When we compare standard, correct English to what native speakers usually use in everyday life, there are plenty of discrepancies! Most people in the United States do not speak perfect English; in fact, many common mistakes are actually accepted forms of speech nowadays.
Many native American English speakers break grammar rules, they use incorrect sentence structure, and they use vocabulary in what most people would consider the wrong way.
This word doesn’t even officially exist. 😂 This informal and incorrect contraction is used instead of is not/isn’t, am not, are not/aren’t, have not/haven’t, and has not/hasn’t. (“Ain’t” is also commonly used in a double negative within a sentence, which we will discuss in the next section).
- “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
- “I ain’t got no money to pay for that.”
- “They stayed quiet because they ain’t got nothing to say.”
- “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
In English, a double negative isn’t like in math, where two negatives equal a positive. It’s still negative! In English grammar, a double negative is when a negative statement contains two negative elements. The way these statements are phrased might not sound correct, but they are very common and, because of that, they’ve been accepted into everyday English. You might even come across a triple negative at some point! 😜
WAS VS. WERE
For example: “If I were you, I’d study English more.” This is the grammatically correct way to say this sentence. However, you will probably come across people who instead say it like this: “If I was you, I’d study English more.” Which should you use? It depends on the situation you’re in. In a casual situation, using was will not be a big deal. If you’re in a professional situation, it’s better to use the grammatically correct were.
Whom is not as popular as it once was. Nevertheless, you should know when it is appropriate to use. For example, a very common and generic way to address a letter is to start with: “To whom it may concern.” Another example, like “To whom did you send that text?,” while grammatically correct, is not the way most people would say that. You’re more likely to hear “Who did you send that text to?,” which is doubly incorrect, because it ends in a preposition (to). But, it’s still more common than the correct version.
GOOD VS. WELL
This is a very common mistake that native speakers make on a daily basis. When someone asks you, “How are you doing?,” the correct way to answer would be: “I’m well, thanks!” However, almost unanimously, Americans will say: “I’m good, thanks!” Well is an adverb, and good is an adjective. One is correct, but both are accepted.
WHO VS. THAT
The general rule of thumb is that who is for people and that is for things. However, people mix these up all the time. For example, “The lady that works at the post office is so nice” should be “The lady who works at the post office is so nice.”
Native speakers forget the subjunctive tense all the time. For example, “It’s important that he studies a lot for the test” is actually incorrect. The right way to say this would be: “It’s important that he study a lot for the test.”
WHICH VS. THAT
Which is generally used for non-essential information. That is used for essential information. For example, “My dress that has flowers printed on it is from that new boutique on Main Street,” wants the listener to understand something specific about the dress, likely because they have more than one dress and this is a defining marker. If they said, “My dress, which has flowers printed on it, is from the new boutique on Main Street,” it mentions this specific feature of the dress, but doesn’t suggest the speaker has other dresses. Which is non-essential because you could omit the part of the sentence that is between commas and still have a coherent phrase.
WHETHER VS. IF
“I don’t know whether I should have pizza 🍕 or tacos 🌮 for lunch.” Don’t let your hunger distract you from speaking correctly! 😂 Whether is used correctly in this sentence. However, you will almost certainly hear someone say it this way: “I don’t know if I should have pizza 🍕 or tacos 🌮 for lunch.” It’s not 100% correct usage, but it’s still common.
PAST VS. PAST PARTICIPLE
These are easily confused, even by native speakers. For example: “He’s drank two beers 🍻 already and it’s not even 4 PM.” This person should stop worrying about what other people are drinking and focus on their grammar instead! 😅 The verb to drink, in particular, is uncomfortable for English speakers, because the correct form of the verb in sentence above should be “drunk, ” and people tend to not use it correctly because they don’t want to insinuate that a person is inebriated.
Reported speech is when you talk about what someone else said or did, and you essentially report that occurrence to another person or group of people. For example, if my friend Sofia says “I am sick” and I want to tell you what she said, I would say “My friend Sofia said she was sick.” Incorrect! The right way to report what she said would be: “My friend Sofia said that she is sick.” The conversation I had with Sofia is in the past, but she is still currently sick, and therefore her state should remain in the present.
LESS VS. FEWER
Have you ever been to a grocery store here in the U.S. and seen a sign above a cashier lane that says “10 Items or Less“? Unfortunately, many grocery stores need a visit from the grammar police! 🚨 The correct way to say it would be “10 Items or Fewer,” but it’s unlikely they’ll ever change it. An easy way to remember the difference is that less is for non-numeric nouns (i.e. “Could you put less sugar in my drink, please? I don’t like it too sweet.”) and fewer is for numeric nouns (i.e. “If you need a dozen cookies for the party, you shouldn’t have fewer than 12!”).
THEY’RE VS. THEIR
Spelling and apostrophes are point of much contention among Americans. Some people don’t seem to care if they know the difference, but you definitely should! They’re, a contraction of they are, and their, a determiner of ownership, sound very much the same, but could not have more different meanings!
YOU’RE VS. YOUR
Similarly, you’re, a contraction of you are, and your, a determiner or ownership, are totally different words, even though the sound the same! Pay attention to your apostrophes and make sure you are using them correctly. 😊
EVERY DAY VS. EVERYDAY
Every day means each day. For example: “I go jogging every day.” Everyday is an adjective. For example: “Pots and pans are everyday items you’d find in a kitchen.”
ACTUALLY, LITERALLY, AND LIKE
Is wrong really wrong when it’s something that is so commonly used? All three of these words are used incorrectly by a slew of native English speakers in the United States. Actually, which is an adverb that emphasizes the facts in a situation, is being used more commonly as an interjection or transition word. Literally, which is also an adverb and emphasizes the literal sense or exactness of something, is overused these days as an intensifier. Like, which has many meanings and uses in the English language, is notoriously used these days as an intensifier, as a transition word, and as a filler. Although these words are used incorrectly in everyday English, be sure to know the correct ways too, and use them in casual conversation as sparingly as possible.
ME VS. I
For example: “Me and my friend Sofia went to the movies last night.” Wrong! The right way to say it is: “My friend Sofia and I went to the movies last night.” The word “me” should never be used as a subject. Also, “I” should always be used after other people have been named. (You would never say “I and my friend Sofia went to the movies last night,” for example). “Me” is used for direct objects. For example: “Sofia gave me the book” or “Sofia gave the book to me.”
LAY VS. LIE
“I’m going to go lay down and take a nap” should be “I’m going to go lie down and take a nap.” People tend to confuse these two verbs because, much like the verb to drink above, the verb to lie also sounds like (and is spelled the same as) the verb that means to be untruthful. No one wants to be a liar! So, many have settled for speaking incorrectly instead. You can lay your cellphone on the table, for example, or you could lie down on a towel at the beach.
FARTHER VS. FURTHER
This one is super easy to confuse — it’s just one letter! But there’s an equally easy way to remember the difference: farther is for physical, measurable distance, and further is for figurative, metaphorical distance.
- “If we travel one mile farther, we’ll be at the U.S./Mexico border.”
- “We should research this topic further before we make a decision.”
AFFECT VS. EFFECT
In a nutshell, affect is usually used as a verb, and effect is usually used as a noun. To affect means to change or make a difference to something.
- “The weather reporter said that the pollen count this year will significantly affect people’s allergies.”
- “Sneezing and watery eyes are common effects of seasonal allergies.”
IS VS. ARE
This one is easy to differentiate! Is is used with singular subjects, and are is used with plural subjects.
- “Here is our newest lesson on phrasal verbs.”
- “Here are our top three lessons on phrasal verbs.”
Be sure to check out our video lesson below to learn more about these mistakes that even native speakers make so that you’re one step ahead of them! You’ll be speaking better and more correct English than native speakers in no time.
For more videos: Go Natural English YT