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ELC Los Angeles Common English Mistakes July 8th, 2015

Misuse of Articles

A common mistake of ESL learners is to improperly use indefinite (a, an) and definite articles (the).

When to use A: use “a” when you refer to a noun that begins with a consonant sound.

Example: “a house,” “a class,” “a puppy”

When to use AN: use “an” when you refer to a noun that begins with a vowel sound.

Example: “an apartment,” “an octopus,” “an umbrella”

When to use THE: “the” is the only definitive article. Use “the” to refer to a specific thing.

Example: If you are talking about your dog “Fido,” you should refer to him at “the dog” rather than “a dog” because you are referring to a specific dog, Fido!

Your vs. You’re

Words that sound the same but have different meanings and are spelt differently can be confusing. “Your” and “you’re” are an example of homonyms that are often used incorrectly. “You’re” is a contraction of “you are.” “Your” indicates possession.  If you are unsure of which to use, try using the phrase “you are” in the sentence to see if it makes sense. If it does, you want to use the word “you’re.”

Example: I really like your dress.  “You are” would not make sense here.

Please don’t use your cell phone while you’re in class.

Its vs. It’s

Like “your” and “you’re,” “its” and it’s” are two distinct words. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is.” The word “its” indicates possession and is used when you are not talking about a person (you would use “his” or “hers” in this case).

Example: It’s starting to get really warm now that summer is here!

The student lounge looks bright when its windows are open.

Then vs. Than

“Then” and “than” are also commonly confused homonyms. “Then” indicates the passing of time. “Than” is used when comparing two things.

Example: I went to the mall, and then I had dinner.

She is taller than him.

Count vs. Non-Count Nouns

Count nouns are nouns that have a plural form.

For example, “flower/flowers,” “car/cars,” “beach/beaches,” etc. They can be preceded by “a,” “an,” or “the” when appropriate.

Some nouns are noncount nouns, or nouns that do not have a plural form. You cannot specify how many there are with a number or add an “s” to the end of these words. For example, “weather,” “hair,” “homework,” “sunshine,” etc.

They can be preceded with articles, but are frequently used without articles. They cannot be preceded by “these,” “those,” “every,” “each,” “either,” and “neither.” You can precede them with “much,” “little,” “a little,” and some other phrases when appropriate.

You're vs Your