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7 mistakes that English learners often make

Little details can make a big difference to how effectively you communicate.  Here are some mistakes you may not realise you are making, and how to correct them. 

1. Using stative verbs in the continuous form

Example: This coffee is smelling delicious! 

Stative verbs describe a state of being, a thought, or an opinion. They are not usually used in the continuous (-ing) form.  

Stative verbs can be used to describe feelings and emotions such as: like, dislike, love, hate; the senses: look, smell, taste; and possessions: have, belong, own. Sometimes, stative verbs can be used to either describe a state or an action, depending on the context.  

Some examples of stative verbs are: know, understand, believe, remember.  

In the example above, ‘smelling’ is being used to describe an opinion, therefore it should not be used in its active form.  

The correct sentence is: This coffee smells delicious! 

2. Using false cognates 

Example: I needed to buy a book so I went to the library near my house.  

A false cognate is a word that looks the same or sounds the same in English and in another language but actually has a different meaning.  

Libreria, librairie, livraria are good examples of cognates. In France, Italy and Spain, for example, libraries are where you buy books. In English, you buy books in a bookshop. A library is where you take a book out on loan

The correct sentence is: I needed to buy a book so I went to the bookshop near my house. 

Other examples of false cognates are: 

Confrontare (Italian) and confront (English). In Italian, confrontare means to compare. In English, confront means coming face-to-face with someone or something, often in a dispute.  

Attendre (French) and attend (English). In French, attendre means to wait. In English, attend means to be present at an event, a class, etc. 

Educado (Spanish) and educated (English). In Spanish, educado means polite. In English, educated means to have had an education. 

Suportar (Portuguese), and support (English). In Portuguese, suportar means to endure. In English, support means to hold up the weight of something, or give financial or emotional help to someone.

3. Missing out an article

Example: Moon is bright tonight. 

In some languages, such as Asian and Slavic, the definite and indefinite articles do not exist. In these languages, the noun stands alone.  

If your main language is one of these, it can be especially difficult for you to know which article to use and when. There are some rules that can give you guidance when using articles, but there are also many exceptions to these rules.  

The correct sentence is: The moon is bright tonight.  

4. Mixing up countable and uncountable nouns

Example: Can you help me get those two luggages out of the boot? 

Uncountable nouns do not have a plural form. They are things we cannot count with numbers, or they may be the names for abstract ideas or forms. For example, advice, information, furniture, news. When you learn a new noun, make sure you check whether it is countable or uncountable. 

Sometimes, you may sometimes hear unaccountable nouns being used with units or in a plural form. For example, in a coffee shop you may hear ‘I’d like one coffee with two sugars’. Two sugars in this context means two spoonfuls of sugar.  

The correct sentence is: Can you help me get those two pieces of luggage out of the boot? 

5. Adding 'to' to a semi-modal verb

Example: How dare you to question my authority? 

The verb ‘dare’ can be used both as a main verb or as a semi-modal verb. Other examples of verbs that can be used as both a main or as a semi-modal verb are ‘need’, ‘used to’, and ‘ought to’. 

Semi-modal verbs are always followed by an infinitive without ‘to’.  

For example, if we used ‘need’ as a main verb, we would write: ‘He needs to do it now’. If we use it as a semi-modal verb, we would write ‘You need not do it if you do not want to’.  

The correct sentence is: How dare you question my authority

6. Using an antinomy

Example: I forgot my wallet at home. 

An antinomy is also known as a paradox. This is when a statement contains two opposite facts. In this case, if you remember where you left your wallet, then technically you didn’t forget it! 

The correct sentence is: I left my wallet at home. 

You could also say: I forgot to bring my wallet. 

7. Making mistakes when using prepositions

Example: I have to study for pass the test.  

To make fewer mistakes using prepositions, here is a simple rule: if you are talking about a reason for doing something, use 'to + infinitive’. In this example, the reason I am studying is to pass the test. 

The correct sentence is: ‘I have to study to pass the test’ 

If you are talking about the purpose of something you are using, use ‘for + infinitive’. For example: 

‘This pen is for making notes’, or ‘I wear a helmet to protect my head’. 

If any of these mistakes sound familiar, don’t worry – they are very common. Our trainers are very experienced in helping our clients correct them quickly, so why notfind out more about our courses? 

Improve your confidence in spoken English with our General English course or Individual English training in our centre in London or online.


On loan: when something is borrowed which will need to be returned. 

Exception: something different to the majority. 

Furniture: for example, chairs, tables, beds, sofas.  

Luggage: suitcases or other bags in which to pack clothes for travelling. 

Authority: the power to give orders. 

Reason: a cause or an explanation for doing something. 

Endure: to put up with. 

This blog has been written at level C1. Practise your reading and listening by reading the blogs below.

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