Common Mistakes Non-Native English Speakers Make – Part 2: Grammar
In a world where scientific journals and conferences are dominated by English, non-native English speakers are forced to publish and present 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.
For most non-native English speakers, it is best to have their research proofread by a professional English editor before submitting work for publication or presentation, just to iron out all of the common mistakes.
Besides that, it is always a good idea to learn a few rules of the English language, as it will make your scientific and professional life so much easier. So, here is a list of the most common grammatical errors non-native English speakers make. Get these down and you are well on your way to more efficient communication.
- Incorrect verb tense
Applying the right tense to verbs is often one of the trickiest things to get used to for non-native English writers, and can result in mistakes that can alter the meaning of a sentence. For example:
“They sought to secure an appointment with the manager by calling early.” This implies that the action has been completed.
Whereas “They seek to secure an appointment with the manager by calling early.” implies that the action is currently taking place, or will so shortly.
Here are a couple of hard and fast tense tips that can help:
Present tense: People usually confuse present simple with the present continuous tense. In English, the continuous present tense is used for ongoing events, while for example “I am learning statistics.” The simple is used for facts or regular events like “I work in London”.
Past tense: In English, we typically use the past simple tense “I did it,” compared to “I have done it” which is the present perfect tense. For example – a classic mistake would be “I have been to Italy two years ago.”, which is incorrect.
Future tense: English uses four basic constructions. These are the present simple, the present continuous, the future continuous and the future perfect continuous. Clauses associated with these tenses can often be confusing, for example, “I will call you when the dinner will be ready” should be “I will call you when the dinner is ready,” as you can’t use will in a when-clause.
- Incorrect adverb placement
Adverbs are used to modify adjectives, verbs, or whole sentences and their placement is important for the correct meaning of the sentence. When describing verbs, their correct placement is usually after the infinite form of the verb, to avoid split infinitives.
For example, “He eats enthusiastically.” is the correct placement of enthusiastically; while “He enthusiastically eats.” is not correct.
- Confusing the word order
The English language has some simple rules to follow for constructing a sentence. Word order is another common problem with non-native English speakers, specifically because other languages rarely follow the same rules.
An easy to remember guide when constructing a sentence is to always use the subject then the verb and lastly the object (S+V+O). For instance “I play football” is correct.
In the event a prepositional phrase (indirect object) is being used in a sentence, it must always be positioned after the direct object. For example:
Correct – Bill explained his reasoning to me.
Incorrect – Bill explained to me his reasoning.
Here “to me” is the indirect object of the verb and “explained” must be placed after “reasoning” (the direct object).
- Poor usage of transition words
Transitions are used to connect words, phrases, or sentences to present a more coherent picture to the reader. They connect the idea of once sentence with that in the next. Using the right transitions for a particular situation can be tricky.
For example: “Some of the patrons had to wait for an hour. Also, no one attended to them in the meantime.” This is not incorrect, but the transition “Moreover” is a better choice.
“Some of the patrons had to wait for an hour. Moreover, no one attended to them in the meantime”
Avoid using words like “and,” “but,” and “also”, which are common transitions, too often, as this can give your paper too informal or casual a look.
I hope reading this article must have given you a basic idea to prevent common grammar mistakes while writing a research work, essay, proposal or your homework.
There might however be cases where you must consult with an experienced language or technical editor who can polish your work and give you some further tips on improving your writing.