Common Errors in English Grammar

‘Used to’ versus ‘Be used to’ versus ‘Get used to’

Some students get confused when using ‘used to’ – ‘be used to’ – and – ‘get used to’.

Used to: When we speak about past habit or past fact, we use, ‘used to’ + infinitive. Many learners of English think that the past simple is the past tense of the present simple. It isn’t.

We use ‘used to + infinitive’, for past habits or general truths and facts. Example:

  • I get up early every day. (Present simple for habitual actions)
  • I used to get up late every day.( Habitual actions in the past).
  • Did you use to live in Manchester?
  • I didn’t use to like coffee. (Now I like it)
  • She didn’t use to go to the gym every day. (Now she goes)

Be used to: When we use ‘to be used to + gerund of the verb’ it means that you are accustomed to something. Example:

  • I am used to getting up at 7 every morning.

It is something I am accustomed to now (in this period of my life). There is no past reference.

  • I am not used to living in the city. All the noise and confusion irritates me.
  • Are you used to driving in the city?

Get used to: ‘to get used to + gerund’ is used different from ‘to be used to’. The ‘get’ means ‘become’. Example:

  • I am getting used to living in the city = I am becoming accustomed to this life.

Often we use to get used to + gerund’ with ‘could’ and ‘cannot’. Example:

  • I can’t get used to working so many hours. I am so tired. (I am finding it impossible to become accustomed to this).
  • I could quite easily get used to doing nothing all day. (This is something that I could find easy to do). Here ‘could’ is used hypothetically.

Countable or Uncountable

  • There is two people in the room. (Incorrect)
  • There are two people in the room. (Correct)

’People’ is a countable noun. It is the irregular plural of ‘person’. In some other languages it is uncountable – hence this common error. It can fool you because it does not have the usual ‘s’ ending, which renders regular nouns plural.

Many learners of English forget it is plural. The noun ‘person’ also has another plural which is regular. That is, ‘persons’, but this is only used in very formal English, such as on formal notices.

  • Your hair is very nice today?
  • Yes, I washed them last night. (Incorrect)
  • Yes, I washed it last night. (Correct)

This is another common error. Some nouns which are ‘uncountable’ in English, are ‘countable’ in other languages, hence this repeated error.

Note: Single hairs become countable. If there are two hairs on your jacket you can say ‘hairs’. The hair on your head is seen as a collective noun.

  • The teacher gave us many homeworks. (Incorrect)
  • The teacher gave us a lot of homework. (Correct)

Homework is another ‘uncountable noun’ so it cannot be made plural.

  • Can I have an information please? (Incorrect)
  • Can I have some information please? (Correct)

Here are some more examples of uncountable nouns which students get wrong.

  • The furnitures in my living room are (Incorrect)
  • The furniture in my living room is (Correct)

We can say a piece of furniture or an item of furniture.

  • Their behaviours are not good. (Incorrect)
  • Their behaviour is not good. (Correct)

Behaviour is uncountable.

  • I am looking for an accommodation. (Incorrect)
  • I am looking for accommodation. (Correct)
  • We bought new camping equipments. (Incorrect)
  • We bought new camping equipment. (Correct)

Again, ‘accommodation’ and ‘equipment’ are both uncountable.

  • Can I have an advice please? (Incorrect)
  • Can I have some advice please? (Correct)

This is another error common to many. We can also say ‘a piece of advice’.

  • The police is looking into the matter. (Incorrect)
  • The police are looking into the matter. (Correct)

The noun ‘police’ is uncountable. To make it countable we must say; A police officer is going to look into the matter (look into = investigate).

  • Internet has given us an easier access to information. (Incorrect)
  • Internet has given us easier access to information. (Correct)

Access is an uncountable noun.

  • My luggages haven’t (Incorrect)
  • My luggage hasn’t (Correct)

The noun ‘luggage’ is the collective name for suitcases and bags. We can also say ‘baggage’, which is a synonym of luggage.

  • The news are (Incorrect)
  • The news is (Correct)

Even though ‘news’ ends in an ‘s’, it is uncountable. We need this ‘s’ because without it, ‘news’ would become ‘new’ which is an adjective.

The following nouns can be countable or uncountable.

  • My family is on holiday. (Correct)
  • My family are on holiday. (Correct)
  • The team is playing well. (Correct)
  • The team are playing well. (Correct)

If the family or the team are seen as individual members, then third person plural of the verb is used. If, on the other hand, the speaker sees them as a group, then third person singular is used.

Too – Too Much – Too Many

  • It is too much big. (Incorrect)
  • It is too big. (Correct)

We use ‘too + adjective’ to mean ‘in excess’ (more than needed).

We use ‘too much’ with ‘uncountable nouns’ and ‘too many’ with ‘countable nouns’ to indicate more than what is necessary/in .excess.

 Fewer versus Less

Use ‘less’ with uncountable nouns and ‘fewer’ with countable nouns.

  • I have fewer money than he has. (Incorrect)
  • I have less money than he has. (Correct)
  • I have less friends than Jill has. (Incorrect)
  • I have fewer friends than Jill has. (Correct)
  • On Sundays there is usually less traffic. (Correct)
  • There are fewer cars (Correct)
  • Nowadays fewer people read books. (Correct)

 Enough + Noun versus Adjective + Enough

  • These shoes are not enough big. (Incorrect)
  • These shoes are not big enough. (Correct)

It is important to remember that ‘enough’ comes ‘before’ the noun but ‘after’ the adjective. Example:

  • I haven’t got enough money to go out. (Correct)
  • He wasn’t old enough to vote. (Correct)

Both- Either- Neither

Person A can’t come and Person B can’t come.

  • Both of them can’t come. (Incorrect)
  • Neither of them can come.
  • Neither A nor B can come.

Letter A didn’t arrive and Letter B didn’t arrive.

  • Both of the letters didn’t arrive. (Incorrect)
  • Neither of the letters arrived.
  • Neither A nor B
  • Neither of the letters arrived.
  • Neither of them arrived.

Note: We do not use ‘both’ for negatives.

Neither means not A and not B.

  • She can neither read or (Incorrect)
  • She can neither read nor
  • He can’t sing or dance. (Incorrect)
  • He can neither sing nor dance.

Here are some examples:

  • Both John and Mark play (John and also Mark)
  • Both of them play (John and Mark)
  • Either John or Mark plays (or John or Mark)
  • Either of them plays (or John or Mark)
  • Neither John nor Mark plays (Not John and not Mark)
  • Neither of them plays (Not John and not Mark)

Reflexive Pronoun Errors

  • I saw me on TV. (Incorrect)
  • I saw myself on TV.
  • On Sunday evenings I relax myself in front of the TV. (Incorrect)
  • On Sunday evenings I relax in front of the TV.
  • I concentrate myself when I am working. (Incorrect)
  • I concentrate when I am working.

Reflexive pronouns: When the subject and the object of the verb are the same. We use reflexive pronouns. We cannot use reflexive pronouns with the verbs like ‘relax’, ‘concentrate’ etc.

Each Other versus One Another

  • We phone ourselves every day. (Incorrect)
  • We phone each other every day.

We phone ourselves is incorrect because it means that person A phones person A. We phone each other every day means: Person A phones person B every day and Person B phones person A every day. These two sentences become one.

  • They phone each other every day.

We use ‘one another’ to speak about the relationship between two or more people and two or more groups. ‘Each other’, on the other hand, is only used between two people or two groups. Example:

  • They love each other. A loves B and B loves A.

They love one another. A loves B and B loves A but it also refers to more than two people. It depends on the context. A loves B and C and D etc, and the love is reciprocal between them all.

A good example comes from one of the Ten Commandments, which says; Love one another = every person should love every other person.

‘Love each other’, only refers to two people or two groups, although nowadays it seems that people are beginning to use them interchangeably, resulting in breaking all the grammar rules. I, personally, would never use ‘each other’ for more than two people or two groups.

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