Think you’ve mastered the English language and can’t be stumped? The truth is that many of us even with a strong grasp on the language will make mistakes regularly in our speech and writing. Why is it that English speakers have a tendency to take proper grammar for granted? The generous answer would be that many of us were never really taught the fundamentals of the English language. Instead, in public school we learn about Shakespeare and how to write 5 paragraph essays, and little time is dedicated to understanding the structure of the sentence. Even the most educated of us, therefore, can make these easy English mistakes from time to time. (I know I have.)
Moving beyond the usual there, they’re, their, errors, here are a few common mistakes I’ve observed to be most prevalent. Are you guilty of any of these common English errors?
Common English Error Sentences
1. “This is a picture of my friend and I at the game.”
2. “This happens everyday.”
3. “I am going to workout.”
4. “I have way less shoes in my closet now.”
5. “I’m bringing casserole to the party.”
The Correct English Sentences
1. “This is a picture of my friend and me at the game.”
2. “This happens every day.”
3. “I am going to work out.”
4. “I have way fewer shoes in my closet now.”
5. “I’m taking casserole to the party.”
Why Are They Incorrect?
The first sentence includes the most common pronoun error for native English speakers. The sentence should use the objective first person pronoun, me, instead of the subjective first person pronoun, I. Put plainly, the action of the sentence is the description of the picture, and not anything that “my friend and I” are doing. For a more thorough grammatical explanation, check out the piece on first person pronouns at write.com.
The second sentence is less about grammar and more about spelling. The word everyday is an adjective meaning commonplace, or routine. What the speaker means to say is, “every day,” as in each day, or daily. There’s not much more explanation to the mistake than that. Avoiding this error may well just be about practicing.
The third sentence includes a similar type of error as the second — that is, the speaker means to say, “work out,” rather than “workout.” In this case, however, the speaker is mistaking the noun, workout, for the verb phrase, work out. Daily Writing Tips has a handy article with tips on how to avoid the error.
The fourth sentence includes perhaps the most common English error today: less versus fewer. It is rare that I make it through a day browsing social media without encountering this error. Fortunately, it’s simple enough to avoid if you understand the error. Less is an adjective used to describe singular nouns or nouns that speak to volume rather than a number amount, and fewer should be used with plural nouns or nouns that have a quantifiable amount: i.e., “I have less money” and “I have fewer shoes.” Grammar Girl has some good tips for when to use less versus fewer.
The last sentence catches up most English speakers because the rules of bring versus take are not so instinctual. The choice to use bring or take depends on the listener and speaker, an item to be moved, and the direction of movement. See this entry in the Cambridge online dictionary for the specific rules. In order to bring the casserole to the party, the speaker must be talking to someone already at the party. Or, alternatively, the host of the party could ask the listener to bring the casserole with her to the party. It’s fussy and it’s easy to make the error, hence, few English speakers are even aware there is a rule distinguishing between the verbs. Even my high school Spanish teacher was unaware of the difference — when teaching the proper usage of traer (bring) and tomar (take) she remarked that the grammar rules differentiating between the two verbs existed only in Spanish. Nope.
Correcting another’s grammar is not usually considered a supportive act of benevolence. It’s rare that speakers will feel grateful at having their language criticized or “picked apart,” but there is also no way to avoid the errors without learning of them. Perhaps it’s because of this widespread ignorance, and the arrogance of those who would consider themselves exempt from English mistakes, that these errors are commonly dismissed as inconsequential or insignificant. Perhaps it isn’t even so significant if one considers the language to be mutable and ever-changing through its use. I think both sentiments have merit, but I must consider the potential consequences of using incorrect English. Making these mistakes may mean creating a poor impression on potential employers or persons of authority, should they catch the error. Beyond this, there is the potential for miscommunication with others, specifically those whose first language is not English, or challenges with learning additional languages. Further, I think the unwillingness of native English speakers to really learn their first language speaks to a level of entitlement seen in the English-speaking world that will not be to our advantage. While the English language may change to suit the needs of speakers, it is still important to aim to speak as correctly as possible.