20 Mistakes For Every English Learner To Avoid

By Lesley Vos

English language is not difficult to learn. Well, at least native speakers think so... Every educator can easily find the examples of English grammar, vocabulary, or spelling that always cause troubles and problems for students who learn this language. We've tried to gather the most common of them for you to avoid. Check if you make them.

Which vs. That

This is one of the most common mistakes. THAT is a restrictive pronoun, and WHICH is a relative pronoun that implies the options to use. So, WHICH defines, THAT limits.


  • I don't trust fruits and vegetables that aren't organic. = I trust ONLY organic fruits and vegetables.
  • I eat only organic fruits and vegetables, which are available in area grocery stores. = I choose from organic fruits and vegetables in my store, and I do not need to go to a special shop for that.

Who vs. Whom

WHO is a subjective pronoun along with "he", "she", "it", "we" and "they". This word is used when a pronoun acts as a subject of a sentence. WHOM applies to objective pronouns along with "him", "her", "its", "us" and "them". This word is used when a pronoun acts as an object of a sentence.

  • Who = she, he, it, we, they
  • Whom = him, her, its, us, them

Envy vs. Jealousy

ENVY implies the pursuit to someone else's success. JEALOUSY has a more negative meaning, as it is a fear of competition, which is often present in personal relationship.

  • Envy = when you want to look as good as your friend
  • Jealousy = your feelings when your partner admires another person

May vs. Might

MAY implies the possibility, MIGHT goes for uncertainty.


  • You may get drunk if you have two shots in ten minutes. = a real possibility of intoxication.
  • You might get a ticket if you operate a tug boat while drunk. = a likelihood that can occur in general.

Premier vs. Premiere

Premier = the first one, the most important one, the best in status.
Premiere = the opening night of a movie.


  • The soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was ecstatic and milked all the propaganda he could from the flight.
  • Local premiere of I Love You Two draws crowds and celebrities at Brisbane's Portside Wharf including the film'.

Fewer vs. Less

LESS is used for hypothetical quantities, while FEW and FEWER are used for things you can count.


  • The firm has fewer than ten employees.
  • The firm is less successful now that we have only ten employees.

Since vs. Because

SINCE refers to time, BECAUSE refers to causality.


  • Since I quit drinking I've married and had two children. = time
  • Because I quit drinking I no longer wake up in my own vomit. = cause of reason

Bring vs. Take

To use the words BRING and TAKE correctly, an author should know whether the object moves toward or away from the subject. If toward - use BRING, if from - use TAKE.


  • A husband says to his wife: take your clothes to the cleaners.
  • A cleaner says to this woman: bring your clothes to the cleaners.

Adverse vs Averse

These two words have different meaning: ADVERSE = unfavorable, AVERSE = reluctant.


  • AXIS Hov Housing VT protects the Axis Network Camera in outdoor and adverse indoor conditions.
  • No wonder people are averse to doodling at work.

Than vs. Then

Learners often misspell these two words, changing the meaning of a whole sentence in result. THEN is used in conditionals and subjunctives, while THAN serves as a comparative conjunction.


  • If it rains, then I prefer to stay home. (condition)
  • These apples are bigger than apricots (comparison)

Affect vs. Effect

To cope with this problem, a simple hint can be used: AFFECT is almost always a verb, and EFFECT is a noun.

Affect = influence or create an impression
effect = result.


  • Facebook affects people's attention spans.
  • Facebook's effects can also be positive.

There are some exceptions anyway. AFFECT may be used as a noun, and EFFECT is used as a transitive verb that means "to make something" or "to happen".


  • My new computer effected a much-needed transition from magazines to Web porn.
  • His lack of affect made him seem like a shallow person.

Some vs. Any

It's quite easy to remember the rule: SOME is used in affirmative sentences, ANY is used in interrogative and negative sentences.


  • Do you have any books?
  • No, I don't have any.
  • Yes, I have some books.

Insure vs. Ensure

Ensure = to guarantee, to persuade
Insure = a verb for "insurance"


  • One of the most fundamental acts of civilization is to ensure people can get enough food.
  • I would bet many more of you insure your iPhone.

It's vs. Its

ITS is a possessive pronoun, while IT'S is a shortcut of "it is". English learners often forget using an apostrophe here, making a huge grammar mistake in result.


  • It's a great day! = It is a great day.
  • Its day was great! = (Whose/Which) day was great.

Do vs. Make

DO is often used to describe undefined actions, and MAKE is used when we speak about creating or shaping something specific.


  • What do we do now?
  • Let's make some noise.

Say vs. Tell

TELL refers to a whole story, SAY refers to mentioning something. Plus, SAY is usually used with direct speech, and TELL - with indirect speech.


  • Tell me everything you know about this, Mom!
  • What did you say?

Learn vs. Teach

LEARN means the process of acquiring knowledge, and TEACH refers to transferring knowledge.


  • I do not want to learn how to drive, can you teach me how to use bicycles instead?

Excuse me vs. Sorry

The rule is very simple here: say EXCUSE ME before you do something, use SORRY after you've done something.


  • Excuse me, I'm going to kill you.
  • I'm so sorry I've killed you ...

Farther vs. Further

FARTHER means a distance that can be measured. FURTHER refers to some abstract length that can not always be measured.


  • I threw the ball ten feet farther than Bill.
  • The financial crisis caused further implications.

Historic vs. Historical

Use HISTORIC when you speak about an important event. HISTORICAL refers to something that happened in the past.


  • It's gonna be a historic party!
  • So that was the phage phi X 174, which was chosen for historical reasons.

Lesley Vos is a private educator of French language and a writer of Bid4papers blog.

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