10 Common Mistakes ESL Students Make


Ever stumbled over tricky English grammar? You’re not alone! This article dives into common mistakes in English, guiding readers through persistent grammatical hurdles. It’s not just beginners; even advanced learners face these challenges.

Demystifying these issues is crucial for smoothing your path to English mastery. So, without any further ado, let’s see what made it to our list of 10 common mistakes ESL students make!

1. Wrong Word Order for Questions

In English, asking questions usually involves changing the order of words. This can sometimes confuse ESL students, who are still learning the language.

For example, most commonly one uses words who, what, where, when, why, or how when asking a question. After the question word, use an auxiliary verb such as do, does, did, is, are, was, etc. The subject of the sentence (he, she, it, they, etc.) should follow the auxiliary verb. Then, place the main verb after the subject, which is usually in its base form.


  • Incorrect: You are going to the store?
  • Correct: Are you going to the store?

Knowing the correct word order for questions is important to ensure the question makes sense.

2. Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is a fundamental rule in English grammar, often disregarded by ESL students. It means the subject (who or what the sentence is about) must agree in number with the verb (the action or state of being). This rule ensures that if the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb must also be singular, and vice-versa.

Verbs typically end with -s or -es when the subject is singular; however, when dealing with plural subjects, this suffix is not used, as in “they walk” or “they watch.”


  • Incorrect: He speak loud and make a lot of noise.
    Correct: He speaks loud and makes a lot of noise.

This rule is crucial for clear and correct English sentences, and mastering it is vital for effective communication. Understanding and consistently applying the rule of subject-verb agreement helps in crafting grammatically correct and easily understandable sentences.

3. Misuse of Articles

Another common grammar mistake in English ESL students struggle with is the correct use of articles. “A” and “an” are indefinite articles used when referring to something for the first time, or to a general item rather than a specific one.

The choice between “a” and “an” depends on the sound that follows: “a” is used before words that begin with a consonant sound, while “an” is used before words that begin with a vowel sound. For example, “a dog” and “an apple.” On the other hand, “the” is a definite article, used to refer to specific items that are already known to the listener or are unique, such as “the sun”.


  • Incorrect: I saw the cat in garden.
  • Correct: I saw a cat in the garden.

The first sentence is incorrect because “the” suggests a specific cat known to the listener, but “garden” is missing an article. The second sentence correctly uses “a” as an indefinite article, indicating that the speaker saw any cat, not a specific one, and “the” has been used to modify “garden”.

4. Countable/Uncountable Mixups

As an ESL student, it’s important to know the distinction between countable and uncountable nouns, and how they interact with articles, quantifiers, and verbs. Countable nouns refer to objects or concepts that can be counted. They have both singular and plural forms.

For example, “apple” can become “apples” to indicate more than one. Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, cannot be counted individually. They often refer to substances, concepts, or collective categories like “water,” “advice,” or “furniture.”


Countable nouns

  • Incorrect: I need new chair for my house.
  • Correct: I need new chairs for my house.

Uncountable nouns

  • Incorrect: You can find informations available online.
  • Correct: You can find much information available online.

These examples show common mistakes in treating uncountable nouns as countable, highlighting the necessity for learners to recognize and apply the rules of countability in English grammar for clear and correct communication

5. Incorrect Plural Nouns


Proper pluralization in English is vital for clear communication in all areas where English is spoken. It helps listeners understand whether we’re discussing one item or several. Incorrect pluralization can cause confusion.

For instance, saying “I have five apple” instead of “I have five apples” can mess up the message. Moreover, in professional settings, accurate pluralization affects credibility, especially in fields where precision is crucial.


  • Incorrect: Oh my god! There are a lot of childs in the park.
  • Correct: Oh my god! There are a lot of children in the park.

These examples show how understanding the correct plural forms of nouns is crucial for accurate English communication, as many nouns have irregular plural forms.

6. Wrong Preposition

Choosing the right preposition in English is key to accurately conveying relationships between elements in a sentence, another component that ESL students have difficulties with.

Prepositions like “at,” “in,” “on,” and “by” illustrate different types of relationships, such as location, time, and method. To use them correctly, consider the context: “at” indicates specific points (at 3 PM, at the station), “in” is used for enclosed spaces or periods (in the room, in June), “on” denotes surfaces or specific days (on the table, on Monday), and “by” shows a method or proximity (by car, by the river).


  • Incorrect: We will meet on 3 PM.
  • Correct: We will meet at 3 PM.
  • Incorrect: She is waiting in the bus stop.
  • Correct: She is waiting at the bus stop.

Understanding these nuances ensures clear and precise communication, as each preposition provides distinct information about how things are related or interact.

7. Irregular Verbs

ESL students often struggle with irregular verbs because these verbs don’t follow the predictable patterns of regular verbs.

While regular verbs form their past tense and past participle by simply adding -ed to the base form, irregular verbs change in various and unique ways. These verbs require memorization of their different forms for correct usage. For instance, “go” becomes “went” and “gone,” and “write” becomes “wrote” and “written.”


  • Incorrect: He writted an amazing story.
  • Correct: He wrote an amazing story.
  • Incorrect: She has drove* this car for years.
  • Correct: She has driven this car for years.

Here is the catch! There are no easy formulas or consistent rules governing these changes, so students often have to rely on practice and exposure to learn them.

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8. Misusing Adverbs and Adjectives


Adjectives and adverbs are essential parts of speech in English, serving distinct functions, but they can often be tricky for ESL students. To avoid such confusion, a clear distinction is needed.

Adjectives describe nouns, like “big house” or “happy dog.” They tell us more about things (nouns). Adverbs, however, describe verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, often ending in “-ly.” They tell us how something is done, like “smiled happily”, “sang passionately”.

ESL students struggle because some words can be both adjectives and adverbs, like “fast” in “fast runner” (adjective) and “runs fast” (adverb), and because the same idea can be expressed differently in their native language.



  • Incorrect: The quickly rabbit jumped over the fence.
  • Correct: The rabbit jumped over the fence quickly.


  • Incorrect: The rabbit ran quick over the fence.
  • Correct: The quick rabbit jumped over the fence.

These examples show how adjectives and adverbs need to be used in the right context: adjectives for describing nouns and adverbs for modifying verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.

9. Present Perfect

The present perfect tense in English can be hard for ESL students because it’s different from tenses in other languages. It’s used to talk about past actions that are important now, but this concept is often new to learners.

They might mix it up with the simple past tense, which just talks about the past. The challenge is knowing when to show that a past action still matters now, without saying when it happened. Understanding this helps ESL students express themselves better in English, especially about past experiences or ongoing actions.


  • Incorrect: She has visited Paris last year.
  • Correct: She has visited Paris three times.

These examples show the importance of using the present perfect tense correctly to indicate past actions that have present relevance, without specifying the exact time of occurrence. That’s what the simple past tense is for.

10. Which/That

“Which” and “that” are also often confused in English by ESL students, but they have distinct uses. “That” is used in sentences where the information is essential to the meaning. Without “that,” the sentence’s meaning would change. For example, “The book that I lost was a gift” implies the specific book is important.

“Which” is used for adding extra information that could be left out and not affect the meaning. It’s often set off with commas, like in “The book, which was a gift, is on the table.” Here, the fact it was a gift is just additional detail. Understanding this difference helps in making sentences clear and accurate.



  • Incorrect: The library that is on Main Street is open late.
  • Correct: The library, which is on Main Street, is open late.


  • Incorrect: The painting which hangs in the living room is my favorite.
  • Correct: The painting that hangs in the living room is my favorite.

These examples demonstrate how “that” is used for essential information, while “which” is used for additional, non-essential details in a sentence.

The Bottom Line

Learning English is not easy as there are many grammatical rules to look out for. From wrong order for questions to the misuse of certain word classes, ESL students should constantly try avoiding these common mistakes and seek improvement.

Being aware of these areas of difficulty and actively working to correct mistakes through ongoing practice and exposure to the language is essential for improving English proficiency and effective communication.


What is the most common mistake people make while speaking English?

There are many. However, one of the most common mistakes people make while speaking English is incorrect subject-verb agreement, where the verb does not correctly match the subject in number or tense.

What is a common mistake in English nouns?

A common mistake in English nouns is improper pluralization, especially confusing the rules for regular and irregular nouns, leading to errors in forming plural forms.


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