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The Most Common Grammar Mistakes ESL Writers Make (And Why We Do It)

It isn’t uncommon for writers to make grammatical errors even for those whose English is their first language.

But we, ESL writers, are more prone to committing these mistakes because (even though we learned English in school) we tend to translate the words from our native language to English.

“Simply put, most of us construct our English sentences based on how we order words in our native language.”

For example, the common sentence structure in the Korean language is subject – object – verb. So when Korean sentences are translated, it may look something like this:

“The girl the dress bought.”

In Mandarin Chinese, a common sentence structure is subject – time or place expression – verb. When translated, it may result to something like:

“Amanda yesterday studied.”

Or

“Diana at the park made new friends.”

Setting aside my Grammar Nazi complex but this common habit is causing many new and aspiring ESL writers to doubt their competencies.

One aspiring web writer told me, “I want to write for the web but I’m afraid English is my biggest problem.”

While a new freelance writer said, “I want to earn more but when a client comes to me with a project out of my comfort zone, I make up excuses not to accept it. My English writing skills might not be adequate.”

Have you had similar thoughts? If so, don’t conclude that making a living writing is impossible for you. The fact that you’re aware of the problem and of your need to improve means you’re off to becoming better.

Listed below are some common grammar mistakes of ESL writers.

When you catch yourself doing any of these, apply the necessary correction ASAP. Eventually you’ll have better writing and maybe even, editing skills.

Proper use of articles

By articles, I mean the words a, an, and the.

Sometimes, we forget it, and sometimes, we overuse it.

Interchanging homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings like you might write faucet but you actually mean facet.

Wrong prepositions

Now this is still a tricky bit so here’s a list of prepositions and their proper uses you can use as a guide.

Incorrect word forms and tenses

Plural forms and past tenses of words are the common victims here. I would understand if children say putted because their teacher would often tell them that to form the past tense of a word, you just add “d” or “ed.” But we know that’s not how we should put it.

Redundant or incorrect comparatives and superlatives

Is the more better? Or is the most best? Words used to compare objects, like other words have forms they follow. Like “good, better, best” and “bad, worse, worst.” So even if you want to stress the difference, “more better” isn’t the right way to say it.

Misplaced modifiers

Modifiers are words or phrases that describe another word. William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well says, “Most adverbs (and adjectives) are unnecessary.” But if you need to include modifiers, write them beside the word they’re describing. However, when Groucho Marx wrote, “One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas” he didn’t misplace his modifier!

Disagreeing subject-verb agreement

This circles back to the proper use of word forms and tenses. If the subject is singular, the verb should be singular. And the same goes for plural words. There are exceptions to the rule like “You are amazing” and “The news is old” but generally this applies to all subjects and verbs.

Not using the same tense

Switching to past tense when you were first talking about the present confuses your readers. Would you understand me if I say, “I jogged five kilometers every morning?”

You can change tenses however, if there’s a change in timeframe from one action or state to another such as “When Maria arrives, the show will begin.”

How to avoid these mistakes

I commit these mistakes too. But I’ve found the best ways to avoid them are by:

  • proofreading my work before publishing or submitting it to clients,
  • writing every day, even if it’s just 100 words,
  • reading various genres of English books,
  • and reviewing grammar rules from time to time

Some say grammar doesn’t matter on the web but it does. How can readers understand what we’ve written if we didn’t use the right word order or form?

The sentence, “I’m under the table” is definitely different from “I’m at the table.”

With this, I again recommend the book, The Elements of Style. Or if you still have your Grammar textbooks from your grade school or high school days then go ahead and read up on the mistakes you’ve seen you’re making.

“Admitting we make mistakes doesn’t mean we’re not good writers. It actually shows our willingness to improve ourselves and to see the changes we need to make.”

Are you guilty of these mistakes too? Or did you make other types of errors? You can talk to me in the comments.

PS: Let me know if you spot any grammar mistakes in this post, I’ll gladly correct it. 🙂

 

4 Comments

  1. That’s a great strategy Laura! And thank you for commenting on the blog as well. I love connecting with you in email and hearing from you here made my day as well. 🙂

  2. Great article Jovell, as always, you’re a big help to us ESL writers. I often find myself interchanging made and do. I think this is because in my native language Romanian we only have one verb for that and in all the other languages I speak it’s the same. I tried learning the rules but they just didn’t stick. So, what I do now is see how they function in context and instead of making connections with other languages I immitate native English speakers.

  3. You’re welcome Shingirai. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. The good thing is we can always do something about it, if we’re willing to work on improving our command of English. 🙂

  4. Hi, thanks for stepping up and tackling this issue, so many times I come across projects/assignments where clients express their preference for native English speakers. This breaks my heart because English is my second language too* – or to put it more accurately, English, too, is my second language 🙂
    Thanks a lot

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