This page discusses three common mistakes of English native speakers.


The other pages on this part of the site analyse those aspects of the English language that cause learners the most difficulties. In general, educated native speakers of English only very rarely make mistakes in such aspects of grammar or usage. This does not mean, however, that native speakers never make language mistakes in written language. Far from it!

Take The Guardian, for example. This has the reputation of being the UK newspaper that teachers read. And certainly, most of the commenters under articles are likely to be well-educated. Yet, the comments are full of errors.

Of course, it is impossible to know whether any given error is the result of lack of knowledge of the correct grammar. Or whether it results from a lack of concern for it's accuracy in the haste to post a comment. In both cases, however, the result is incorrect English. There are three common examples below.


Observant readers will have noticed the deliberate apostrophe mistake It should be its accuracy, not it's accuracy. in the previous paragraph. The replacement of the correct its by it's is an extremely common error:

  • This book definitely earned it's honors and awards.
  • Stunning recreation of Japan as it opened it's doors to the world.
  • History should draw it's conclusions from a well-researched body of evidence.
  • An argument is good or bad based on it's merits, and solely it's merits.
  • I know a bit about art and it's history.

Another common apostrophe error is the so-called greengrocer's apostrophe (Wikipedia), namely the unnecessary inclusion of an apostrophe in a plural noun.

  • Baby's are a joy to behold.
  • All party's come to an end.
  • All club's agreed to Saturday 12:30 kick offs.
  • The audience score on Rotten Tomato’s is what I pay attention to.
  • We've gone from one extreme to the other in terms of idea's on how to play.
  • Women whom went into their past and possible trauma's to heal personally from a balanced frame... [ Comment The incorrect use of whom in this sentence is another, not uncommon, native-speaker error.

    It generally occurs when the writer is attempting highly formal language and correctly believes that replacing who by whom is one way to achieve it.

    However, sometimes the result is grammatical, and sometimes it is not - as in the present case.

Superfluous apostrophes also find their way into other parts of speech.

  • I'd like to know who's idea that was.
  • It looks like he want's a total lockdown.
  • You're disdain for this show is palpable.
  • I loved that the Romans speaks they're language.
  • The question isn't to circumcise or not. It's who's body who's choice.

Less common, but also prevalent is the missing or incorrectly placed possessive apostrophe.

  • Manchester Uniteds time has come and gone.
  • German efficiency in all its' glory.
  • Boris Johnsons government is the worst in my lifetime.
  • You can see it clearly in the Tories obsession with lefty teachers.
  • Perhaps Gav has a mate who is selling children’s’ masks? Matts mate makes bits of plastic, Minister’s wives make money. (This example takes the biscuit If something takes the biscuit, it wins the prize (in this case for the most apostrophe errors in a short text).

    There is more about idioms such as this on the same part of the site.

And finally we have the sloppy omission of the apostrophe in contractions.

  • You dont own your home until your mortgage is paid.
  • Boris isn't perfect but hes a good communicator.
  • The young arent immune to the virus or its nasty after effects.
  • Of course this wont affect the core voters as most of them have retired.

Here is an article about what English language learners find difficult in using apostrophes correctly.


Eggcorn is one term for the use of a word or expression that sounds like the intended word expression. For example, for all intensive purposes instead of the correct for all intents and purposes.

It is debatable whether all misspelled words (that are themselves existing words but with a different meaning) are correctly categorized as eggcorns There is often no clear way of categorising a misspelling as an eggcorn or malapropism, or simply a hasty click on the wrong word in a spell-check list. . What is incontestable, however, is that such spelling mistakes are very common:

  • Sibley must be preserved (= persevered) with and given a chance to establish himself.
  • Great TED talk! Defiantly (= definitely) going to start my days a little different.
  • People do what they are insensitivised to do. (= incentivised)
  • That's why choosing a font that compliments (= complements) your brand is so crucial.
  • Proof that cognitive dissidents (= dissonance) is present even by the smartest among us.

Here is a quiz to identify and correct misspelled words. And here is the excellent eggcorn database.

Modal 'of'

The modal verbs include could, must, will, might. They are often followed by a perfect (have) infinitive such as in: You could have hurt yourself or You might have told me.

In spoken language it is usual to contract verb phrases, resulting in You could've have hurt yourself or You might've told me. The 've contraction sounds like of. This leads people to write You could of have hurt yourself etc., which is incorrect.

Here are some more examples:

  • They could of scored if he passed the ball earlier.
  • If Wolves had better players they'd of won the game.
  • She must of seen him, otherwise why did she turn back?
  • You might of told us you don't live in the UK!
  • So if the loony left didn't hold the country hostage, Trump would of won?
  • Could of Jane had Mary arrested for being a trader and trying to overthrow the new Queen?

The last sentence above contains not only an 'of' mistake, but also an eggcorn. The corrected version reads:

  • Could Jane have had Mary arrested for being a traitor and trying to overthrow the new Queen?

Finally, here is a sentence with a different kind 'of' error. In this case, 'of' should be omitted.

  • All of what he says may have merit if Trump hadn't of produced results. 


The sentences below contain other types of error made by native speakers. Can you identify and correct them?

  • This cheese tastes strangely.
  • She can run quicker than her brother.
  • If you're tired, go and lay down.
  • The boss invited John and myself to the board meeting.
  • There's only three cookies left in the jar.
  • I work for a boss whom I think is too strict.
  • Frankfurt is the best place to live.
  • How are you today? - I'm good.
  • That's too big of a problem to expect a solution soon.
  • This cheese tastes strangely.

    After verbs of the senses, we use use the adjectival not the adverbial form: This cheese tastes strange, That smells nice, etc.

    Similarly, it is not I'm feeling badly about what I said to him, but I'm feeling bad about what I said to him.

  • She can run quicker than her brother.

    This usage has become more common in recent years, but in fact it should be She can run more quickly than her brother.

  • If you're tired, go and lay down.

    Many English native speakers have difficulty in distinguishing between the verbs to lie (intransitive) and to lay (transitive.

    It should be: If you're tired, go and lie down.

  • The boss invited John and myself to the board meeting.

    Of course, it should be The boss invited John and me to the board meeting. There is a growing tendency to use the reflexive pronoun (myself, yourself, etc.) - possibly in order to sound more formal or to avoid dimly remembered English lessons when the teacher railed against expressions such as John and me went... or even worse Me and John went... .

  • There's only three cookies left in the jar.

    It needs to be There are only three cookies left in the jar. This usage seems reasonably acceptable in spoken language.

  • I work for a boss whom I think is too strict.

    Once again, it seems that the desire to sound formal has resulted in incorrect grammar. It should be I work for a boss who I think is too strict. That said, there are knowledgeable English speakers who (not whom!) think the usage can be defended.

  • Frankfurt is the best place to live.

    Some say that we need the preposition in at the end of the sentence. As justification they point out that it is not I live Frankfurt. I don't regard this as an error.

  • How are you feeling today? - I'm good.

    Many people get agitated at the answer I'm good to a question about mental and physical health. They say it should be I'm fine or I'm well.

    I don't like it either, but I accept that it is here to stay.

  • That's too big of a problem to expect a solution soon.

    This is another 'of' problem. Again, the 'of' is not necessary and should be omitted. And again, in some dialects of English this usage is acceptable.

Here's an interactive quiz with more examples of native-speaker errors such as those exemplified above.


The examples above are indisputably errors. But there are very many other usages which are indeed disputable.For example, the pronoun I in the following sentences:

  • The boss asked Jane and I to come to a meeting.
  • Morgan has earned the right to do whatever he wants. This is fine for you or I to say. [ Source This sentence is from the Guardian journalist's article itself, not from a comment under it as in the other examples here.

    Source: :

The use of the subject pronoun I above is considered a mistake by many people. But this usage is becoming more common, and 50 years from now it may well be the default.

Style guides such Garner's Modern American Usage and online written text checkers such as Grammarly give advice on such issues. But even if you follow the advice, there may be readers who think you are in error.

Highly recommended is the online site by Professor Brians of Washington State University: Common Errors in English Usage.

Note: All of the example sentences above are authentic. Most of them were found in The Guardian.