I've been doing this job for some twenty years plus now, and I've about reached the point where I can more or less determine...

The top ten Typical Errors in English (as made by Polish students)

I'm not saying that this is the definitive top ten; this is purely a subjective opinion, and for sure some teachers would disagree with their rankings, but I'm also sure that we will all agree on these errors to be in, at least, our top twenty lists. All these can also be found in the TEE book.


The main mistake is underlined on the examples given in each of the headers.


So let's start with, what is, in my opinion, the number 10...

10. I like to watch information on TV.

I think you mean the news. 


In English, we think of information as a collection of pieces of general knowledge; facts that inform us how to do things, where to go, what to see, etc. Like the kind of things you find in an information centre in a popular tourist area, for example. 


News (which is an uncountable noun: you don’t watch a new or a news), however, is information we get that tells us about recent events or happenings around your home country and all over the world. It is the kind of information that is particularly reported by – and also presented by – newspapers, radio, or television. But it can also be information that we, as individuals, feel that we have to give to people if we believe that the recent event or happening is important enough to be news to them and that they should know about it: Have you heard the news? Robert’s getting married!


The confusion perhaps lies in the fact that to inform (the verb) can be used to give both news and information that would be considered important: Let me inform you what’s happening today. I can inform you that the game has now been arranged for Monday. I need to inform my boss about my holiday arrangements. We need to inform the next of kin about the disaster. 

So I can understand the confusion, but we should say I like to watch the news on television. After all, would you call The Times, Bild, Le Figaro, El Pais, Gazeta Wyborcza and La Repubblica information papers?


9. I was talking to a friend today morning.

In English we don't usually say today morning, or even today afternoon, today lunchtime, and so on.


 What we can say is I was talking to a friend this morning, or in the present tense, There's a meeting this afternoon, or the future: There will be chicken and chips for lunch this evening.

This all refers to the events that happened or are planned today, but we don't say 'today'. We say 'this'.

 So let's get together and talk about the subject this lunchtime (NOT: today lunchtime).


8. I have twenty years old.
This is a result of a literal translation error. We say ‘I am twenty years old’, not have.


Even worse, if you drop ‘old’ and you just say I have twenty years, this tells me that you only have twenty years of your life left and after that you will be dead…


However, you could say I have a birthday on the 25th of January but this does sound unnatural in spoken English, as well as suggesting that you might have more than one birthday (like the Queen, who has her proper birthday and an official birthday. Please do not ask me why). It is better to say my birthday is on the 25th January.


In Poland, an event known as a name day is popular, and is even regarded by some as more of an excuse for a celebration than birthdays. (Usually because you don't have to mention your age anymore!) You can say I have a name day on the 25th of January as it is certainly possible that your name falls on many different days and that the 25th just happens to be yours.

A similar error is made when learners incorrectly describe how tall they are or something is: I have one metre sixty centimetres. (One metre sixty centimetres of what? Rope?) This could also be fun if a learner tries to practise describing their height using imperial measurements: I have six feet.

As with the age, we use the verb to be (am, are, is): I am one metre sixty centimetres tall. She is five feet seven inches. You are almost two metres tall!

7. I have no occasion to do any work at home as I'm so busy.

Here, the speaker is talking about the fact that they are always too busy to find a free period of time when they can do the cleaning, vacuuming, dusting and all the other household chores that are needed to be done regularly. 


The problem is the word occasion. Although it means ‘a time at which something happens’, it just seems out of context with the rest of the sentence. To say I have no occasion is also not what would be generally considered an accepted phrasal structure. 


What our speaker should have said was I have no time, but they could also say I have no opportunity/chance to do any work at home as I'm so busy. 


There are some structures with occasion, the most popular meaning being ‘a particular time’: They met on two occasions. I saw him on one occasion last year. We see them occasionally (using the adverb). It also refers to a special time or event: His party will be a big occasion. 


There are formal (and not particularly common) usages that are similar to the example expressed above, such as This would be a good occasion to clear the cellar (meaning a good time or opportunity), but this is a different sentence structure from the example. 


Now if the speaker was being a little more formal then they might say There hasn’t been any occasion to do any work at home, and although I cannot find a suitable occasion to do any work at home is correct as an accepted word order, it does sound strange and a little pompous in spoken English (to behave and sound in such a serious way that the speaker believes they are more important than they really are).


So it is not no occasion, but no time: I have no time to do my homework. I have no time to do any work at home as I am so busy. Or even I don't have time to do any work at home, or maybe even I haven't got time to do any work at home as I'm so busy!


6. What does mean ubiquitous?/What means ubiquitous? 


Both examples are incorrect, and these are very common mistakes.


You should say What does ubiquitous mean?, otherwise you might get smart answers such as It means what it means.

 And if you really want to know, ubiquitous (pronounced /juːbɪkwɪtəs/ or you – be – quit – us) is an adjective used to describe something or someone that seems to be everywhere: Sugar is ubiquitous in the diet. I visited Seville and I saw the ubiquitous McDonalds. Paris Hilton is one of the most ubiquitous personalities around when it comes to the gossip magazines.

5. I very like English cuisine.

Very is a problem as it is a word used as an intensifier. So what is that?


Well, an intensifier is a word that is used before an adjective or adverb so that it can make the meaning of that adjective or adverb stronger. For example, I’m very hungry is much stronger than just saying I’m hungry. It’s very likely to rain is stronger than it’s likely to rain. But we don't say I very like English cuisine as like is a verb, not an adjective, and very does not like verbs. Maybe they had an argument at a party or something like that.

Very like does exist as two words together which then form an adverb phrase, but with the meaning ‘very similar to’ or ‘almost the same as’: My sister is very like her mother in many ways. This movie is set on a world very like this one. She gave a little noise of pleasure, very like a laugh


Fortunately, there is one intensifier that really does like verbs, so the best examples would be I really like English cuisine, but we can also say I like English cuisine very much, as much is an adverb and follows the main part of the sentence.

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