3 mistakes that ruin your sentences

Native speakers are not perfect speakers.

Their speech is often unclear and their grammar can be sloppy. However, there are mistakes which they don’t make, and if you make them, you will sound like an English student, not the fluent English speaker you would like to sound like.  

If you want to immediately sound better when speaking English, you need to avoid the following mistakes:

1. Not using a SUBJECT
2.
Using the wrong SUFFIX
3.
Forgetting to use the letter ‘S’

charlie-brown

‘Charlie Brown’ by CHARLES SCHULTZ

1. Not using a SUBJECT

Every English Sentence must have a SUBJECT. It must also have a verb. Think of the subject and verb as best friends who always need each other. Do you always include a subject or do you write things like:

In Spain have a lot of beautiful beaches.”

Have a lot of beautiful beaches in Spain.”

Where is the subject?In Spain is an adverb because it tells you where the beautiful beaches are. Q. Where are beautiful beaches?  A. In Spain.

Look carefully at those two words: In Spain. In is a preposition. Spain is a noun. Preposition + noun = adverb.

An adverb is not a subject! A subject is a noun: something or someone. Remember that a noun can be replaced by a pronoun: I, he, she, it, we,  they, this, that, these, those, etc.

A subject is a noun or pronoun. (A noun can be more than one word. It can be a noun phrase or a noun clause. Let’s keep it simple for now and just look at one-word nouns.)

Spain has a lot of beautiful beaches.
  It      has a lot of beautiful beaches.

If you want to start a sentence with an adverb, that’s okay. Just make sure you use a subject before the verb:

In Spain, we have a lot of beautiful beaches.
In Spain, there are a lot of beautiful beaches. OR
There are a lot of beautiful beaches in Spain.

* We can use ‘There’ as a ‘dummy’ subject. We can also use ‘it’ as a dummy subject:

There he is!
It‘s cold.
It was a dark and stormy night.

* Imperative sentences do not need a written or spoken subject. The subject is always understood as you. For example:

Think of the subject and verb as best friends. = (You) think of the subject and verb as best friends.

Look at the cartoon below. = (You) look at the cartoon below.

Don’t give up! = (You) don’t give up!

snoopydarkstormy


2. Using the wrong SUFFIX

I constantly see writing mistakes that could be avoided if English students remembered a few basic suffixes. Suffixes are the letters we place at the end of a word to change it from, for example,  a verb to a noun , or a noun to an adjective. Students know the meanings of words but use the wrong form. This really messes up their sentences. For example:

Don’t listen to rudely people and your life will be more peace.
Correction:
Don’t listen to rude people and your life will be more peaceful.

My homestay mother is very kindness.
Correction:
My homestay mother is very kind.

According to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 2nd edition

“Words often come in families. You can expand your vocabulary by becoming familiar with these word families and this can also enable you to become a more fluent speaker and writer of English. If you know all the possible words within a word family, you can express yourself in a wider range of ways.” .

Suffixes are very useful! Think of a verb you know and see how you can change it with suffixes:

verb:   (to) argue                            verb: (to) sleep

nounargument                              noun: sleep, sleeplessness

adjectiveargumentative             adjective: sleepless, sleepy

                                                               adverb: sleepily

You don’t learn just one word whenever you learn new vocabulary. If you know a few common suffixes, you learn four or five or more words. You learn a Word Family. Isn’t that good news!  The suffixes I have added above to the verbs argue and  sleep are very common and don’t take long to learn. Let’s see how many suffixes we can add to the following nouns: 

charlie-brown-imagesm4x6

charlie-brown-imagesm4x6

noun: peace 

adjective: peaceful

adverb: peacefully

noun: critic, criticism

verb: criticize

adjective: critical

adverb: critically

Click here for examples of common word suffixes ment, and ion, used in vocabulary which you need to know if you are studying for the TOEIC Test.

Click here for Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary for an extensive list of common words and other words in the same family. Suffixes and prefixes are included.

TIP: When you learn a new word, check the meaning in http://learnersdictionary.com/. Then, check the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary for the word family.


3. Forgetting to use the letter ‘S’

There are four  important ways we use the letter ‘S‘.

1.  ‘S’ Plural     

2.  ‘S’ Contraction

3.  ‘S’ Possessive       

4.  ‘S’ 3rd person singular

1. ♠ ‘S’ PLURAL

In English, we put an ‘S’ at the end of a noun to show that there are more than one: one night, two nights; one dog, two dogs; one student, two students.

Sometimes the spelling changes: one life, two lives; one family, two families, one beach, two beaches.

one-fish-two-fish

 ∗ We have a small group of nouns that do not use plural ‘S’, including: one child, two children; one man, two men; one woman, two women; one fish, two fish; one sheep, two sheep.

Plural ‘S’ is important for meaning and for grammar because when the noun is the subject in a sentence, the verb must agree:

One fish is yellow. Two fish are green.

The student has a new teacher. The students have a new teacher.

∗ Common mistakes:

Most of student is going to the graduation ceremony.
Correction:
 Most of the students are going to the graduation ceremony.

I love go to party.
Correction:
I love going to parties.

A lot of mans from Spain are at my Backpackers Hostel.
Correction:
A lot of men from Spain are at my Backpackers Hostel.

2. ♠ ‘S’ CONTRACTION

When we leave one or more letters out of a word and replace them with an apostrophe, we call this a contraction. For example:

Snoopy’s = Snoopy i           Snoopy’s writing a story.

he’s = he is                               He’s a very clever dog!

she’s = she is                           ‘She’s the One’ (song by Robbie Williams, 1998)


it’s = it i                                  It’s an old song.

he’s = he ha                            He’s sung a lot of fabulous songs. 

she’s = she ha                        She’s always been the One.

it’s = it ha                               It’s been an eventful life.

3. ♠ ‘S’ POSSESSIVE

Charlie Brown’s dog is called Snoopy. = Snoopy belongs to Charlie Brown.

The student’s books are old. =
The books belong to the student.

The students’ books are old. = The books belong to the students.

Did you notice the difference in meaning between the second and third examples above?

        students = one student             students= 2 or more students

I find that the best way to remember how to use the apostrophe ( ) is to think of it as an arrow ( ) pointing to who the books (or whatever) belong to:

        students The little red arrow is pointing to student.

        studentsThe little red arrow is pointing to students.

4. ♠ ‘S’ 3rd person singular – he, she, it – Present Simple Tense verbs end inS‘:

Charlie Brown loves his dog Snoopy.

Why does
Snoopy sleep on the roof of his kennel?

He doesn’t sleep in the house.

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah! (song by The Beatles, 1964)

Snoopy’s writing a story.

The student has a new teacher.

This is one of the most difficult rules for English learners to remember. I know.

It is also a rule that native speakers never forget. It takes us a while to learn it. Native speakers do not learn it easily. Very young English-speaking children say things like: ‘Lucy want ice-cream’,  ‘Charlie Brown love Snoopy’, for several months before they get it right. Then, they never forget:

‘Lucy wants ice-cream’. ‘Charlie Brown loves Snoopy’.

This of course is how our brain works when we are learning our first language. Also, don’t forget that children have adults repeating correct language usage to them over and over and over, year in, year out. You would learn English so much more quickly if you had interested and patient adults repeating English over and over to you for years!

Many thanks to Shelby Deeter for the use of this photograph.

Let’s have a look at some everyday English which uses ‘S’ in three of the four ways I’ve described above: 1.  ‘S’ Plural,  2. ‘S’ Contraction,  4. ‘S’ 3rd person singular, Present Simple Tense.

To give an example of 3. ‘S’ Possessive: Vonda Shepard’s version of the following song is my favourite.

Song: The End of The World

Why does the sun go on shining?     4. ‘S’ 3rd person singular  

Why does the sea rush to shore?     4. ‘S’ 3rd person singular

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world     2. ‘S’ Contraction

‘Cause you don’t love me any more? 

Why do the birds go on singing?     1. ‘S’ Plural

Why do the stars glow above?     1. ‘S’ Plural

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?    2. ‘S’ Contraction

It ended when I lost your love. 

I wake up in the morning and I wonder

Why everything’s the same as it was.     2. ‘S’ Contraction

I can’t understand, no I can’t understand

How life goes on the way it does.     4. ‘S’ 3rd person singular

Why does my heart go on beating?  4. ‘S’ 3rd person singular

Why do these eyes of mine cry?     1. ‘S’ Plural

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?    2. ‘S’ Contraction

It ended when you said goodbye.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

If you would like to watch a Youtube video featuring Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters, click here. Can you hear any of the important ways we use the letter ‘S’?

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This entry was posted in Advanced (Level 6+), Cambridge, Grammar, IELTS, Intermediate (Level 4), Speaking & Pronunciation, Upper Intermediate (Level 5), Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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