The most common mistakes made by advanced students – second course. Enjoy!
1. It’s getting winter.
How to correctly describe this painful and atrocious period of the year when it’s only damp, dark and depressing? You can use the verb to get, followed by an infinitive, to express the idea of becoming sth or developing into sth.
correctly -> It’s getting to be winter.
2. I like the 60s music.
The music of a decade is neither a general idea nor a specific phenomenon. So, the rule to obey is – use no article in expressions which are half-general, like 1960s music, 18th-century customs, African butterflies. If you use a limiting phrase with of, though, use the definite article.
correctly -> I like 60s music. but I like the music of the 60s.
3. Whole Paris was celebrating.
Before proper names like cities we cannot use whole. Instead, we are left with two choices: the whole of or all of.
correctly -> The whole of Paris was celebrating. or All of Paris was celebrating.
4. One speaks English in this shop.
One can be used as a subject in very general statements, meaning anyone, people in general. When this is not true, go back to tried-and-tested we or they.
correctly -> They speak English in this shop. or English is spoken in this shop.
5. I’m thankful for your help.
Although it might seem that thankful and grateful are synonyms, they are used in different contexts. Thankful is used to express relief at having avoided something unpleasant or dangerous, whereas grateful is the standard word for people’s reactions to favours.
correctly -> I’m grateful for your help.
6. The number of the unemployed is going up.
Here’s a tricky one. If you think that group nouns like the unemployed, the poor, the rich, are used with the definite article, you are right! But.. after the number of or the amount of – no article is used!
correctly -> The number of unemployed is going up.
7. The majority of inhabitants is indifferent to the new policies.
The majority is or are? Well, the majority of people use plural verbs after singular quantifying expressions like a number of (people), a group of, a couple of, half of.
correctly -> The majority of inhabitants are indifferent to the new policies.
8. The train may be late, as it happened yesterday.
It sounds superfluous here? That’s because as can replace subjects (common expressions: as follows, as was agreed). The same applies to then: He worries more than is necessary.
correctly -> The train may be late, as happened yesterday.
9. He’s the nicest when he’s with children.
Surely nobody told you about it, but there is one case when you shouldn’t use the with superlatives! It is when you compare the same person/thing in different situations. So, in a sentence which compares different people, use the: He’s the nicest of all my friends.
But if you compare the behaviour of the same guy in different situations, use superlative without the.
correctly -> He’s nicest when he’s with children.
10. Will you go and see me when I’m in hospital?
Come and go are often confused even by advanced students but the rule is simple: use come for movements to the place where the speaker is/was/will be at the time of the movement. Go is used for movements to other places.
correctly -> Will you come and see me when I’m in hospital?
For more examples like these, please see Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, 3rd Edition.