Common Mistakes in English

Here’s the start of my series of posts about common mistakes that I hear in English. They aren’t arranged in any particular order. Sentences in italics are correct unless there is an asterisk in front of it.

bring / take

Bring always shows motion towards the speaker, while take shows motion going away from the speaker.

My wife told me to take an umbrella with me when I left for work.

Since it rained, I was glad that I had brought my umbrella to the office. (I’m still at work)

It’s a good thing I took my umbrella to work today. (I’m no longer at work)

Note that “with you” can be dropped when it is abundantly clear from context.

go / come / get

Similarly, come shows movement relative to the speaker’s position. Get is used to show completed motion. I don’t have statistics to back this up, but I generally think of using location (I’m already at work) as more common than motion (I’ve already arrived at / got to / made it to work).

Come: motion towards the speaker
Go: general motion
Get: completed motion

I came to work at 9 AM this morning (I’m still at work)

I go to work everyday

I got to work at 9 AM this morning (I’m no longer at work)

An easy trick is to put “here” in any sentence with come. If it doesn’t fit, use get or go.

by / until

Я буду в Киеве до пятницы.
I’ll be in Kiev until Friday

Until shows how long an action is going to take place.

Мне надо доделать этот проект до пятницы.
I have to finish the project by Friday.

By is used with deadlines.

feel (myself)

We never use feel myself with an adjective.

I feel myself tired.

We can use feel myself with a gerund.

I was so tired that I could feel myself falling asleep.

make / do a mistake

We make mistakes. We never do mistakes.

Latinate vocabulary

Общение с собеседником про знакомых

Don’t translate this as:

*Communication with an interlocutor regarding acquaintances.

Communication is an abstract concept. Jane Austen was the last native English speaker to use the word interlocutor. Acquaintance is a stiff and cold word.

This sounds much more natural:

Talking to somebody about people we know.

I / we, and / with

We don’t have doppelgängers in English. The same person can’t appear in both subject and the object of a sentence.

*We discussed with you… can be a ménage à trois but not a tête-à-tête.

Likewise, My friend and I… is correct. We never say *We (or I) with my friend. In many dialects of spoken English Me and my friend is common, but it’s rare in written English.

borrow / lend

I borrowed money from the bank.
The bank lent (loaned) me money.

Explain to me

Explain requires a direct object.

The CEO explained the new product (direct object) to us (indirect object).

We can’t drop the direct object, and the indirect object requires to.

My psychologist is the only one who can explain me.

I don’t know why my students make this mistake

Nine times out of ten, I’d hear:

*I don’t know why do my students make this mistake.

This isn’t a question; drop the do.

Also watch out for the word order change:

I don’t know what time it is.

Next: Will You Stop Using Will for the Future?

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