You Idiot!: My 7th grade lesson on the English language
“You idiot” might have been one of the first phrases I learned in English.
It was not necessarily directed at me (at least, not that time!). It was often directed at the 11-year old boy sitting next to me in class in Izmir, Turkey. It came loud and clear from our disgruntled British teacher. He was almost always disgruntled, poor man, not to mention visibly hurt when we mangled his perfect language.
Brute force teaching methods for avoiding errors in the English language can be marvelously effective. I have never lost that sense of respect and responsibility toward the English language.
I started to learn English at the age of 12 in Ankara, Turkey. My mother tongue is Farsi. I had to take a year of Arabic while living in Iran. The move to Turkey made it imperative that I learn Turkish fast for survival. If I count the German lessons during the same school year, English was the fourth language that I started learning.
So you see, English is not my first language by any stretch!
I also did not go on to major (or minor) in English. A part of me wishes that I had. I studied Engineering instead and went to (gasp!) public schools all the way.
Yet I have never ever used any of this as an excuse or a weaknesses when it comes to proper use of the English language.
Instead I use my powerful story to show that it is critical for all of us, particularly those of us living in English speaking countries, to be able to speak and write using proper and polished English.
And to be able to master the language, it helps to have a positive attitude towards it. It helps to desire to learn it, to excel at it, to become intimately familiar with one of the greatest modern languages of our time.
So what if English is not your first language?
English is not an easy language to learn, I admit.
In fact, it’s bloody hard! Alright?
English may be easy enough to get started and communicate the basics, sure, so is every language under the sun. But it can take many long years for your ears and mouth to learn all the wacky expressions and phrases, all the myriads of ways of using the language.
The road to achieving excellent flawless writing skills is long and arduous.
But you can learn to follow the fundamental basics of English in your daily use of it. The simple application of basic grammar and spelling are becoming more the exception than the rule but it doesn’t mean the incorrect way of doing it is ever EVER correct.
19 Common Errors in the English Language You Must Avoid
So without further ado, let’s talk about errors in the English language that you should avoid. I implore you to remember these 19 Significant and Simple rules every time you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard:
1. its vs. it’s
its = a possessive pronoun. Examples would be: The puppy played with its toy. The computer and its power supply are for sale. Do you know whether my car needs its own inspection?
it’s = contraction of it is. Examples would be: It’s much too hot in July. I think it’s going to rain. I doubt it’s ever going to be the same.
Easy reminder: You can replace it’s with it is every time and re-read your sentence for meaning.
2. there vs. their vs. they’re
there =an adverb, in or at that place. There is only one lemon left. There should be an easier way to do this. I hope you don’t go there.
their=a possessive pronoun. Their mansion is beautiful. Their olive trees make me dream of Italy. Their baby cries a lot.
they’re=contraction of they are. They’re simply stunning. They’re going to perform for us. Don’t act as if they’re here already!
Easy reminder: You can replace they’re with they are every time and re-read your sentence for meaning.
3. lose vs. loose
lose = a verb, to come to be without something; to suffer the loss of something. I do not wish to lose more weight. I was about to lose my ear ring. She cannot stand the thought of losing him.
loose=an adjective, free or released from attachment; not bound together; not strict. My belt is very loose around my waist. She likes to wear her hair loose and free.That is a loose interpretation of our document.
Easy reminder= Lose has come to be without its extra “o”!!!
4. whose vs. who’s
whose= possessive form of who. Whose plans are these? Whose money did he take? Do you know whose boat we saw the other day?
who’s= a contraction for who is. Who’s going to clean all this mess? She was wondering who’s going to dance with her. Do we need to tell them who’s going to be there?
Easy reminder: You can replace who’s with who is every time and see if it makes sense.
5. your vs. you’re
your=possessive pronoun. Your job is very exciting. I wish I were in your shoes. Did you tell me your secret yet?
you’re=contraction for you are. You’re going to amaze them with your performance.I want you to know how much you’re delivering for us. Perhaps you’re about to get started?
Easy reminder: You can replace you’re with you are every time and see if it makes sense.
6. write and right.
write=verb, to express in writing. I want to learn how to write well. Did you write this? Write a letter to Mom
right=adjective, correct, justified, suitable, opposite of left. The little boy knew right versus wrong. It’s the right way to do things. I meant to write this for you right away.
7. me vs. I
The best explanation for this rule is here; nonetheless here is a simple explanation:
I=subject. Me=object. Which one to use when?
Let’s learn by example:
1. This would be wrong: They are going to send my wife and I a package.
Why? The rule is that the sentence should make sense if you remove the person and preceding the I. So in our case:
They are going to send I a package. This is obviously wrong. It should be: They are going to send me a package.
2.This would be wrong: Jim and me are going to the beach.
Why? Remove Jim and. In this case, also adjust the verb to match single form of first person. Then re-read the sentence:
Me am going to the beach. This is also obviously wrong. It should be: Jim and I are going to the beach.
3. This would be wrong: The best one is sent to Ashley and I.
Easy way to remember this is that I does not follow a verb. I should always make sense if it is followed by a verb.
Correct form would be The best one is sent to Ashley and me.
I am rather pleased to learn that my favorite phrase, “it is she“, upon answering the phone has formal correctness on its side but is rather antiquated
8. effect and affect
effect=noun, produced by a cause; a result. The effect of your leadership is visible here. The rules are in effect as of today. What if the change has no effect?
affect=verb, to act on; to produce a chance. She affected all of us with her speech.The cold weather affected my plants last night.I let the movie affect me deeply.
9. accept vs. except
accept=verb, to take or receive. I accept the challenge. They accepted the generous gift. Why not accept our flaws and still love ourselves?
except=preposition, excluding, save, but. So it will never follow a subject such as I, they, we.
Everyone except me decided to go. Do anything you can to please her except calling her. Except for her attitude, I think she is ideal.
10. gone vs. went
“Went” is the past tense of the verb to go whereas “gone” is the past participle. Use them correctly.
Correct: I went to the store. I should have gone to the open market instead.
Incorrect: I should’ve went somewhere!
11. the apostrophe disaster for plural form
The most common error is to put apostrophe where apostrophe has no business. When you form a plural for nouns, there is no need whatsoever to add an apostrophe.
These are all wrong forms of plural nouns = Cat’s, Dog’s, Lot’s (not even a word), ABC’s,
Plural forms in most cases are made by simply adding an ‘s’ to the singular form = Cats, Dogs, lots, ABCs.
Even though the use of apostrophe before an S in an acronym is almost universal when you make it plural, it is still incorrect.
12. ending sentences with preposition
It has also become common to use prepositions inappropriately or to end phrases and questions with prepositions.
Examples of some prepositions: at, of, with, in.
Wrong: Where are we at with our plans? Where is the movie theater at?
Correct: Where are we with our plans? Where is the movie theater?
When asking about the location of a place, “at” should not be used after “where.”
Note: Don’t confuse phrasal verbs which make up a huge category in English language and are best described here. For instance, a preposition always is used in the phrase “to hang out” (where did you want to hang out?) and the verb wouldn’t make sense without this preposition.
13. the dangling participle
The dangling participle can seriously change the flow and meaning of your writing. It is important to make sure we qualify the intended words.
Misinterpreted: Cooking on the stove, she decided it was time to turn the vegetables.
It sounds as though she was being cooked on the stove herself.
Better: She decided it was time to turn the vegetables which were cooking on the stove.
Misinterpreted: Sunburned and dehydrated, mom decided it was time for the children to go into the house.
It sounds as though the Mom is sunburned and dehydrated.
Better: Mom decided it was time for the children, who were sunburned and dehydrated, to go into the house.
14. could of vs. could have
This is very simple. I’m afraid “could of” is not even a phrase. It is often misused perhaps because it is phonetically so close to “could have”
I wonder if I could have majored in English.
15. here vs. hear
here=adverb, in this place; in this spot. I am here and planning to stay. I wish you were here. It is here in this place that we met.
hear=verb, to be within earshot; to perceive by ear. I hear you. We do not want to hear the policies one more time. If only she heard what he had to say!
Easy reminder: Here is There with a preceding T and the two are almost opposites so think of them in a pair.
16. irregardless vs. regardless
This is very simple also. I’m afraid “irregardless” has never and will never be a valid word. It is completely made up. It’s not going to join the ranks of words regardless of what we do!
17. then vs. than
then=adverb, at the time; immediately or soon afterward. I will eat; then I will go. He shall see you then. If you want to be there by then, you had better hurry.
than=used after comparative adjectives. He is taller than she is. I wonder how much more than this I can pay. Will you please speak louder than them?
18. to vs. too vs. two
to=preposition. If you want me to do this, I will. You should be prepared to go.
too=adverb, also. They want to perform too. She too has one. So will they see you too?
two=noun, one plus one. I want you two to decide amongst yourselves.If only the two of them could see you.How long before you two grow up?
19. were vs. where vs. we’re
were=past tense of verb to be. If I were a rich girl, I would live in Italy. You were happier then. I think they were going to stay.
where=adverb, in or at what place. Where were you last night? Where can we go from here? Where in this world did my dog disappear?
we’re=contraction of we are. We’re going to be famous. We’re not there yet. We’re about to make a huge difference.
The Angry Flower take on Errors in the English Language
8 Easy to Implement Suggestions to Avoid English Language Pitfalls
Well, my friends, this is by no means a comprehensive list. This is just a list of most common errors which I see and find easiest to avoid. Writing and learning has never been easier. We are a click away from a dictionary or thesaurus and all other English language resources all over the web. I think as humans, we all err at some point or another. The goal is not to become infallible. The goal is to become aware and conscious of how we use the English language and to strive to be the absolute best we can be.
In my parting thoughts, I leave you with 8 quick suggestions that can help you avoid these terrible pitfalls:
- Proofread your writing. Twice.
- Proofread it three times if you are going to publish it anywhere.
- Have a friend or a peer proof read it with a critical eye for oversights and errors.
- Use a dictionary and thesaurus when in doubt.
- Train your spell checker to kick in before you send or publish anything.
- For long documents, walk away from them for a little while and come back with a fresh mind and a critical eye.
- Find a gentle way to tell others when you catch an error. Just do it in private.
- Always be open to feedback and receive it with kindness.
Let us not allow poor writing skills overshadow our brilliant potential.
Let us not succumb to the everyday disasters in the language by just following the crowd.
Let us show love and care about the way the English language is spoken and written.
Let us preserve the beauty of the English language.
What to do next about all this language stuff …
First, grab a copy of Empower Your Writing, a manifesto that I published on writing well.
Then, share one single thought about English. Do you like it? Do you hate it? Is there a common error that gets on your last nerve? Tell us in the comments.
Get Confident in 21 Easy Steps
Knowing that irony has a sense of humor, I would not be surprised if you caught an error here even after I proofread it 5 times! Hey, feel free to tell me.