In a world where science is often dominated by English speakers, non-native English speakers are forced to publish their research results in a language that they may not be all that familiar with. English can be tricky if you are not an English speaker, and online spelling and grammar checkers can only do so much.

In most cases, for a non-native English speaker, it is best to have their research proofread by a professional English editor before submitting work for publication. It never hurts to learn a few rules though, and we have compiled a list of the most common spelling and punctuation errors non-native English speakers make.

  1. Incorrect article use

Articles are handy little words that precede nouns to modify them and help give them meaning. In simple terms they are adjectives. The English language has two articles: “the” and “a/an”. “The” is used to refer to specific or particular nouns and is known as a definite article. “The” is used to describe things that most people or at least both people in the conversation are familiar with.  It is also used to describe something unique.

On the other hand, “a” and “an” are used to modify non-specific or non-particular nouns. We call these two indefinite articles. They have specific rules for their use:

  • a  and singular noun beginning with a consonant: a boy; a car; a bike; a zoo; a dog
  • an and singular noun beginning with a vowel: an elephant; an egg; an apple; an idiot; an orphan
  • a and singular noun beginning with a consonant sound such as “u”: a user; a university; a unicycle
  • an and nouns starting with silent “h”: an hour
  • a and nouns starting with a pronounced “h”: a horse
  1. Missing prepositions

The romance languages such as French and Spanish often have difficulty with this as prepositions are often built into their verbs. When French and Spanish speakers write in English they often forget to add the preposition – i.e. the thing the verb has to act on. Examples of this include:

“Explain me” ought to be “explain to me” or “I searched you.”  
ought to be “I searched for you.”

  1. The tricky apostrophe

This is not necessarily a problem that only non-native English speakers struggle with. In many cases apostrophes are misused or even omitted, creating sentences with incorrect meanings.  Examples include:

Using apostrophes with plurals. Words like “experiments” or “subjects” do not need an apostrophe, so “experiment’s” and “subject’s” are incorrect when simply referring to the plural.

Omitting the apostrophe with contractions is also a common mistake. For example:

“Its an unexpected result” – ought to be “it’s an unexpected result.” In this case, the contraction “it’s” signifies the combination of the two words “it is”, and an apostrophe is needed.

  1. Homophones

Mixing up homophones is another common spelling mistake made by non-native English speakers. Homophones are words that sound alike when spoken aloud but are they different, and are spelt differently. Examples of these include:

“Affect” vs “effect”
“Accessory” vs “accessary”
“Their” vs “there” vs “they’re”

  1. Incorrect pluralizing

Not all nouns in the English language have a plural conjugation. These nouns refer to people, places, animals, things, or ideas that can’t be counted individually. These are thus not pluralized when speaking or writing and can be confusing.

Examples of uncountable nouns include – information, water, garbage, intelligence etc.

  1. Confusing commas

British and American English differ slightly and depending on which one you are using, you will have different spelling and different use of commas. The rules can be confusing, but in most cases should just be memorized and applied, without bothering too much with the roots of the rules or their specific meaning.

  • In American English, a serial comma is added before the coordinating conjunction in a series of three or more words. For example: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday revealed the best results. In British English, the comma before “and” would be omitted.
  1. Phonetic spelling

Quite often, non-native English speakers will resort to the phonetic spelling of words, which can be incorrect and can change the meaning of the sentence. Examples of these include:

  • Calendar is correct vs calendar which is incorrect
  • Committee is correct vs committee which is incorrect.
  • Curiosity is correct vs curiousity which is incorrect. This may be confusing because the adjective is spelled curious.
  • Definitely is correct vs definitely which is incorrect.

Final Word:

These were some of the most common spelling and punctuation mistakes, non-native English speakers make. A little knowledge of the basic mistakes and a professional help from a proofreader can help you write anything- creative or academic. For any editing help you can contact us on