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Typical writing mistakes all non-native English speakers make


We all make mistakes... it's natural right? Well in the two years of being an English teacher I can say there are some common pitfalls that every student will fall down at some point. If you are curious to learn more, then let's read on together.




One of the most common problems I have encountered would be students mixing up prepositions. It is usually the most telltale sign a non-native has written a text. Some typical mistakes would include using “until” instead of  “by” when referring to timeframes. So, for instance, they would say “I should arrive until 6 pm” which happens a lot. It is understandable as many other languages don't use as many prepositions as the English language. For example, the Spanish can use “a” which can translate into many meanings like “to” and “at” to name a few. The main problem with the English language is it has many special cases and exemptions which need to be learned.

The same with articles, there are some basic rules to follow with English articles, but there is a massive range of exceptions. A typical mistake would include “All fashionable people are here” missing out “the” happens often. A great book to help with the use cases and the exceptions would be Practical English Usage.



This is something that occurs often and involves a student using the wrong word because it sounds similar to another. For example, in Spanish, they can confuse “fabrica” which means factory with “fabric” and vice versa. The words often look like a quick and easy translation but mean something completely different.



The English language has some simple rules to follow for constructing a sentence. So, for example, a basic guide is to always use the subject then the verb and lastly the object (S+V+O). For instance “I play football” is correct. In some languages, you can swap the adjectives and object around like in Spanish. So “El veloz coche” means the fast car but they can also say “the car fast” which is also fine in Spanish. It is quite natural for a foreign speaker to construct words in English the way they think in their own language.



Non-native English speakers have a tendency to overuse some transition words or conjunctions. So for example, they will overuse words like “therefore” and “furthermore” where instead they could have combined sentences. So “The pizza was hot. Therefore, he burned his tongue” could have been combined to make “The pizza was hot, burning his tongue.”

Lacking in vocabulary can also cause repetitive words which can always be a struggle of a language learner. Check out this useful article to find ways to expand your vocabulary.



This is something that most language learners have been subject to at some point. This is where you are looking for a word in a bilingual dictionary and you have many different meanings for one word with little or no explanation. This, therefore, leads to choosing the wrong word out of haste while trying to finish whatever piece of work quickly. Here is a helpful resource to write an essay fast without making any mistakes.




Even some of the better writers still make grammatical errors with tenses. A typical mistake with the present tense can be mixing up the present simple with the present continuous. For example, in English, the continuous is used for ongoing events or situations like “I am learning English.”

The simple is used for facts or regular events like “I work in London,” but it is very easy for a non-native to say something like “I learn English now.”


This can be tricky as different languages have different rules regarding the past tense. Typically in English, we would use the past simple tense “I did it,” but in the same situation Europeans, like Italians or Spanish, might say “I have done it” which is the present perfect tense. A classic mistake would be “I have been to Italy two years ago.”


Some languages can get away with just using the present simple to talk about the future so it's no wonder why it can be so difficult to grasp. In English, we typically use four basic constructions involving the present simple and the present continuous which can be interchanged. There is also the future continuous, future perfect and future perfect continuous. Not understanding clauses in sentences are very common for non-natives. For example “I will call you when the dinner will be ready” this should be “I will call you when the dinner is ready,” since you can’t use will in a when-clause.



The words “borrow” and “lend” have a clear meaning in English but sometimes I find non-natives using them the wrong way round. For example, “will you borrow me your pen” is totally incorrect, but my students have said it before.

The words “make” and “do” also get confused by non-native English speakers as some languages like Spanish have only one form and tend to use “make” for nearly everything. A typical mistake would be “What are common mistakes people do when they are learning English.” If in doubt here is a useful blog on using make vs do.

Another common mistake is mixing up “tell” and “say.” This can be due to not including a preposition, but mostly it is confusing the words, for example “say me” is incorrect but “tell me” is right, as it is explained here.

Something else I noticed would be students trying to pluralize the unaccountable. For example, “Can you please give me some advices” would be wrong. This is down to a simple rule in English where if the Noun can be counted, then you pluralize it with “s” at the end, and “advice” is uncountable, so you can get some advice or three pieces of advice, but not any advices..

The English language can be tricky as there are some crazy rules and also specific grammar that is totally irregular and it just has to be learned. I hope this article was helpful for any new teachers or students trying to improve their English language. Good luck with your studies!


Written by Christina Walker

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