Common Mistakes in English


V. Duraikkannan,  A management consultant, leadership trainer with nearly 38 years of experience in the Aviation/GDS industry


When people call for candidates for various jobs, one of the key requisite skills they mention is good communication and there what they normally look for is not your elocutionary prowess or any mastery in your mother tongue be it Malayalam or Hindi but a good command of English as a language. For it is veritably the language of the globe and the business link for the entire world.

A chaste, flawless, and error-free language (for that matter not only English but any language) will position you as a deft, capable, and caring person. There are very many kinds of

mistakes that creep into our language both spoken and written.

I shall take up a few for discussion which can easily betray one’s lack of depth or understanding of English as a language. The topmost as I see it which even the native speakers commit is this one: ‘He is taller than me’. Though it seems perfectly

correct and logical, the right usage will be ‘He is taller than I am’, which sometimes is succinctly put as ‘He is taller than I’ – because ‘taller’ is a conjunction and not a preposition.

Next is the confusion of who or whom. Though ‘who’ and ‘whom’ are relative pronouns, ‘who ‘ is used as the subject of a sentence or clause, to denote who is doing something (like he or she). On the other hand, ‘whom’ is used as a direct or indirect object of a verb or preposition.

Example: Who is the author of the Hamlet? // For whom the bell tolls?

between singular/plural usage with reference to collective nouns or groups and mix up the verb. For example, in the sentence ‘A team of doctors are working on the patient’, the use of ‘are’ is wrong ‘Team’ is one single body though it consists of several people, and as it is single, the singular usage of ‘is’ rather than ‘are’ is correct.

Apart from such grammatical mistakes, many a time we slip into mixed up usage of words and phrases. For instance, someone was talking about the temple priest and his ‘regalia’ with reference to his way of dressing and utensils that he would use at the ritual. What the speaker

Actually m e a n t was ‘paraphernalia’ which means miscell ane ous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity. Regalia would mean the emblems or insignia of royalty, especially the crown, sceptre, and other ornaments used at a coronation. The misuse is basically on account of the words’ similarity of look and sound which we ought to see through.

Again we must notice the difference between ‘All of them know the fact’ as against ‘None of them knows the fact’. When we say none, it is actually a contraction of ‘no one’ and as such the singular verb is proper here.

To acquire a good mastery over English, some of my recommendations are the following few :

  1. a) Read English works by English authors (as different from works by American authors) because what England speaks is English. Keep that as your basis and adapt yourself to the so called American, Indian, or International Englishes as required. Read authors like Thomas Hardy not only for the sake of purity of grammar but beauty of the language itself
  2. b) Solve crosswords from Times, Independent, and Guardian which are easily accessible on the net, mostly freely. This will help you not only add to your armour but understand the nuances between one word and another (for example, ‘ d i g i t i z e ’ and ‘digitalize’ mean two different things, though they sound alike and are used alike (to digitize is to convertdata into

digital format and to digitalize is to treat one with digitalis, a medicinal plant)

  1. c) One of the basic exercises to develop your linguistic skills is to rewrite, reproduce an established author’s work (I was advised to do that with Oliver Goldsmith’s work ‘the Deserted Village’ during my college days by my teacher) and that will build the language DNA into your system


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