English Corner – Five English Mistakes That Can Be Easily Fixed

New students of the English language are destined to make mistakes when practicing their skills and abilities in building up their proficiency. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes but I’d like to share the five most common mistakes that are easily fixable given my experience in teaching English as a Second Language. Instead of letting these mistakes continue unabated, it’s important for teachers such as myself to correct our students right away so as to not let these small mistakes become bad habits. When you have a small error, usually grammatical in nature, it’s necessary for the teacher to use his or her expertise to correct the student right away and show them the difference between the right approach and the wrong approach to the mistake.

You should always be correcting the student politely and then showing them where exactly did they go wrong, and how they can avoid the same mistake again. Hopefully, English as a foreign language student will be able to avoid some of these five mistakes but I would say that it is quite likely that they will commit one or two of these five errors. Luckily, these mistakes are easy to fix and once you do, the student can move on to more intermediate and advanced challenges.

            1.) Neglecting both indefinite and definite articles: Some non-native speakers of English have a bad habit of leaving out the ‘a’, ‘the’, or ‘an’ at the beginning of their sentences. They may state their sentence as being “Economy performed very well.” While it’s easy to understand the sentiment of the sentence and the meaning will come across to the native speaker, it won’t be grammatically correct. It’s always necessary to put a definite article like ‘the’ before the word ‘economy’ in order for it to sound like a sentence that a native speaker would put together. “The economy performed very well,” should be the sentence that the foreign learner of English must use to be grammatically correct and fully understood.

This is an easy mistake to correct but if left unchecked, the non-native speaker will forget many times to add ‘a’, ‘an’, or ‘the’ at the beginning of their spoken or written sentences. For ESL teachers, this is a key mistake that students will make especially from language backgrounds where ‘definite and indefinite articles’ are not used. Another example of an indefinite article not being used is a sentence like “I have cat.” While we know that person has a cat, there is the key ‘a’ word missing to make it grammatically correct. The student should then be correct for the sentence to be “I have a cat.” While these are not major mistakes, by showing your students the correct structure, you will be doing them a big favor and helping them to become better English learners.

            2.) Mixing up singular and plural noun usage: Another slight mistake that ESL students make as beginners is to mix up singular and plural nouns. Knowing when and when not to use the ‘s’ at the end of nouns is key to having a grammatically correct sentence. It should be made clear that the letter ‘s’ should only be added to the end of a noun when there are more than one item, place, or thing being referenced. The key difference from one example would be ‘You eat one cookie’ and then ‘You eat two cookies’, with ‘s’ only being added to the noun ‘cookie’ when there is more than one being referenced.

You can also use ‘many, a few, a lot of’ before the noun ‘cookies.’ Countable and uncountable nouns go hand in hand with singular and plural nouns as grammatical concepts. ‘Countable’ nouns are usually plural meaning referencing more than one in number while ‘Uncountable’ nouns are usually singular in nature and can’t reference multiple persons, places, and things. Being able to use singular and plural nouns in written and/or spoken sentences is key because it will come up very often. If you make a small mistake with this concept of mixing up their usage, it should be corrected as soon as possible in order to not become another bad habit.

            3.) Forgetting to use prepositions and conjunctions: Before you can speak and write with some authority, you will need to study, use, and memorize the correct prepositions and conjunctions. Oftentimes, ESL students can forget the need for prepositions, conjunctions in a regular sentence but that will mean your sentence won’t be grammatically correct. A sentence like this one as an example would not work without prepositions or conjunctions. “He left me didn’t return I was not afraid I knew he would be back.” There are four prepositions and conjunctions missing from that example sentence and it can still work as a sentence, but it is fundamentally incomplete and would raise some eyebrows from native English speakers.

These are small errors but would hurt your ability to be understood or seen as an intermediate or advanced English learner. In order to change this example for the better, we need to make the sentence have both prepositions and conjunctions. “He left me and didn’t return but I was not afraid because I knew he would be back.” These two grammatical functions add a lot of substance to your sentence and makes it flow that much better. If you leave these conjunctions and prepositions out of your sentences, it will hurt your proficiency and you won’t be able to correct these particular mistakes.

            4.) Changing the order of the sentence from (Subject – Verb – Object): Spoken and written sentences in English have a strict order in terms of formation like any other language. While other languages could be ‘subject – object – verb’ or ‘verb – subject – object’ in official syntax, English, as a language, follows the strict format of ‘subject – verb – object’ at all times especially if you’re looking to form a complete sentence. You can form sentences in English in another order and you may be understood by a native speaker, but it won’t be grammatically correct, and you will be creating yet another bad habit that can be easily corrected. Every language has a basic structure and it needs to be observed at all times. You can’t cut around the edges in terms of the sentence structure or it will stand out as a huge error.

Basic sentence order should be memorized when you are first studying a foreign language and that includes English. A wrong sentence in terms of basic order would look like this as an example: “Store goes to the he.” You have the ‘object’ at the beginning which is wrong, the verb in the middle which is correct, yet the subject is at the end of this example sentence when it should be at the beginning. The sentence order is completely wrong here, but it is easily fixable in the following manner: “He goes to the store.” SVO or ‘Subject – Verb – Order’ is a clear and concise grammar rule that is fundamental in order to master the basic sentence structure instrumental in creating good sentences. A basic mistake like changing the order of a sentence form unnecessarily can be fixed quite easily. subject (he), verb (goes to), and object (the store). You just have to switch the order around a bit if it is incorrect and then you’ll be ready to move on to the next sentence while keeping the right order.

            5.) Capitalizing the wrong words in a sentence: Let’s remember that correct capitalization can be quite easy to do but it remains as a difficulty for many English as a second language students to master due to how, when, and where to capitalize words. It’s not a huge mistake so students may commit the error thinking that it’s not a big deal, yet correct capitalization can set you apart in terms of your writing proficiency from other learners. To neglect the basic rules of capitalization sets you up for bigger and more costly grammar mistakes. If you are able to take care of the basics and capitalize words throughout the sentence, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a great English learner. An example of poor capitalization in a sentence would be as follows: “i Went to the grand canyon and it was Fun.” There are a few errors here that should stand out to you and are easily fixable, but a few students may choose to not revise the errors and leave the sentence wrongly capitalized. The key fixes are easy to implement for this sentence and would like the following revised sentence: “I went to the Grand Canyon, and it was fun.”

The changes I made include ‘I’ as capitalized, ‘went’ as not being capitalized, ‘Grand Canyon’ as being capitalized, and ‘fun’ as not being capitalized. In keeping with the basic rules of capitalization, proper nouns (Grand Canyon) should be capitalized, as well as the first word in any sentence, ‘I’ in this case, and to recall that ‘went’ as a verb should not be capitalized along with an adjective such as ‘fun’ when it comes at the end of the sentence. Conjunctions, or a preposition such as ‘and’ should also never be capitalized in a regular sentence.

Taking the time to take care of capitalization errors will put you ahead and establish your English language proficiency as improving by fixing your mistakes. If you have the time to write, speak, and use the English language, you should also use that time to revise, fix, and correct your errors to become a better student and a better learner.

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If you are interested in taking a private English lesson, check out my teachers page here where you can learn with me in a one-on-one hour session: Learn English with Ben

Lastly, please check out my Udemy courses on ‘Beginner Grammar’, ‘Intermediate Grammar’, and ‘Advanced Grammar’ here: My Udemy Courses

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English Corner – The Rules of Capitalization

Understanding the rules of capitalization is a key part of taking your English grammar understanding to a very advanced level. If you are able to know when, where, and how to capitalize letters and words correctly, you will definitely be ahead of most other English learners.

Some people may tell you that there are far more than just the main ten rules of capitalization in English, which may in fact be true. Other folks may say that there are only three rules of capitalization, and they may also be correct. However, The truth is that, depending on how you organize the rules, the rules of capitalization may be many or few based on how narrow or broad your definition of these rules are.

Most of the things we capitalize in English are what we refer to as ‘proper nouns.’ They are the names of specific and unique things.

  • If you are talking about one specific mountain (Mt. Fuji), state (Idaho) or street (Atlantic Avenue), use a capital letter for every word in the name.
  • However, when you are talking about a common thing of which there are many of them- like a mountain, a state or a street – you don’t have to use a capital letter for those words.

It’s important to remember as well that Capital letters are not used for articles (a, an, the) or for prepositions (of, on, for, in, to, with, etc.).

The Ten Main Rules

  1. Names or titles of people

This one may seem obvious, but there’s also a catch. Of course, you capitalize the first letters of a person’s first, middle and last names (John Quincy Adams), but you also capitalize suffixes (Jr., the Great, Princess of Power, etc.) and titles.

Titles can be as simple as Mr., Mrs. or Dr., but they also apply to situations wherein you address a person by his or her position as though it’s their first name. For example, when we talk about President Lincoln, we are using his role as though it were a part of his name. We don’t always capitalize the word president. Indeed, we could say, “During the Civil War, President Lincoln was the president of the United States.”

Another way to look at capitalizing job titles is to look at the position of the job title in the sentence in reference to the person’s name.

  • You should capitalize the title when it comes immediately before or after someone’s name.
  • You don’t have to capitalize the job title if it comes after the word “the.”

For example:  “Dr. Rogers was the Cardiac Surgeon.” “The cardiac surgeon allowed me to come into the room and observe the patient.”

  1. Names of mountains, mountain ranges, hills and volcanoes

Again, we’re talking about specific places. The word ‘hill’ is not a proper noun, but Bunker Hill is because it’s the name of one specific hill. Use a capital letter to begin each word in the name of a mountain (Mt. Olympus), mountain range (the Appalachians), hill (San Juan Hill) or volcano (Mt. Vesuvius).

  1. Names of bodies of water (rivers, lakes, oceans, seas, streams and creeks)

From here, it gets pretty easy. The same rules that apply to mountain names also apply to water names. A river is just a river, but the Mississippi River is a proper noun and must be capitalized, just like Lake Erie, the Indian Ocean and the Dead Sea.

  1. Names of buildings, monuments, bridges and tunnels

Man-made structures also often have names. The White House, The Eiffel Tower, The Statue of Liberty, The Golden Gate Bridge and The Lincoln Tunnel are a few good examples.

  1. Street names

It’s necessary to capitalize both the actual name part of the name (Capital) and the road part of the name (Boulevard); both are necessary for forming the entire name of the street (Capital Boulevard).

  1. Schools, colleges and universities

All of the words in the name of the educational institution should be capitalized. For example, Harvard University, Wilkesboro Elementary School, Cape Fear Community College.

  1. Political divisions (continents, regions, countries, states, counties, cities and towns)

As is the case with regions of a country, the divisions may not always be political, but you get the idea. When you refer to New England, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest or the South as a region (as opposed to a compass direction), you capitalize it. Also, continents (South America), countries (Belgium), states (Wisconsin), counties (Prince William County), cities (London) and towns (Lizard Lick) get capitalized.

  1. Titles of books, movies, magazines, newspapers, articles, songs, plays and works of art

This one’s a little tricky when ‘and,’ articles or prepositions are involved. If ‘the’ is the first word in the given name of a work, it must be capitalized (The Washington PostThe Glass Menagerie). If ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the first word, it too is capitalized (A Few Good Men), and if a preposition leads the way, you guessed it: Capitalized (Of Mice and Men). However, if any of these words come in the middle of the title, it is not capitalized.

  1. The first letter in a sentence

The last two rules are easy. Always capitalize the first letter of a sentence. If the sentence is a quotation within a larger sentence, capitalize it, but only if it’s a complete sentence. If it’s merely a phrase that fits neatly into the larger sentence, it does not require capitalization. Study the following two examples for clarification:

  • The waiter said, “My manager will be here shortly,” but he never came.
  • The waiter told us that his manager would “be here shortly,” but he never came.
  1. The pronoun ‘I’

It’s only necessary to capitalize other pronouns when they begin a sentence, but ‘I’ is always capitalized.

Remembering the Rules

How can you possibly remember all these rules? Well, first of all, you should ask yourself three questions:

  • Is this the first letter in a sentence? If the answer is yes, capitalize.
  • Is this the pronoun I? If yes, capitalize.
  • Am I using a name that someone gave to this thing or person? If yes, capitalize.

And if you want to remember all the specific categories, try memorizing one of the following sentences.

  • “For Bob Barker, the price is wrong sometimes,” Adam says.
  • Susan Sarandon bought my wife fancy toilet paper in Boston.

The first letter of each word stands for a category:

  • F– First letter in a sentence
  • B– Buildings (and other man-made structures)
  • B– Borders (of regions, states, countries, etc.)
  • T– Titles
  • P– People
  • I– I
  • S– Schools
  • W– Water
  • M– Mountains
  • S– Streets

Other Examples of Capitalization

First Word of a Sentence

The cat is sleeping in my bedroom.

Where did I put that book?

Hey! It’s great to see you! How have you been?

Names and Personal Pronouns

My favorite author is Jonathan Franzen.

Tom and Diane met at Jill’s house.

Have you met my dog, Barry?

The First Word of a Full Quote

Mario asked, “What is everyone doing this weekend?”

Stacy answered, “My sister and I are going to the theme park.”

Days, Months, and Holidays

I hate Mondays!

Harry’s birthday is in July.

Oh no! I forgot about Mother’s Day!

Words in Formal Titles

Lord of Rings is better than A Song of Ice and Fire.

The first movie of the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Cities, Countries, Nationalities, and Languages

English is made up of many languages, including Latin, German, and French.

My mother is Italian, and my father is German.

The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa.

Time Periods and Events

Most of the World War I veterans have now passed away.

In the Middle Ages, poor hygiene was partly responsible for the spreading of the black death.

High school history students often enjoy studying the social changes that took place during the Roaring Twenties in the United States.

In this article, it is not just the ten main rules of capitalization that we have to be aware of. There are many other additional rules where you can use capitalization on a consistent basis. The examples shown above should help you, the reader, to understand when and where these words can be capitalized and to notice a pattern in terms of how these rules can be applied. 

Overall, capitalization is a very tricky topic to fully master but if you know the rules and you know when not to capitalize at all just for definite / indefinite articles along with prepositions, you will be well on your way to having a handle on this advanced grammar topic. It’s important to not be overwhelmed by all of the rules out there including the additional ones that were highlighted here. Starting off with the ten main rules of capitalization is a sufficient enough starting point to focus on. With Capitalization, you do not want to bite off more than you can chew and while the ‘additional rules’ of this grammar topic are important, it’s best to focus on the main rules such as geographic features, names of people / titles, the first letter in any sentence, etc. Good luck!