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English Mistakes That Speakers Make

Think native speakers are always right? Think again.

Native English speakers don’t make mistakes, do they? 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.

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.

There, their, they’re

These are homophones: words which sound the same but are spelt 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.

Fewer and less

This 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.’

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’.

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.

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).

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’.

Could of and could have

This is another mistake 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.’


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