Common Student Errors with Spoken English in China, Part 3: Basic Grammar

Present v past tense
The most common error you will hear is your students keeping everything in the present tense. Though your students will be aware of its importance, unless you remind them they will naturally keep speaking in the present where it is necessary to be speaking in the past or future. Think of as many activities as you can to keep them focused on it.

Why did you buy this?
Error: ‘Why you buy this? / Why you like it?’ is missing the auxiliary verb ‘do’, for example, ‘Why did you buy this?’ or ‘Why do you like it?’

He/She
Because ‘ta’ is used in Chinese for both male and female (him/her and ‘ta de’ meaning his or hers), they are frequently misused, for example, ‘he is going to have a baby soon’ or ‘she is going to get married to Susan.’
To Western ears it may sound laughable, but it is a big problem for some learners and another difficult habit to iron out.

Give him/her
Error: ‘give he/she’. Here the objective ‘him/her’ is mistakenly replaced by the pronoun ‘he/she’. The object ‘him/her’ is meant to work with a verb, in this case ‘give’.

Give them
Error: ‘give he or she’ / ‘give him or her’. In this case ‘them’ can be used for anyone without reference to sex. Students may be think that ‘them’ only refers to the plural and so develop this long winded way of saying things, for example, ‘When I have a child, I want him or her to be happy’.

Have and Has
Though they are very important when describing possession or when using the perfect tense, ‘have’ and ‘has’ are frequently confused. There are only really a few basic rules to this and they are definitely worth remembering.

For Possession
He has a new car/ I have a new car. Error: ‘He have a new car’.
‘Have’: Used with the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ and plural nouns.
1: ‘I have a class today’ or ‘You have a student waiting for you’.
2: ‘Students have a lot of pressure’, ‘We have a class’ or ‘They have a class’
‘Has’: Used with the third person singular: ‘he, she, it’.
‘She has a new student to teach’, ‘It has a written exam’.

‘Have got’ and ‘has got’ have the same meaning, for example, ‘I have got no class today’ means the same as ‘I have no class today’. ‘He has got a new student to teach’ is the same as ‘He has a new student to teach’.

Verb Tenses
Present Perfect
‘Have’: ‘I have been to class a few times’, ‘You have to read that book one day’.
‘Has’: ‘He had to go to class a few times’ or ‘It has to be sometime in the near future’.
Past Perfect
‘Have’: I had to go to class before I start the next semester’, ‘He had already completed the exam before the class ended’ or ‘They had gone to the UK before passing their test’.

‘Have to’ as a modal verb: subject + modal verb (have to/has to/had to) + verb
‘I/you/students/we/they have to go to class, ‘He/she/it has to get there on Friday’, ‘I/you/we/they/he/she/it had to’

In four day’s time / Four days later
Error: ‘In four days later’ where past and future become confused. Normally someone is trying to refer to something happening n the past. ‘In four days (time)’ is a prediction normally attached with ‘will be going to’ whereas ‘later’ is a simple way to say afterwards.

Let’s go and have dinner/ I want to eat seafood tonight
Error: ‘Let’s go and have a dinner’ or ‘I want to eat the seafood tonight’ It is very common for articles ‘a, an’ and ‘the’ to be used with uncountable nouns especially when an adjective is preceding it, for example, ‘I have a casual clothes’.

You will also hear ‘the England’ or ‘the France’. Most of the time there is no article before a country name unless the name indicates more than one area is covered or it is a republic, for example, The UK, The USA, The PRC, The USSR, The Czech Republic or The Republic of Ireland. Great Britain is excluded from this list though we can say The British Isles.
This is exciting/ I am excited
Error: ‘This is excited / I am exciting’. ‘Exciting’ is an adjective that describes someone’s emotion about something. ‘Excited’ is an adjective informing you that something has influenced your emotions. Other examples that are commonly used are ‘boring/bored’, ‘surprising/surprised’ or ‘interesting/interested’.

Further problems occur when a present participle (+ing) or past participle (+ ‘ed’) are used incorrectly. Always use present participles when the noun you are referring to creates the action. If the noun receives the action, use past participles, for example, “The class is interesting” and ‘I was interested’.
One single problem that frequently occurs is between the uncountable noun ‘health’ and adjective ‘healthy’.
Error: ‘That is bad for your healthy’ or ‘He is very health’.

There is not enough time
Error: ‘There is no enough time’ is another common error. ‘No’ is never used before ‘any, much, many’ or ‘enough’. It can be used in before other adjectives that accompany a noun, for example, ‘no fast cars’.

He doesn’t have enough time
Error: ‘He don’t have enough time’ should be ‘doesn’t’.
‘I, you, we’ and ‘they’ go with ‘don’t’.
‘He, she’ and ‘it’ goes with ‘doesn’t’.

Do you have a hobby?
Error: ‘Do you have some hobby?’ Mistakes involving plurals and singulars are very common. Here it should be either, ‘a hobby’ or ‘some hobbies’. Often the learner is thinking separately and making an incorrect connection between the adjective and noun rather than seeing them together as a single form. Other common errors are: ‘There is some’, ‘There have some’, ‘The advantages is’, ‘The book are’ and so on.

I need to go shopping
Error: ‘I need to go to shopping’. You can’t put a preposition before a gerund. This is a mistake where the learner is trying to do too much and is a sign of uncertainty. Can say ‘I need to go to the shops’ (prep + definite article + noun)

She works very hard
Error: ‘She work very hard’. The simple present tense is one of the most common. Regarding the third person (he, she, it) you must add an‘s’. Other errors could be ‘He go to work’, ‘He cook for me’ or ‘She go by bus’.

I’m making a plan
Error: ‘I’m make a plan’. Misuse of the present progressive am + base form + ing
Other examples could be ‘She is cook (ing) a meal’ or ‘I am go (ing) to my office.

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Categories: 07 - Common Student Errors, 08 - Practical Classroom Tips

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