1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. 10 Common Mistakes That Nativ…


10 Common Mistakes That Native English Speakers Make

10 Common Mistakes That Native English Speakers Make
by Paul Jorgensen (LangFocus)

  1. Unclear subject number
    (wrong) Every one of those people need to buy a ticket.
    (right) Every one of those people needs to buy a ticket.

  2. Confusing Homophones when writing
    Homophones: words that sound the same as other words which have a different meaning (and maybe different spelling).
    affect vs effect
    their vs there vs they're
    your vs you're
    Writing "of" instead of "'ve"
    (wrong) I would of gone to the party if I'd had time.
    (right) I would've gone to the party if I'd had time.

  3. Confusion of adjectives and adverbs
    Using an adjective instead of an adverb is a common mistake.
    (wrong) He sang really good.
    (right) He sang really well.
    People sometimes use an adverb when an adjective is needed.
    (wrong) I feel very badly about that.
    (right) I feel very bad about that.
    "Feel" is a stative verb. Stative verbs are followed by adjectives.

  4. Double negatives
    (wrong) I don't have no money, man.
    (right) I don't have any money, man.
    (wrong) I didn't talk to nobody.
    (right) I didn't talk to anybody.

  5. Not using the subjunctive mood
    The subjunctive mood is a special form of the verb used for something non-factual, like possibility, desire, or necessity.
    (wrong) It's important that he goes to the hospital.
    (right) It's important that he go to the hospital.
    (wrong) If I was rich.
    (right) If I were rich.

  6. Confusion of "is" and "are"
    Common confusion between "there is" and "there are", and between "here is" and "here are".
    (wrong) Here's 3 cookies for you.
    (right) Here are 3 cookies for you.
    (wrong) There's around 7 people at the party.
    (right) There are around 7 people at the party.

  7. Confusion of "lie" and "lay"
    "Lie" is an intransitive verb (it doesn't take a direct object)
    (wrong) Let's lay on the bed.
    (right) Let's lie on the bed.
    "Lay" is a transitive verb, (takes a direct object)
    (right) Let's lay the laundry on the bed.
    Base form | Past form | Past participle
    lie | lay | lain
    lay | laid | laid
    (wrong) He lied on the floor.
    (wrong) He laid on the floor.
    (right) He lay on the floor.

  8. Confusion of "fewer" and "less"
    "Fewer" is used for count nouns.
    "Less" is used for non-count nouns.
    But people often use "less" for count nouns.
    (wrong) I eat less cookies than I used to.
    (right) I eat fewer cookies than I used to.

  9. Confusing the past form and past participle of irregular verbs
    Base form | Past form | Past participle
    go | went | gone
    (wrong) I should have went to the party.
    (right) I should have gone to the party.
    drink | drank | drunk
    (wrong) He's already drank 2 beers and it's only 4pm.
    (right) He's already drunk 2 beers and it's only 4pm.

  10. Misuse of the word "literally"
    These days people often say "literally" just to put emphasis on something that's not actually literal. "Literally" means that something in reality is exactly as spoken, without metaphor or exaggeration.
    She literally has thousands of pairs of shoes.
    That guy is literally a monster.

January 31, 2018



I honestly don't feel that double negatives is enough of a problem to merit a spot on this list. I, at the very least, only use double negatives when trying to make a point (since double negatives can be used in such a way). This is especially common with verbs relating to affinity such as like or appreciate. "I don't not like him, it's just..." is an example of double negatives used correctly. If anything, I think double negatives are most commonly used in rap and hip-hop when compared to spoken English.

Also an important one, the usage of apostrophes with certain conjunctions like "its" and "it's" is rather misused in written English.


Regarding double negatives, I come from a black family that tends to use that style of speaking on a regular basis. Of course, I learned at a very young age that it's incorrect (and I personally don't use double negatives), but it's one of the only errors I hear that sounds correct, even though I know that it's wrong (at least, focusing on the example you provided). Sort of strange...


AAVE has double negatives (which is probably what your family speaks), so it is not incorrect.


Thanks for that! I knew about some of them, but not all. I found them quite confusing when I started reading English on the Internet a while ago (English ist not my native language). Now I've gotten used to them and know how to "translate".

What about the use of "I" instead of "me"? I think it is also quite common and puzzled me when I first saw that.


the use of "I" instead of "me"... Yes. And connected to that; increasingly hear people say "myself" instead of "I or me" (Things like: Peter and myself ate the owl.... Peter gave the owl to myself.)
For me, the biggest problem (that I'm aware of) is colons and semi-colons.


AArghh, the abuse of the reflexive pronoun. Usually by people in call centres but this morning in an email I received. 'It will be sent to yourself... '

No one ever had difficulty with this in years past, it's just a ridiculous affectation.

[deactivated user]

    'It will be sent to yourself... '

    That sounds terrible.


    It sounds illiterate. Unless you happen to be Irish, in which case you may have inherited an emphatic use of the reflexive in spoken English from Irish.


    Or people who say "pacific" when they mean "specific".


    No native speaker speaks their idiolect incorrectly. These examples aren't "wrong" exactly but only nonstandard. Number 10 is kind of annoying to me though...


    > No native speaker speaks their idiolect incorrectly.

    Native speakers make mistakes all the time when they speak and it has nothing to do with prescriptivism. Sometimes, the brain strings the words together in a weird way, doesn't conjugate a verb the way it normally would, uses a similar-sounding but different word than intended, or even uses the wrong pronoun. Those aren't peculiarities of any idiolect. They're slip-ups. They don't typically impede communication because context prevents confusion.


    Brilliant! This should be required reading by all English speakers whether as a native language or not. Have a few lingots.


    Double negatives

    Hmm, it seems Paul forgot about AAVE. Funny considering the examples provided here are written in an AAVE-like manner.


    Hey, would you please be able to expand on 7? English is my 2nd language and I adore studying its grammar. I have asked my English teacher previously; however, she was not able to explain it to me. (I go to an American public school; how good could the teachers be... Most of my English teachers have worse grammar than I do. They would say "If I was going to go..." (Which I know is wrong.))


    I will try.

    "Lie" is an intransitive verb. It does not take a direct object. It acts upon the speaker only.
    I lie down.
    You lie down.
    They lie down.

    "Lay" is a transitive verb. It takes a direct object. It is an action done by the speaker to another object.
    I lay the laundry on the bed.
    You lay the laundry on the bed.
    They lay the laundry on the bed.

    The form of each is as follows:
    Present | Past | Past Participle
    lie | lay | lain
    lay | laid | laid

    I lie down now.
    I lay down yesterday.
    I have lain down early all week.

    I lay the laundry on the bed as we speak.
    I laid the laundry on the bed yesterday.
    I have laid the laundry on the bed every time that I did the laundry.

    [deactivated user]

      Very nice and useful list Dean.

      Even non-English speakers must pay attention to those. Of course I'm guilty on some of them...


      Some of those I say in my head and I'm like "that doesn't sound right" even though it does. It's just a habit I guess.


      On (7): not to confuse with lie, lied, lied.


      Regarding #4. If someone asks you, "Are you broke?" but you only have a few pennies in your pocket, You could actually say, "I don't have NO money," with the emphasis on NO.


      We can throw number 7 out the window because no one's gonna do it correctly. Also no one uses the word "lain,"

      [deactivated user]

        Hmm, some very interesting points. #5 is something I never considered; I'm learning about it in Spanish, but never gave it a thought in English. Thanks!


        Thank you for this post. There are a few points here I was unaware of as an English speaker. I think it is true that one never really understands one's own language until you learn another. ( Er, is it "ones" or "one's"?. It's those possessive apostrophes on pronouns that get me..! )


        Thanks for the nice compilation. Some of them are really tricky and I'm often thinking about how to do them right... Also as a non-native....

        Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.