Even if you’ve studied English for years and are very proficient in the language overall, you might still have trouble with some of the constructions covered in this post. Because they are so common, learning to use them correctly will immediately make your English sound more natural and fluent.
1. One of the + plural noun
The emphasis is on the group that one belongs to.
Correct: One of the things I like most about my city is the beautiful architecture.
Incorrect: One of the thing I like most about my city is the beautiful architecture.
Another common mistake involving one of the is to use the “base” form of an adjective rather than the superlative form (most + adjective or adjective-est). While this construction is technically acceptable, it is not something that native speakers say. The point is to emphasize that something belongs to an extreme group.
Correct: Skiing is one of the most popular winter sports.
Avoid: Skiing is one of the popular winter sports.
2. Recommend/suggest (that) + subject + verb
Errors involving recommend and suggest are extraordinarily widespread, made by students from just about every linguistic background. In fact, they’re so common that I question whether students are actually learning them from teachers who don’t know the correct version themselves.
The confusion has two main causes:
- The verb advise is followed by the infinitive, so it is reasonable to assume that recommend and suggest work the same way.
- Recommend and suggest can be followed by to + noun or pronoun (one recommends/suggests something to someone). That construction then gets mistakenly transferred onto verbs.
Correct: I recommend/suggest (that) you try the new restaurant down the street. (Note: that is often dropped.)
Incorrect: I recommend/suggest you to try the new restaurant down the street.
Correct: I recommend/suggest trying the new restaurant down the street.
Incorrect: I recommend/suggest to try the new restaurant down the street.
Correct: I recommended the new restaurant to them.
Incorrect: I recommended them the new restaurant.
3. Vocabulary, Slang = Singular (uncountable)
Yes, the plural forms of these words technically exist, but in standard conversational or written English, only the singular form is used.
Correct: I learned some really useful vocabulary in that class.
Correct: I learned some really useful vocabulary in that class.
Incorrect: I learned some really useful vocabularies in that class.
Correct: I use a lot of slang when I talk to my friends.
Incorrect: I use a lot of slangs when I talk to my friends.
4. Advice = Singular (uncountable)
Correct: My friend gave me (some) really good advice.
Correct: My friend gave me a really good piece of advice.
Incorrect: My friend gave me a really good advice.
Incorrect: My friend gave me really good advices.
5. Question, Confusion vs. Doubt
In standard US/UK English, the word doubt indicates skepticism or disbelief. If you do not understand something and need to have it explained, you are confused and/or have a question about it. If you use doubt to mean “question,” people may think you are saying that you do not believe them.
Correct: The teacher’s explanation wasn’t clear, so I still have some questions.
Correct: The teacher’s explanation wasn’t clear, so I’m still confused.
Correct: My manager is convinced the project will be a success, but I have some doubts. (= I don’t really believe this)
Correct: My manager is convinced the project will be a success, but I doubt it.
Incorrect: The teacher’s explanation wasn’t clear, so I still have some doubts.
6. On OR Next + Day
Use one or the other, not both.
Correct: The meeting is on Tuesday.
Correct: The meeting is next Tuesday.
Incorrect: The meeting is on next Tuesday.
7. A few = a small number, several (about 3-5); few = almost none
This is a major issue for English learners whose first language does not use articles. (Note that colloquial English uses first language rather than mother tongue.) The article is not an optional add-on; few and a few mean fundamentally different things. You cannot omit the article without changing the meaning.
Correct: When I arrived at the party, there were already a few (= a small number of) people there.
Incorrect: When I arrived at the party, there were few (= almost no one) people there.
8. Called/named/considered + noun (no “as”)
Correct: My brother is called/named Robert.
Incorrect: My brother is called/named as Robert.
Correct: Pelé is considered one of the best athletes in history.
Incorrect: Pelé is considered as one of the best athletes in history. (This sounds less obviously wrong than called/named as, but it is not really right either.)
Note: When as means “in the role of,” it can acceptably follow these named and called, e.g., He was called as a witness during the trial. When considered means “placed under consideration,” as can be used as well, e.g., The proposal was considered as an option by the committee. Mistakes involving as with these verbs result from confusion between these situations.
9. In my opinion, NOT according to me
To express an opinion, you can say:
- In my opinion
- I think/believe
- From my perspective (more formal)
According to is used only to indicate what someone else thinks.
Correct: In my opinion, people should make more of an effort to recycle.
Correct: According to my sister, people should make more of an effort to recycle.
Incorrect: According to me, people should make more of an effort to recycle.
10. Discuss + noun (no “about”)
People talk about something; people discuss [no preposition] something.
Correct: The members of the committee will discuss the issue at the next meeting.
Incorrect: The members of the committee will discuss about the issue at the next meeting.
11. Do you mind + -ING
Correct: Do you mind helping me wash the dishes tonight?
Incorrect: Do you mind to help me wash the dishes tonight?
12. Look forward to + -ING
Correct: I’m looking forward to seeing you next month! (informal)
Correct: I look forward to seeing you next month! (informal)
Incorrect: I’m looking forward to see you next month!
Note: If you are taking IELTS General Training, or prepare students for IELTS General Training, this is an incredibly important construction to know for Task 1 informal letters.
13. “Fine” is an answer, not a question
Correct: Person 1: How are you? Person 2: I’m fine.
Correct: I hope you and your family are (doing) well/all right.
Incorrect: I hope you’re fine.
14. Less & Fewer vs. Lesser
To indicate a smaller amount of something, use less (for uncountable nouns) or fewer (for countable nouns), or an alternative such as lower or smaller as appropriate.
Lesser describes quality; it is used rarely in English, and only in very specific situations, e.g., the lesser of two evils (i.e., the less bad of two bad options). Focus on learning to use fewer and less correctly; you will probably never need to use lesser.
Correct: Living in the country generally causes less stress (uncountable) than living in the city.
Correct: There are fewer people (countable) living in New York City than in Tokyo.
Incorrect: Living in the country generally causes lesser stress than living in the city.
Incorrect: New York City has a lesser population than Tokyo.
15. “Specially” modifies a past participle
There is a slight difference in meaning between specially (done for a particular purpose) and especially (particularly), but the real difference between these words is grammatical: specially is used before a past participle (usually verb + -ed), whereas especially is used in basically every other situation.
Correct: The movie star’s dress was specially designed for the awards ceremony.
Correct: I like to sleep late, especially on Sundays.
Incorrect: I like to sleep late, specially on Sundays.
16. Indirect questions: verb follows subject
When a “question” is asked indirectly, as part of a larger statement and without quotation marks, the verb is placed after the subject.
Correct (Direct): My colleague asked, “When is the meeting?”
Correct (Indirect): Could you please let my colleague know when the meeting is?
Incorrect: Could you please let my colleague know when is the meeting?
17. Nouns acting as adjectives never end in -s
In English, nouns can modify other nouns. In such cases, they act as adjectives: they are placed before they noun they modify and are never made plural or possessive. This structure is extremely common in English, and if you want your language to sound natural, you must make an attempt to use it, no matter how odd or unnatural it seems.
This construction is particularly common in food-related contexts.
Jam made from cherries:
Correct: Cherry jam
Incorrect: Cherries jam
Incorrect: Cherry’s jam
Incorrect: Cherries’ jam
This is also very frequently used in contexts involving business, economics, and time.
Ownership of computers:
Correct: Computer ownership
Incorrect: Computers ownership
An increase in population:
Correct: A population increase
Incorrect: A population’s increase
A meeting that lasted three hours:
Correct: A three-hour meeting
Incorrect: A three-hours meeting
18. Third-person singular verbs end in -s; third-person plural verbs do not
Don’t be fooled by the fact that singular nouns end in -s. The rule is the opposite for verbs in the third person (subject: he/she/it/one/singular noun).
Correct: Traffic in the city is very bad, so it makes sense to take public transit.
Incorrect: Traffic in the city is very bad, so it make sense to take public transit.
19. “People” is plural
Correct: As adults, people often prefer to eat the kinds of foods they were served as children.
Incorrect: As adults, people often prefers to eat the kinds of foods they were served as children.
20. Finished action in the past = simple past
Yes, there are partial exceptions (particularly in UK English), but those should not be a major concern. If an event happened in the past, no matter how recently, and that action is now finished, use the simple past, NOT the present perfect (has/have + past participle).
Correct: Last summer, I visited London for the first time.
Incorrect: Last summer, I have visited London for the first time.
Correct: In 2008, housing prices declined significantly. After that, they began to rise.
Incorrect: In 2008, housing prices have declined significantly. After that, they have begun to rise. (Even if prices are still rising, they are not still “beginning” to rise.)