Common Grammar Mistakes of English Learners. The English Language is a difficult beast to tie down. Even those rules which we consider mandatory may actually change very quickly, especially with words moving into ever more fleeting media. However, there are a few mistakes which – for now at least – can make you look very silly…
List of commonly confused words for English students.
1. Adapt vs. Adopt
‘Adapt’ and ‘adopt’ share similar spellings and similar meanings, but they are not one and the same.
To ‘adapt’ is to become or make something suitable to an environment or condition.
“It took me a long time after college to adapt to life in the office.”
“An inability to adapt will prove an obstacle on the road to success.”
To ‘adopt’ is to take something and use it as or make it your own.
“I adopted his policy of neutrality and stayed out of trouble.”
“We are planning to adopt a child.”
2. Lose vs. Loose
“Lose” is 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” is 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.”
3. Will vs. Going to
‘Will’ and ‘going to’ are the two forms of simple future used in English. They are used more or less interchangeably, but there are certain subtle differences between them that even many experienced English speakers are not aware of. The main rule to keep in mind is that: if the decision to act was made before the time of speaking, ‘going to’ must be used; if not, ‘will’ must be used.
There are two primary distinct uses for‘will’:
To express voluntary action. Voluntary action refers to the following:
- Any action that the speaker offers to perform.
- “I will take you up on that offer.”
- “I will get you your breakfast in bed.”
- Any action that the speaker declines to perform.
- “I will not (won’t) be able to come for your party.”
- “I will not do your work for you.”
- Any action that the speaker requests the listener to perform.
- “Will you come home on Friday night?”
- “Will you take me to the amusement park?”
To express a promise.
“I will come back to work as soon as I make a full recovery.”
“I will call you later tonight.”
There is one primary distinction for use of ‘going to’: it is used to express plans, i.e. the intention of the speaker to do something in the future. This can take two forms:
To state such an intention:
“I am going for the match on Thursday”
“I am going to ensure that we have fun on this trip.”
To ask about such an intention:
“Are you going to watch the match on Thursday?”
“Are you going to the Zoo with the others?”
Both ‘will’ and ‘going to’ can be used when making predictions about the future.
“It looks like it will rain today”. = “It looks like it is going to rain today.”
“I don’t think he will do it” = “I don’t think he’s going to do it.”
4. Write vs. Right.
“Write” is a verb, to express in writing.
“I want to learn how to write well.”
“Did you write this? Write a letter to Mom”
“Right” is an adjective, correct, justified, suitable, opposite of left.
“The little boy knew right versus wrong.”
“It’s the right way to do things.”
It is easy to confuse ‘beside’ and ‘besides’, but they are not one and the same thing. ‘Beside’ is a preposition, whereas ‘besides’ works as both a preposition and an adverb, and although ‘ besides’ is sometimes used in place of ‘beside’, they have distinct meaning.
‘Beside’ means ‘by or at the side of’.
For example: “He stood beside his new car proudly.”
As a preposition, ‘besides’ means ‘in addition to’ or ‘apart from’.
For example: “What are you working on besides the research project?”
As an adverb, it means ‘furthermore’.
For example: “He was not selected because he did not have a good grasp of his concepts. Besides, he did not seem very keen.”
6. Here vs. Hear
“Here” is an adverb, in this place; in this spot.
“I am here and planning to stay.”
“I wish you were here.”
“Hear” is a verb, to be within earshot; to perceive by ear.
“I hear you.”
“We do not want to hear the policies one more time.”
7. Can vs. May
Many English speakers are confused about the usage of the words ‘can’ and ‘may’. For example, ‘Can I drink water?’ is incorrect. ‘May I drink water?’ is the correct phrase to use in this case.
The key difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’ is that ‘can’ talks about ability and ‘may’ talks about permission.
Can is used in two cases:
To talk about ability.
“I can finish my homework by 5 pm.”
“Can you finish your homework tonight?”
To ask or give permission informally (normally between friends)
“Can I use your pen?”
“You can use my pen?”
May is generally used to ask or give permission formally.
Let us take a situation between a student and a teacher.
“May I drink water?
Teacher: Yes, you may.”
Let us take a situation between two strangers.
“May I borrow your pen?
Yes, you may”
8. Compliment vs. Complement
Both words sound the same when pronounced, but their meanings are very different. “Compliment” means to give praise, express admiration or giving congratulations. “Complement”, on the other hand, means completing something or to make something perfect. A good way to always remember the difference is to remember that the word with the “e” means complete. In fact, the word complete is almost entirely spelled within complement.
Complement is used when what you are trying to convey that something is essentially made complete with something else. For example, if you were describing colors that look good together or a relationship involving two people who seem well matched, complement is the correct choice. Complement functions as both a noun and a verb.
- Incorrect: “The striped throw pillows complimented the sofa colors quite nicely.” (This implies that the pillows gave praise to the sofa, which is impossible).
- Correct: “The colors in the pillows complemented the stripes in the sofa very well.” (Complement is a verb in this sentence).
Compliment is used when you are aiming to offer praise. For example, you might compliment someone on a new hairdo or on an outfit that is particularly flattering. In its plural form it can mean you are offering multiple expressions of praise, or it can mean best wishes. Compliment functions as both a noun and a verb.
- Incorrect: “She paid her boss a complement about how well her hair highlights complement her complexion”. (The first complement is incorrect because “her boss” does not complete anything, which is implied by spelling the word with an “e.”
- Correct: “She paid her boss a nice compliment on how well her new hairdo complemented her complexion.” (Compliment is a noun in this sentence).