Struggle to Write in English? Here Are 8 Common Mistakes to Avoid
  • 6-minute read
  • 19th July 2022

Struggle to Write in English? Here Are 8 Common Mistakes to Avoid

English is a complicated language with grammar that’s tricky to master, even for native speakers. If you’re writing in English as a second (or third, or fourth!) language, it can be even more confusing!

In this post, we describe the most common mistakes people make in English writing, and we show you how to avoid them.

1. Shifting Tenses

Your writing won’t make sense if you switch from one tense to another mid-sentence, so be sure to pick the right tense and use it consistently.

We ate popcorn while we watch the movie. ✘

We ate popcorn while we watched the movie. ✔

The first sentence is wrong, because “we ate popcorn” is in the past tense, while “we watch the movie” is present tense. In the second sentence, both actions are described in the past tense.

2. Errors in Subject–Verb Agreement

In English, verbs take a different form depending on who (or what) is performing the action. In general, you add “s” or “es” to verbs that are being performed in the present tense by a singular subject (e.g., he, she, it). However, if the subject is “I,” you don’t need to add anything.

The girl throw throws the ball.

The dogs chases chase the cat.

We reaches reach the end of the path.

I says say “Let’s go home.”

3. Comma Splices

Another common error is using a comma to separate two independent clauses. This is known as a comma splice:

My car is old and rusty, I need a new one.

You can fix comma splices in four ways:

  1. Separate the clauses into two sentences with a period:

My car is old and rusty. I need a new one.

  1. Separate them with a semicolon:

My car is old and rusty; I need a new one.

  1. Leave the comma, and connect the clauses with a coordinating conjunction (e.g., and, so):

My car is old and rusty, so I need a new one.

  1. Make the first part of the sentence into a subordinate clause by adding a subordinate conjunction (e.g., since, as):

As my car is old and rusty, I need a new one.

4. Dangling Modifiers

A modifier is a word or phrase that adds a description to the subject of a sentence. Unfortunately, it isn’t always clear what the modifier is supposed to be modifying, either because the subject is too far removed from the modifier, or because it’s not there at all:

Upon waking up at 5.00 a.m., the coffee was delightful.

The intended subject of this sentence – the person who woke up at 5.00 a.m. – is missing, and therefore, this sentence reads as if the coffee woke up at 5.00 a.m! This confusion can be cleared up by including the name of the early riser:

Upon waking up at 5.00 a.m., Jim found the coffee delightful.

5. Sentence Fragments

Unless you’re writing a list or a work of fiction, you should usually use complete sentences. When a series of words looks like a sentence (in that it begins with a capital letter and ends with a period) but isn’t a full independent clause, we call it a sentence fragment:

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Jim poured water into the cup. Then added milk.

This is grammatically incorrect, because “then added milk” isn’t a stand-alone sentence. The error can be fixed by replacing the first period with a comma:

Jim poured water into the cup, then added milk.

It’s now clear that Jim performed both actions – pouring the water and adding the milk. Alternatively, the sentence fragment can be made into a complete sentence by adding “he” before or after “then.”

Jim poured water into the cup. He then added milk.

6. Confusing Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun, usually to avoid repetition:

Jim took his coffee to his desk and drank it while checking his emails.

In the above sentence, it’s obvious that the word “his” refers to something that belongs to Jim, and that “it” refers to Jim’s coffee. Without the pronouns, the sentence would read like this:

Jim took Jim’s coffee to Jim’s desk and drank Jim’s coffee while checking Jim’s emails.

As we can see, pronouns are useful for making writing sound less silly! However, when we use them wrongly, they can cause confusion.

First, be sure to use the correct pronoun. It should correspond with the word it replaces (the antecedent) in terms of quantity and gender:

The girls ate her their sandwiches.

John was embarrassed because she he had used the wrong pronoun.

Second, if it isn’t obvious which word is the antecedent to the pronoun, your meaning won’t be clear:

Milly and Grandma’s trip to the park ended in disaster when she fell off the swing and dropped her ice cream.

Here, the reader won’t know whether it was Milly or her grandmother who suffered these mishaps. In this case, it would be better not to use a pronoun at all.

Milly and Grandma’s trip to the park ended in disaster when Grandma fell off the swing and dropped her ice cream.

7. Wrongly Used Articles

Another area that often causes problems for non-native English speakers is articles (i.e., a, an, and the). As a general rule, you should use “the” (the definite article) when you’re referring to a mass noun (e.g., rain, furniture) or to a known example of something, and “a” or “an” (the indefinite article) to indicate a single, unspecified example:

Please could you pass me a the salt.

Jenny fed a the cat.

If I lived alone, I would get the a cat.

Articles can be especially difficult to learn, but as you read and write more in English, you’ll gradually get a feel for what sounds right and what doesn’t.

8. Forgetting to Proofread

When you finally reach the end of an essay, report, or other lengthy piece of writing, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is going back to the start to check it for errors. However, proofreading your work – or getting someone else to proofread it for you – is the best way to weed out any mistakes.

Our team works around the clock to help customers polish their writing. We’ll correct spelling mistakes and errors in grammar and punctuation, as well as offer feedback on readability and word choice. Find out how we can help you to improve your writing with a free trial document.

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