Common mistakes native English speakers make in English

This blog delves into 5 areas where native English speakers frequently make mistakes in English. For mistakes which EAL and ESOL pupils make in writing, check out this blog.

Spelling 

English is a tricky language with deep orthography, this means that there isn’t always a direct correspondence between phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (written letters). Therefore, spelling is one area where native English speakers may make mistakes in written work.  

In particular, confusing when to use ‘e’ and ‘a’ is a common mistake. The difference between ‘then’ and ‘than’, stationery’ and ‘stationary’, and ‘effect’ and ‘affect’. ‘Stationary’ refers to something that is not moving but ‘stationery’ concerns writing supplies. A good way to remember when to use each version is that ‘envelopes’ are a type of stationery and envelopes start with an ‘e’. 

Homophones 

Another difficulty in English is the abundance of homophones. These are words which sound the same but are written differently. Examples include ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’, ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ and ‘to’, ‘two’ and ‘too’. Native speakers may find themselves making the mistake of using the wrong homophone when writing in English. 

FlashAcademy® have created free resources to help your students recognise and spell homophones correctly in a fun way through homophone dominoes and colourful posters. Download this pack for free here. Any learners already using the FlashAcademy® app can also access the Fluency Boost lessons which give targeted error correction for easily confused homophones.

English mistakes homophones

Apostrophes 

Apostrophes are funny things. In most instances, if you wanted to show possession, you would add an apostrophe before the ‘s’, for example, ‘Jakub’s dog’. This a remnant of Old English’s genitive case which marked nouns with an ‘es’ to denote possession. 

The difficulty comes with the pronoun ‘it’. ‘It’s’ is a contraction of ‘it is’ and ‘its’ is the possessive pronoun form. Therefore, ‘the pen has lost its lid’ uses the correct form of ‘its’. This is another aspect of English grammar that can be practised in the punctuation lessons or in the new Fluency Boost lessons. 

Of vs. Have 

Another mistake made by English speakers is using ‘of’ after a modal verb. For example, writing ‘I could of gone to the park’ instead of ‘I could have gone to the park’. This is a process called ‘reanalysis’. ‘Have’ is frequently contracted to ‘ve’ in conversation. Native English speakers hear this contraction and analyse it as the preposition ‘of’, which is very similar phonetically. 

Agreement 

Finally, agreement. Whilst English doesn’t have a complex agreement system due to the lack of case markings and gender, native speakers still sometimes slip up with agreement. This includes plural nouns and ensuring the plural form of the verb is being used. For example, in the noun phrase ‘the king of the mountains’, the verb needs to be in the singular form (such as ‘is’ or ‘thinks’). This is despite the fact the noun is modified by a plural noun.

A confusion over agreement could also be the reason adjectives are used instead of adjectives. Adverbs describe verbs, such as ‘quickly’ and the irregular adverb ‘well’. Adjectives describe nouns, such as ‘quick’ and ‘good’.

Katharine Miles

Katharine is a member of our Content team. She loves researching interesting features of world languages and is passionate about multilingualism and language diversity. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking and planning adventures around the world.

Let's Stay in Touch

Sign up to our newsletter and we'll send you free resources, exclusive discounts and language learning tips. Just add your email below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Book a Demonstration

Get in touch using the form below and one of our team will be happy to help: