Common Writing Mistakes For ESL English as a Second Language Learners
There are many different mistakes that can be made when writing in English either as a native English speaker and even more so by English as a Second Language(ESL) students. This lesson discusses the common writing mistakes when writing in English.
Read over each of the mistakes, examples and corrections. Try to write a few mistakes on your own and then correct them as well. You can ask a teacher for help as well by filling out the form here.
Incorrect Use of Articles
The articles that are made while writing in English are with the definite “the” and the indefinite articles “a” and “an”. Knowing when to use either of the three is fairly easy once you know the following rules.
- Use the indefinite articles a and an during the first time that the noun is presented in a sentence. This is with anything that is not known to the writer and the reader. Examples: Jenny would like a dog. Tommy wants an apple.
- Use the definite article the when writing about an that has already been discussed or an object known to the writer and the reader. Examples: Jenny saw the dog you pointed out. Tommy ate the apple sitting on the table.
- When using a and an look to see if the noun is countable or uncountable. Uncountable nouns do not use indefinite articles since they are only used in singular form. Incorrect Example: I would like a ice. Countable nouns use a definite article if they are in singular form. Example: She ate an apple pie and a pizza.
- In most cases a is used with words that start with a consonant and an is used with words that start with a vowel. However, the rule is a starts with any word that has a consonant sound and an is used with any word that has a vowel sound. Examples: I waited an hour yesterday. She saw a movie and ate a box of popcorn.
- Do not use a definite or indefinite article when speaking about things in general. Examples: We eat rice before every meal. We ate the rice on the table. I would like a bowl of rice. Watching movies is fun. We watch a movie every weekend. I saw the new movie.
There are other rules for using a, an and the. These are the most general rules that will prevent you from making this common mistake.
Wrong Verb Tense and Incorrectly Switching Tenses
Many ESL students have problems using the proper verb tense when speaking. Typically they make the same errors when writing as well. Native speakers are also known to make errors with tenses due to text messaging and dumbing down of their use of English. The rules for understanding all of the different tenses and when to use them can be found here. Review those to ensure that you are using the proper tenses. For this lesson here are a few examples and their corrections. Incorrect: Tommy eat the pizza yesterday. Correct: Tommy ate the pizza yesterday. Incorrect: I will walked to school today. Correct: I will walk to school today.
Switching tenses is very confusing for the reader and another common mistake made when writing in English. The writer switches between present, past and future tenses within the sentence. An exception to this is when a time change must be shown. Follow these rules to avoid switching tenses when writing in English:
- Before you begin writing establish one primary tense that you are going to use throughout what your writing. There will be times where you switch tenses, but having an established tense will help you to avoid switching tenses when it is not necessary.
- Try to use only one tense per paragraph. There are exceptions to this but think about this when writing.
- Change tenses in a sentence only when it is necessary and when the reader is able to understand why. Examples: They will work on the project but have stopped for now. She decided it is best to study all night for the test. Incorrect Examples: Jimmy worked and walk home when he was finished. I sat on the bed and talk to Donna about life last night.
Not Capitalizing and Improper Capitalization
Understanding when to capitalize a word can be confusing for both native and non native English writers. There are many different rules to follow but there are a common mistakes. Some of the most common capitalization mistakes are not capitalizing proper nouns, days of the week and I. Here are a few basic rules to improve your writing:
- Always capitalize I. There are no exceptions. Example: She knew that I would forget her birthday.
- The first word in every sentence should be capitalized. Example: Work hard and you will be successful.
- Do not capitalize common nouns. Incorrect Example: Pick up the Dog Food at the Market. Correct Example: Pick up the dog food at the market.
- Capitalize proper nouns such as names of people, countries and companies. You can see a full list of proper nouns here. Examples: I saw John at McDonalds drinking a hamburger and drinking Coke.
Out of all the rules the one to concentrate on is with proper nouns. Review the various proper nouns to understand when to capitalize them.
Using First Person in Academic and Formal English
In formal and academic writing you should avoid using I. Avoid using me, mine and other words that lead to a biased point of view and sound informal. What should be used instead is the third person. Incorrect Example: I believe that Einstein is the greatest mind of all time. Correct Example: It is believed by many that Einstein is the greatest mind of all time.
For Native English writers possession is a common writing mistake. You can take a look at the full list of rules here. The most common mistakes occur when showing possession of a plural noun. Here are a few rules:
- For plural nouns add an apostrophe at the end of the word. Example: My Uncles’ father is my grandfather.
- For a singular noun add an apostrophe and the letter “s”. His dog’s toy was outside.