Common mistakes I see from students (through the eyes of a teacher)

By Jonathan Race

If you are new here please read this first.


In the time I’ve been teaching I have taught around 100-200 students as well as had conversations daily with many more language exchange partners. In this time I have seen certain mistakes and patterns appear time and time again and I would like to share these insights with you so you can avoid these same problem areas!

Some of these are very basic and so I’d like you to keep an open mind. No matter what your level of English, it is possible you are still making some of these errors so double check every point mentioned in this article to make sure you aren’t making these mistakes.

  1. Missing ‘s’ suffix

This one is a big one when speaking. A lot of languages won’t change the form of a word to imply whether it is singular or plural (it is based on context). For this reason, the ‘s’ tends to get missed off of the end of words when foreign students are speaking English. This is a big NO! Although we can probably guess from context what you mean, missing this suffix is a big clue that you are conversing with a non-native speaker.

  1. ‘ed’ endings

 Another pronunciation point: – ‘ed endings’. There are 3 ways to pronounce these depending on the word. However, these endings frequently get mixed up or students will just pick one way of pronouncing it and stick to it. Learn the right way to pronounce these now so you can practice them the right way.

(The ending sound will be either ‘-d’ / ‘-t’ / ‘-id’)

  1. Numbers

This is an interesting area. Although most students know the basics, there are many areas where mistakes are being made very frequently so make sure to double check you are comfortable using all of these: –

  • Dates
  • Decimals
  • Large numbers (100,000+)
  • Telephone numbers
  • Units of measurement (km, mm etc.)

Another thing to consider with numbers is that there are regional differences (mainly between American & British English) to consider.  An example is that in British English we tend to insert ‘and’ or ‘n’ to join up bigger numbers to smaller numbers (e.g. 105 = one hundred and five). What is important is that you are aware of this difference and whichever style you are learning, make sure to stick to it. (No mix and matching!)

  1. He/She

This one is very basic but it gets mistaken often. There are a few reasons why, one of them is that some languages might not have a difference between these words and rely on context for their pronouns. The other reason is that they just sound so similar! Whatever the reason, be careful with this (this warning also applies to “his/her”). Getting this one wrong can be quite embarrassing!

  1. Articles

This area deserves an article all to itself! In English there are some rules that can help (e.g. countries don’t have an article unless it contains common nouns in the name such as ‘united’, ‘islands’ etc). That being said, it can feel like articles are used randomly from noun to noun. What’s important to know is that these can be learned, if you struggle then use a flashcard system like Anki to memorize them and/or consume as much native material as possible to get used to them.

  1. Capitalization

 A simple one, but I do see problems here often, (especially with students who are more used to speaking or watching movies for practice).

Remember! Capitalize the first letter in these situations: –

  • If it’s a proper noun (name, e.g. place, person etc.)
  • If it’s the first word in a sentence
  • When using the pronoun ‘I’

 Noncount nouns

 There are too many to list in this article but make an effort to learn your ‘noncount nouns’. Generally things that we struggle to count will be a noncount and as such cannot have an ‘s’ suffix when pluralized (e.g. water, rice). We have to say things like ‘some water’ or ‘a bit of rice’. Here are some other common noncount nouns used in the right way.

(None of these should have an ‘s’ suffix when in a plural form).

Stuff I have a lot of stuff. Can you help me?
Information That’s a lot of information to understand!
Money Can you lend me some money? I don’t have much right now.
Vocabulary I need to expand my vocabulary, it’s quite small
Music I have so much music in my collection.


 There are also certain problems that arise with students from certain countries that tend to have problems in the same areas. This article, however, looks at common areas that I see with students from ALL backgrounds.  Make sure to double check that you aren’t making any of these mistakes, even if you think you’re getting it right every time, get a teacher or a native speaking friend to check.  So… to recap: –

  1. Make sure you are adding the ‘s’ suffix to plural nouns (also make sure you are pronouncing this sound when reading).
  2. Learn the 3 ways to pronounce the ‘ed’ ending and get it right every time.
  3. Check that you can express numbers in all their different forms, practice, practice, practice!
  4. Use the right pronouns to avoid some embarrassing situations!
  5. Use the right article. When in doubt, ask the Internet.
  6. Use capital letters in the right place to make your writing look more professional.
  7. Learn your noncount nouns!

About the author :

Jonathan is a native English Teacher who has experience teaching abroad (China) and now currently specializes in teaching English online.
As well as teaching, he runs the website English +XP, an online English learning resource.

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

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