Top 5 small but common mistakes


When I first started teaching, my students and I were occasionally left slightly red-faced over subtle miscommunications stemming from subtleties of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. It was the first time I’d realised that learning English could inadvertently lead to sticky situations. During the winter months, my sniffling students would tell me about their intense constipation. I spent a while surprised at Spanish openness before I discovered that being ‘constipado’ in Spanish actually means to have a cold. And when I told one student it was a shame he wasn’t able to attend the next class, a look of shock came over him as he took the word ‘shame’ in its harshest sense and hung his head, perhaps ready to stand forlorn in a corner. There are so many small mistakes a learner can make that can really jar for a native speaker, so this week we’re going to have a look at some of the most common.






Confusing? Or Confused?

Mixing up descriptive adjectives can be easy to do – one adjective might refer to a personal feeling and another similar one might describe an action or an object. Someone who is bored, tired or annoyed may accidentally drive people away by instead telling the world “I’m boring,” “I’m tiring” or “I’m annoying” – perhaps not the best traits to look for in a friend…


Many learners of English often use “actually” to describe something happening at that particular moment. This is especially true for those native to countries that are home to romantic languages, which often have a very similar false friend. In English it doesn’t have the same ‘current’ meaning, but serves to emphasise a point, or as a correction. Even though we use it a lot in English, it isn’t actually all that easy to explain.

Dos and don’ts

Asking questions in English can be a tricky affair thanks to that pesky auxiliary verb not often found in other languages. So instead of asking ‘how did he get there?’ or ‘how does it work?’ you might hear: ‘How he got there?’ or ‘How it works?’ even from seasoned English learners.

Say and tell

Some languages don’t distinguish between saying something and telling somebody something. You can say hello but you can’t tell hello to someone, in the same way that you can’t say someone to do something but you have to tell them to. Your students can practise this with the help of a useful video in the “Say vs Tell” Grammar Reference Unit [GRU00063A] on Macmillan English Campus and Macmillan Practice Online.

Making do

Whether an activity is made or done is one of the trickiest aspects of the English language to grasp, with apparently little logic and fewer rules. This is one of those rare times when learning by heart might actually be the best plan of action.

Aside from creating something (make) and carrying something out (do), why do we make a decision while doing someone a favour? And why do we make an effort to do damage?

Have a go searching for “make vs do” which can again be found in the Grammar Reference units on Macmillan English Campus and Macmillan Practice Online. [GRU00095A and B]



  • Yes, I agree. Those are definitely the top 5 most common mistakes my students make. As for speakers of romantic languages, I guess Romance or Romanic languages can also be romantic 😉

    Posted by Rosa Antomil on September 13th 2012
  • Hi Rosa,

    Glad you agreed!

    And thanks for the clarification – I thought I might have the terminology a bit wrong – and I suppose all languages can be romantic, Romance or not…take English for example! 🙂

    Posted by Peter on September 13th 2012
  • Couldn’t agree more. I still struggle to ge them to ask correctly or at least how international exams require us to do.

    Posted by GEORGINA MANGIONE on September 17th 2012

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