Do English native speakers make (grammatical) mistakes? Yes, we do. In fact, we make quite a few mistakes that learners of English almost never make. So, if you’re learning English and want to feel a little better about yourself, check out these nine common mistakes native speakers make.
1. Me and I
Mistakes with ‘me’ and ‘I’ are becoming more and more frequent. ‘Our teacher told James and I to learn more grammar’ is clearly wrong to English learners. But native speakers of English say this all the time. It should be ‘Our teacher told James and me to learn more grammar.’ An easy way to check what you should be saying is by removing the other person: would you ever say, ‘Our teacher told I’? No, because you need an object pronoun: ‘me’.
However, ‘James and I need to learn more grammar’ is correct, because ‘James and I’ are the subjects of the sentence.
2. There, their, they’re
These are homophones: words that sound the same but are spelled differently. There are loads of these in English and they cause problems for native speakers in writing. ‘There’ is a place; ‘their’ is a possessive adjective; and ‘they’re’ is a contraction of ‘they are’.
Their cat is sitting over there thinking that they’re idiots.
3. Fewer and less
This mistake native speakers make is a grammar crime committed by supermarkets all over the UK where checkouts for ‘10 items or less’ abound. In fact, the word ‘fewer’ is used quite infrequently in daily speech by native speakers. The rule is: ‘less’ is used with uncountable nouns; ‘fewer’ with countable.
‘I drink less beer than her, so I have fewer headaches.’
4. Affect and effect
In their most common uses, ‘affect’ is a verb and ‘effect’ is a noun. So: ‘The rainy weather in England affects my mood’ or ‘The rainy weather in England has a bad effect on my mood’.
5. Lay and lie
This is one I make mistakes with. I blame English. It’s common to hear someone say, ‘I need to lay down’. Lay down what? The law, perhaps. ‘Lay’ needs a direct object, while ‘lie’ does not. So, ‘I need to lie down’ is correct, as is ‘lay me down (on a bed of roses)’ – ‘me’ being the direct object. So far, so good.
But, the past tense of ‘lie’ is ‘lay’ (dammit English), so ‘I lay on the floor and screamed when I first heard about this rule is correct.
6. Well and good
“I speak English really good.” No, you don’t. Native speakers often mix up the adjective ‘good’ the adverb ‘well’. ‘Good’ describes a noun, so you can say, ‘I speak good English’, as here you are describing your English. But, when you describe how you speak, you must say ‘well’. I speak English well.’ Or, ‘I did well on that test’ NOT ‘I did good on that test’ (saying this implies you must be mistaken).
7. Lose and loose
Sometimes an ‘o’ makes all the difference. ‘Lose’ means not know where something is. ‘I always lose my keys at the worst moment’. ‘Loose’ means not tight. ‘The screw is loose’.
8. Could of and could have
This is another mistake English native speakers make that is so common that it might become an accepted form in the not-too-distant future. Though I hope not, because this one annoys me.
All English learners know that ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ is not ‘could of, would of, should of’ but ‘could have, would have, should have.’
So please, the next time you hear an English speaker saying ‘I could of had that extra beer,’ politely correct them: ‘You SHOULD HAVE had that extra beer’.
‘Literally’ means something actually happened – word for word, no exaggeration. Its overuse might reflect how dramatic we want to make our lives seem. So, when your drama queen English friend tells you, ‘I literally died when I saw John Legend on the train,’ you can respond, ‘Gosh, you look remarkably well for someone who’s passed on.’
Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.