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Common Writing Mistakes

5 Top Common Writing Mistakes of English Learners

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I've been guide to English as a Second Language at About.com since 1997. Over the years, I've read many comments, short essays, paragraphs, etc. in a wide variety of online forums. During this time, I've noticed some mistakes that tend to be made by almost all English learners - and some native speakers - at some time or another. Most of these mistakes can be easily avoided. It is my hope that this article will help you identify these mistakes, and provide the information you need to stop you making these mistakes writing online.

1. Use of Indefinite / Definite Articles (the, a, an)

Knowing when to use definite or indefinite articles can be difficult. Here are some of the most important rules to remember when using definite and indefinite articles.

  • Indefinite articles are used (a, an) the first time something is presented in a sentence.
  • Use indefinite articles with anything that is not specifically known to BOTH the writer and the reader.
  • Related to the first two: Use a definite article when referring to something that has already been mentioned.
  • Conversely, Use a definite article (the) when referring to an object which is known to both the writer and the reader.
  • Use no definite or indefinite article (nothing, in other words) when speaking in general using a plural with a countable noun, or the singular with a uncountable noun.

Here are five examples of these mistakes, in order, for each type listed above.

I live in the apartment, close to the supermarket.
I'd like to go to the good restaurant.
I stayed in the hotel near the park. The hotel was very nice, and a park had some wonderful paths.
Remember a presentation we went to last week?
The apples are generally very tasty in season.

Here are the sentences corrected:

I live in an apartment, close to a supermarket. (Note that I know the apartment and supermarket, but you, the listener / reader, do not.)
I'd like to go to a good restaurant.
I stayed in a hotel near a park. The hotel was very nice, and the park had some wonderful paths.
Remember the presentation we went to last week?
Apples are generally very tasty in season.

2. Capitalize 'I' and National Adjectives / Nouns / Names of Languages and the First Word of a New Sentence

The rules of capitalization in English are confusing. However, the most common capitalization mistakes that are occur are with national adjectives, nouns and names of languages. Remember these rules to help you avoid this type of capitalization mistake.

 

  • Capitalize 'I'
  • Capitalize nations, national nouns and adjectives - French, Russian, English, Italy, Canadian, etc.
  • Capitalize the first letter of the first word in a new sentence or question
  • Do NOT capitalize common nouns, nouns are only capitalized if they are the name of something
  • Capitalize proper names of people, institutions, festivals, etc.

 

Here is an example that applies to the last two points.

I go to university. (common noun -> university)
BUT
I go to the University of Texas. (noun used as proper name)

Here are five examples, in order, for each type of mistake listed above.

Jack comes from Ireland, but i come from the US.
I don't speak chinese, but I speak a little french.
where do you come from?
He bought a new Bicycle for his birthday.
Let's visit maria this afternoon.

Here are the sentences corrected:

Jack comes from Ireland, but I come from the US.
I don't speak Chinese, but I speak a little French.
Where do you come from?
He bought a new bicycle for his birthday.
Let's visit Maria this afternoon.

3. Slang and Texting Language

Many English learners, especially young English learners like to use slang and texting language online. The idea behind this is good: learners want to show that they understand and can use idiomatic language. However, using this sort of idiomatic language can lead to many mistakes. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to no use texting language or slang in a blog post, comment or other online written communication. Texting is fine if you are texting, otherwise it should not be used. Any type of longer written communication should not use slang. Slang is used in spoken English, not in written communication.

4. Use of Punctuation

English learners sometimes have problems when placing punctuation marks. I often receive e-mails, and see posts in which there are no spaces before or after punctuation marks. The rule is simple: Place a punctuation mark (.,:;!?) immediately after the last letter of a word followed by a space.

Here are some examples:

They visited Paris,London,Berlin and New York. I'd like to have some pasta , and a steak .

Simple mistake, simple correction!

They visited Paris, London, Berlin and New York. I'd like to have some pasta, and a steak.

5. Common Mistakes in English

I admit this is actually more than one mistake. However, there are a number of common mistakes made in English. Make sure to visit the common mistakes in English section of the site for more detailed information. Here are the top three common mistakes in English that are often found in writing.

 

  • It's or Its - It's = it is / Its = possessive form. Remember when you see an apostrophe (') there is a missing verb!
  • Then or Than - 'Than' is used in the comparative form (It's bigger than my house!) 'Then' is used as a time expression (First you do this. Then you do that.)
  • Good or Well - 'Good' is the adjective form (That's a good story!) 'Well' is the adverb form (He plays tennis well.)

 

Here are six examples, two for each in order, for each type of mistake listed above.

He attributed his success to it's appeal to children.
I think its time to discuss this question in more detail.
The government decided it would cost more money to change policy then to leave current law stand.
She can first finish her homework, than go to practice.
How good do you speak German?
I think he's well public speaker.

Here are the sentences corrected:

He attributed his success to its appeal to children.
I think it's time to discuss this question in more detail.
The government decided it would cost more money to change policy than to leave current law stand.
She can first finish her homework, then go to practice.
How well do you speak German?
I think he's good public speaker.

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