrassed. To embarrass and to be embarrassed. He embarrassed me when he told me the dirty story. I was embarrassed when my friend told one of my personal stories to other friends of mine.
Another big problem: a person can be embarrassed or confused, but a situation is embarrassing or confusing. You NEVER say I am confusing!!!!!! I AM CONFUSED!!!!!!!!! I am confused, I am embarrassed, the problem was confusing, the situation was embarrassing.
20) a 21 year old boy (not a 21 years old boy)
The material below represents one of the most common mistakes foreign students make. Please examine this closely and try to understand what’s going on here:
a 21 year old boy a 21 years old boy
a 5 dollar bill a 5 dollars bill
a 100 story building a 100 stories building
50 million people 50 millions people
50 million dollars 50 millions dollars
But!!!!!! See below:
The boy is 21 years old.
That check is worth 5 dollars.
That building has 100 stories.
Millions of people die each year of hunger.
He has 50 million dollars.
Do you see the differences?
21) Countries and people who live in them
This drives me crazy. Don’t tell me you visited German. You did not visit German. You visited Germany. A German is someone who lives in Germany. Let’s go through some countries please.
A person who lives in England is English.
A person who lives in Russia is Russian. A person who lives in France is French. A person who lives in Holland is Dutch. A person who lives in Scotland is Scottish. A person who lives in Japan is Japanese. A person who lives in China is Chinese. A person who lives in Switzerland is Swiss. Greece – Greek. Slovakia – Slovakian. Italy – Italian. Thailand – Thai. Vietnam – Vietnamese. Canada – Canadian. Sweden – Swedish. Turkey – Turkish. Israel – Israeli. Eqypt – Egyptian. Austria – Austrian. Australia – Australian. America – American. Mexico – Mexican. Brasil – Brasilian.
Here’s something interesting. If an adjective relating to a person’s country ends in “n” the word “person” is left out. For instance, He is a Japanese person. He is a Korean. He is a Dutch person. He is an American. He is a Chinese person, he is a Russian. Please learn the difference between the name of a country and the name of a person from that country!
22) woman, women
You might think it is frivolous (not important) for me to include this, but I have had students who made this mistake over and over again. You simply need to know how to pronounce these two words differently or you are going to drive native English speakers crazy.
Woo mun - woman
Wi men - women
Women has a distinctive short “i” sound in the first syllable. This has to be nailed down. I can’t tell you how many English students have driven me nuts by continually mispronouncing women.
23) subject + verb + object + relative pronoun clause or prepositional phrase.
Someone once said that Italian is the language of poetry, German is the language of philosophy, French is the language of lovers and English is the language of business. Actually, I think English is the language of science because it is so logical and allows a person to express precise, detailed things or events.
Like all generalizations, there is some truth to this and some falsehood. I am guessing this person said English is the language of business because it is a very precise language. Or, it allows a person to express very detailed and precise ideas and situations. There have been exceptionally great English language poets and philosophers and I am hoping some good lovers too, so I think English is pretty good for everything you might want to try! This is one of the reasons it has become a world language!
There is nothing mysterious about the sentence structure of English. It is very basic.
Indeed, it would not hurt you to look at various sentences in an English book and analyze those sentences according to the sentence structures. You will see how basic English is – there is always a reason for an English structure, except for when there are idiomatic exceptions like “I’m going home” which you might think would be “I’m going to my home.” In fact, you can say “I’m going to my home” but this common phrase has been shortened through usage to “I’m going home.”
I challenge you to go through passages of this book and really analyze the sentence structures – determine where the subjects, verbs, objects, relative pronoun clauses, prepositional phrases etc. are. This will really help you to construct your own sentences.
Most basic English sentences are going to be made up of a subject + a verb + an object. There are very few of these simple sentences, but what you have to realize is that to continue this type of sentence there are a couple of things that are quite common that you can do. The most common things are using a prepositional phrase or a relative pronoun clause. What’s the difference between a phrase and a clause? A clause has a verb and a phrase doesn’t.
The dog ate the food which we had left on the table. “which” is the relative pronoun that introduces another subject, verb and object and then a prepositional phrase is used (on the table). Relative pronouns introduce clauses because you have verbs in them, prepositions introduce phrases because there are no verbs.
I visited the church where the tomb of Alexander Hamilton is found.
I saw the person who is called the Naked Cowboy. (who introduces a relative pronoun clause).
I bought the book in the store on 5th avenue where you have also shopped. (two prepositional phrases followed by a relative pronoun clause).
One big problem I have noticed is that sometimes foreign students want to begin sentences with prepositional phrases but forget to use the preposition.
They might say something like: The mountains, my husband and I went there and saw some deer. It should be: In the mountains my husband and I saw some deer. Without the preposition you now have two subjects. It's pretty common to begin sentences in English with prepositional phrases.
24) gerunds vs. the present progressive
Any English verb can become a noun by adding “ing” to it. This then is called a gerund.
To Run – running. To run is a verb and running is a gerund.
I like running through
Central Park on breezy days. Here is where students get confused. In this sentence, “like” is the verb. Running is the gerund. Running becomes the object of the sentence.
He enjoys eating pizza. Enjoys is the verb form.
What is more confusing is that “running” and “eating” are also part of the present progressive tense.
I am running in a race tomorrow. This sentence has no object because to run is an intransitive verb – it does not take an object.
Please do not confuse the gerund and the present progressive tense. Here are a couple examples of using the gerund first and then the present progressive tense:
One of my favorite activities is reading mystery novels.
He was reading a mystery novel when his sister called him to dinner.
He was only interested in investing his money in a reliable stock.
He is investing his money these days in reliable stocks. (If something is reliable, you can trust it.)
25) transitive and intransitive verbs
There are only two types of verbs in English. Some verbs take objects and some verbs take either nothing or prepositions. It’s really useful if you can tell the difference between these verbs.
The verbs that take objects are called transitive verbs. If you use a transitive verb, you can use an object.
To eat is transitive. I ate pizza.
To travel is intransitive. I traveled to
An intransitive verb takes a preposition. In fact, it might be good to learn intransitive verbs with their prepositions. I care about doing well on this test. My sister cared for me when I was a child.
To ask is transitive. You will never say: I asked to him. It’s always: I asked him.
You will also never say: I visited to Boston. It’s always: I visited Boston.
Many students mistakenly use “to” after ask….please don’t do this, it sounds terrible.
This is pretty basic. If you are not sure whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, please look it up and memorize the preposition that goes with it if it is intransitive.
I enjoy sitting in a rocking chair when I read.
I enjoy reading books about
history. New York City
This is quite simple.
26) that vs. in which
Many students falsely use “that” when they should use “in which.”
For example: That is the bank that I have my money. That sentence doesn’t work. This one works: That is the bank in which I have my money.
Many students think that using “that” is very simple and it always works as a relative pronoun. No. If you are referring to places, you might not be able to use “that.”
is the state where I saw the Grand Canyon. “Where” is the relative pronoun there. Or you could say: Colorado
is the state in which I saw the Grand Canyon.
The relative pronoun also changes for ‘time.” That was the year when I was born. That was the era in which Eisenhower was the US president. “in which” could have been used for “when” as well.
Also “that” does not always require a subject, verb and object after it – “in which” does.
He is the man that ate the apple. “that” refers back to the object “man” and serves as a substitute for “man” as a subject in the next part of the sentence. If you use “where” or “in which” you will always have a subject, verb and object. I want to go to a restaurant in which they serve sushi.
So I would recommend that if you are talking about a place and need to use a relative pronoun, use “where” or “in which.” I am looking for a language school in which I can get some good speaking practice. I am looking for an apartment in which I can live with my husband and children. I am looking for a city where I can raise my children healthfully and peacefully.
But, in which doesn’t always refer to a physical place. For example: I had a dream in which I was being chased by a dog. Or: I want to avoid a situation in which I might get hurt.
So, basically, “in which” points back to the object and refers to something happening “inside” the object.
It’s gets a little more complicated. You can also use “on which,” “through which,” “over which,” etc.
That is the chair on which I usually sit. To be honest with you, for “on which,” most Americans place the preposition at the end of the sentence and drop “which,” although it is “grammatically correct” to place it with “which.” For example: That is the chair I sit on. vs. That is the chair on which I sit. That is the table on which I placed a book. vs. That is the table I placed the book on.
27) another vs. other
“Another” thing is an extra or additional thing. An “other” thing is something completely different. Often, but not always, “another” is used for a singular thing and “other” is used for plural things.
Another person might have acted differently from me. Other people might have acted differently from me.
If you have had a beer and are still thirsty for beer, you will have another beer. If you ordered a beer and they gave you a glass of wine, you ordered something other than what you received.
Often times you use “other” when you have a choice. If someone offers you a Coke or a Pepsi they might say, “Do you want the Coke or the other soft drink?”
If you have only been offered a Coke and have drunk it they might offer you another Coke.
If you are talking about two things and a person asks you to choose one of those, the word “other” might be used. There are two “tabloid” newspapers in
The New York Post and the New York Daily News.
A tabloid is a small newspaper that is easy to read on the subway. Someone might say, “Do you like the Daily
News or the other tabloid?” New York City
If there is an accident and you were a witness a police officer might say, “Which car caused the accident – this one or the other?” “Other” is always used in regard to a choice. “Another” is always used if you want more of something.
This is all quite simple. Just catch yourself before you use “other” or “another” and think: am I talking about a choice or something extra? Choice = other, extra = another.
28) Placement of “just” or “only”
Another huge mistake that many foreign students make concerns the placement of the words “just” or “only.” Usually, these two words have to be placed between the subject and the verb: please do not use “just” or “only” at the beginning of a sentence.
I only learned about the scheduling change yesterday.
I just found out about the change in schedule yesterday.
I only have $5, so I can’t do anything tonight.
I just have ten minutes to spare before I have to leave for my train.
But, if you are going to use a past participle, “only” or “just” comes after the “have/has/had” part. It has only rained a little bit this year. I have only heard about him, I have never met him. I have just had a car accident. She had just noticed that he was calling her when she saw him.
29) asking questions
Oh my God. Some of you foreign students cannot even realize how bad you sound when you ask questions in English. Hello! If you use a question word, a verb HAS TO BE after it. Whenever I hear: Why you no go to
to buy Korean food? I want to scream!!!!!!!!
Listen carefully. Please pay
attention: Why DON’T you go to Northern Boulevard
to buy Korean food?
NO: Why you live in
Queens? YES: Why DO you live in Queens?
NO: Why he didn’t do that? YES: Why didn’t he do that?
Why you why you why you why you why you why you why you OH MY GOD! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH MYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!
I never want to hear: Why you…again!!!!!! Why don’t you…? Why do you…? Why didn’t you….?
Please get used to using: do, don’t, didn’t. Or, Why are you….
No: Why he went to Jersey? Yes: Why did he go to Jersey?
Why are you studying economics? Why are you staying with your brother this summer? When did you come to the
? Where are you from? USA
People, this one is SO EASY! Never, please NEVER say “why you” UNLESS you are making a statement. For example: You never told me why you decided to go to California.
When you are asking a question, after “why” always find a verb to use. This is really essential. I am not joking – if you really really really want to sound terrible, then keep using “why you.” If you want to speak better English, please catch yourself and put a verb after every question word in English.
thanks you. America