20 top intermediate/advanced ESL mistakes (and how to fix them)

20 top intermediate/advanced ESL mistakes (and how to fix them)

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.

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Five tricky types of subject-verb agreement

Five tricky types of subject-verb agreement

I originally did this list as an Instagram post, but then it occurred to me that I should put it up here as well, so here goes in slightly expanded form.

First, remember that the singular/plural rule for verbs is the opposite of the rule for nouns:

Third-person singular verbs end in -s (it works, s/he does, the graph shows).

Third-person plural verbs do not end in -s (they work, they do, the graphs show).

1) Compound subject = plural

A compound noun consists of two nouns joined by and. These subjects are always plural, regardless of whether the individual nouns are singular or plural. This rule is easy in principle but can be surprisingly difficult in practice.

Correct: A stressful atmosphere and poor management are often responsible for employee burnout.

Incorrect: A stressful atmosphere and poor management is often responsible for employee burnout. (more…)

“Can” vs. “could”:  simple present vs. conditional

“Can” vs. “could”: simple present vs. conditional

Over the past several months, I’ve read an enormous number of essays written by non-native English speakers, and in addition to the expected difficulties, I’ve noticed a handful of recurring issues that rarely get addressed — I suspect because most native English speakers don’t realize that the particular concepts in question can get confused in those particular ways.

One of the most common of these issues is the confusion between the simple present and the conditional, and more specifically between can and could.

Errors involving these forms are often fairly subtle; they’re not absolutely wrong in the same black-and-white way as errors involving, say, confusion between the present perfect and the simple past (e.g., I have graduated from university last year rather than I graduated from university last year), and I think that’s also why they tend to get missed. Using could correctly is often more about implication and context than adhering to a clear-cut rule, which is why even very advanced speakers may still struggle with it. (more…)