Do you get this weird feeling in your stomach when you’re about to talk to the native speaker in their own language? Like you're so afraid of making a mistake that you're completely blocked, and the words barely come out. But the truth is that native speakers make mistakes as well! And sometimes these are mistakes that English learners wouldn’t even imagine making...
1. It’s vs its
This is such a common mistake it’s unbelievable. Sometimes, perhaps out of laziness, people don’t use the apostrophe that distinguishes one word from the other. But very often people genuinely don’t see the difference! The same thing often happens with "your" and "you’re". Really.
EXPLANATION: When you want to use a verb and make one word out of two (it’s = it is/it has), you use an apostrophe to form what's called a contraction. Its is a possessive form of it and simply means "belonging to it”.
- It’s a very difficult word to pronounce.
- The cat was chasing its tail.
Have you seen at least one episode of the TV show Friends? If so, there is a great chance you’ve seen Ross correcting his friends’ grammar. "Whom, not who!”. Natives generally say "who” most of the time. What’s the difference then?
EXPLANATION: You just have to remember a couple of easy rules. Who is used when we want it to be the subject of a sentence, while whom should accompany a preposition or be used in an object position. Who is the subjective case, whereas whom is the objective case. It's just like he versus him. If you're not sure, try substituting he/him in place of who/whom and see if it makes sense.
- To whom does this book belong?
- Who wants to go with me?
- The girl whom you met on Sunday is called Jessica.
This common mistake results from the similar sounds of these two words. People, when being most vulnerable to learning, often get their knowledge from hearing – children learn that way how to speak! When it comes to learning foreign languages, we’re not that different. But how come natives make this mistake?
EXPLANATION: Their is used to show possession: "their books”, "their apartment”. Their is almost always followed by a noun. There, however, is used to describe a place or can be used as a pronoun: "There’s always a chance”.
- Their house is located in the woods.
- You should go there, it might be fun.
This mistake is made by both natives and foreign language learners. It’s not always clear when we’re supposed to use I and when me in a sentence. It's also a mistake that is commonly made both ways. The more common mistake occurs when people say me when they should say I. Many people, however, overcompensate for this mistake by saying I when they should say me. This is often the result of a misguided attempt to sound like they're speaking 'proper' English.
EXPLANATION: I should be used as a subjective pronoun. The other subjective pronouns are she, he, and we. So when you say "Steven wants some coffee", you may say "Steven and I want some coffee”.
Me, however, is used as an objective pronoun, just like her, him and us.
Tip: when you’re not sure what to do, it’s good to replace I or me with she or her. Sometimes this can make the correct usage sound clearer. Also remember that normally when people make the mistaking of using I when they should use me, it's when a compound subject is used, such as "Steven and I".
It's correct to say "Steven and I went to the restaurant and ordered some pizzas". A common mistake would be to say "the waiter brought the pizzas to Steven and I". In that sentence, the people are the object of the sentence, not the subject, so it should be Steven and me.
- Steven and I want some coffee.
- Marcus spent two hours with me.
When you’re learning English, these so-called "false friends” are commonly studied, but to native speakers, the words can sound the same. That is why some native-speaker mistakes are unbelievably elementary for us. Such as this one.
EXPLANATION: This is easy. Then refers to an order of events in time. Than is used to compare something to something else.
- We will eat dinner, and then we’ll go to get some ice cream.
- My dress looks better than yours.
6. Reflexive pronouns
Sounds very serious, doesn’t it? Do you remember the song "Me, Myself and I”? A reflexive pronoun is nothing more than adding -self to a pronoun. Are you having a hard time deciding when to say me and when myself? Well, natives found a solution to that and replace "me” with "myself” far too frequently. You can read a very amusing description of this particular phenomenon here.
EXPLANATION: Myself is used to emphasize your role. But it is never the subject of a sentence; it can only be put after already using I.
- I am preparing a bath for myself.
- I wouldn’t do it myself.
- Send it to me ASAP, please.
- I saw him yesterday.
Another great example comes from Austin Powers, and it shows the perils of overusing the reflexive. He says "Allow myself to introduce... myself". He hesitates before the second "myself" because he realises he should have said "Allow me to introduce myself".
Two very different words with very confusing spellings!
EXPLANATION: Loose is simply an adjective which describes something that is not tight. Lose is a verb and can be used with different meanings: when something is misplaced, and when you don't win.
- Don’t lose your umbrella, it’s going to rain!
- I think your pants are a little loose. Have you lost weight?
Well is very often ignored and replaced with good, regardless of what part of speech it is.
EXPLANATION: Good is an adjective; well is an adverb. Yes, it’s just that simple. So "well” addresses the question "how?", while "good" is used to describe a noun.
Be careful though: It is a bit different when you use these words with verbs that describe 4 senses: look, smell, taste and feel. It all depends on whether you're using these senses actively or not. If not, then use good, i.e. "you look good!” or "She does not feel good”. The difference can give the sentince different meanings. For example, both "You smell good" and "You smell well" are gramatically correct. The first means that your body gives off a nice scent. The second means that you have very strong skills when it comes to smelling things; you're a good smeller. The first is active; the second is passive.
- Don’t worry, you did well!
- This is good pasta.
Typing mistakes are, apart from spelling ones, the second most common group of mistakes that native speakers make.
EXPLANATION: The semicolon (;) creates a longer pause than a comma, but a shorter pause than a period. Some writers take some liberties when it comes to how the semicolon is used, but generally, a semicolon separates two independent clauses. That means that it joins together two sentences that could each stand on their own as complete sentences. The semicolon can also be used when you make a list of items and want to separate them from each other.
The colon is used when you want to make a pause, usually before beginning a list. It is also used to introduce further clarification on a particular topic.
- Delivering speeches today are: Mr John White from Cambridge; Mrs Suzanne Jones from Leicester; and Dr Drake Morgan from Yorkshire.
- I did what you advised me to do; I didn’t feel much difference.
- Art therapy is therapy by art: it is very often used by psychotherapists.
Feeling better? ?