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7 Tricky Spots in English That You Must Know and Avoid


Becoming an A-level student is a long path. When you know that a long “traveling” waits for you, you are probably not quick to start it. So, we would like to suggest to you the point where to begin your way. The first station is “the most common mistakes that students make.” Fasten your belts and read the rules that will help you to avoid the most typical errors!


1- Use of “who,” “that,” “which”

  • Use “who” when the dependent clause refers to a human.

I saw a girl who was approaching towards me with a cup of tea.

  • Use “which” when a non-restrictive (not essential for the sense of the sentence) dependent clause refers to things.

The book, which he needed to read, was too difficult for his age.

  • Use “that” when a restrictive dependent clause refers to things.

They chose the clothes that suited them best.

  • Use “that” when you would like to talk about a thing and a person simultaneously.

You will definitely find someone or something that makes you feel alive.

Note: In non-restrictive sentences, you should use a comma. This summary should be fine, but If you want to know everything about relative clauses in detail, check this grammar article.


2- Use of “i.e.” and “e.g.”

  • “I.e.” is used in the meaning of “that is” (to clarify things).

He can’t overcome his fears — i.e. he doesn’t do anything to cope with them.

  • “E.g.” is used in the meaning of “for example.”

There are a lot of types of essays, e.g. argumentative, cause and effect, expository, definition, critical, and analytical.

Note: You shouldn’t use these abbreviations when writing formal papers.


3- Use of “a number of” and “the number of”

  • “A number of” can be substituted with “a lot of” and it demands usage of verbs in plural.

A number of students dream to enter Harvard University.

There is a number of things I have to do before leaving.

  • “The number of” means the amount and it demands usage of verbs in singular.

The number of suicides has decreased for the last five years in the USA.


4- Use of “many,” “much,” “a lot of,” “lots of”

  • Use “many” with plural countable nouns in negative and questioning sentences. Also, use it in affirmative sentences when it is a more formal style of language.

Do you have many things to do?
She doesn’t need many sheets of paper for her essay.
Many species are vanishing for man-induced reasons.

  • Use “much” with uncountable nouns in negative and questioning sentences. Also, use it in affirmative sentences in the expression “very much” or when it is a very formal style of language.

Is there much wind outside?
I don’t have much money in cash. 
My sister likes it very much.
Much of the violence in this region is a result of the local government's neglect.

  • Use “a lot of,” “lots of” when the tone of your speech is informal. Both forms are used with plural countable and uncountable nouns, and they can be used in affirmative, negative and interrogative sentences. Take into consideration that “lots of” is more informal than “a lot of.”

She needs a lot of cakes for her birthday party.
I have lots of affairs that I need to deal with right away.


5- Use of “can,” “could,” “may,” “might”

  • Use “can” when you need to express an ability or to ask for permission.

I can play the violin.
Can I open the window?

  • Use “could” when you are talking about a past ability or asking for permission in a very polite form.

I could ride a bicycle when I was ten.
Could I borrow your pen?

  • Use “may” when you ask for permission (more formal form) and when you express the possibility that something will happen.

May I close the class door?
It may rain today.

  • Use “might” when you express a smaller possibility that something will happen than when you use “may.”

I might miss the Saturday party.
You might have skipped today’s lecture.


6- Misplaced adverbs

The main rule that you should follow when using adverbs is that you need to place them close to the word that they modify.

Only he won five dollars in the lottery. This sentence means that he was the only person who won five dollars.

He won only five dollars in the lottery. This sentence means that he won a small amount of money, only five dollars.

Helen has just finished her paper. “Just” is close to the verb “finished.” This means that the paper was finished recently.

Just Helen has finished her paper. In this sentence, “just” refers to Helen. Therefore, it means that only Helen finished her paper and other students didn’t.

Adverbs qualifying the verb are usually placed after the verb or at the end of the sentence.

He was working really hard.
We’re going to Toledo tomorrow.

Adverbs of frequency behave differently. They go before special verbs (auxiliary and modals) and after normal verbs (the rest). But if they are phrases they go at the end.

I usually get up at 8 o’clock.
He can always finish first.
We do the shopping twice a week.


7- Word confusion

Words that spell and sound similar are often confused. You just need to memorize them so that you won’t make the same mistakes all the time. We have prepared a short list with words that you need to commit to your memory once and for all:

  • Affect and effect

The book by Simone de Beauvoir “The Second Sex” affected my attitude towards the role of a woman a lot.

I have seen the effect of my everyday workout in a week. 

  • Allusion and illusion

There were many allusions to diverse films, including “Star Wars,” in the “Friends” series.

Sometimes illusions about a bright future help us to stand out in the darkest times.

  • Altar and alter

They were approaching towards the altar to change their lives forever by saying, “Yes, I do.”

He wants to alter some of his old shirts to make them look newer.

  • Currant and current

If you are used to eating black currant jam in winter, you will catch cold quite rarer.

My current aim is to enter the college, and I try to focus only on it.

  • Ensure and insure

When I am leaving home, I always ensure that the appliances are turned off.

When you buy a new car you should insure it as soon as possible.

  • Climactic and climatic

Anna Karenina’s suicide is considered the climactic moment of the novel.

Sudden climatic changes influence people’s state of health.

  • Council and counsel

The college council decided to expel the student for cheating.

His counsel to leave home early in the morning was very helpful.

  • Stationary and stationery

We stayed stationary when we heard a strange sound upstairs.

I need high-quality stationery to carry my duties better.

  • Tortuous and torturous

Out of three roads home I chose the most tortuous one.

Writing essays is torturous for technical students.

  • Principal and principle

My school principal insisted that we need to wear uniforms.

It is one of the most important principles of well-being.


Bear these things in mind and you will be able to avoid some of the most common mistakes English learners do.


Written by Nicky Quinton

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