Today we’re going to talk about some of the most common grammar errors that native English speakers routinely commit. Native speakers of any language often talk casually with other native speakers of the same language in ways that are grammatically incorrect. English is no different than any other language in this respect. Watch out for these common mistakes as you continue to learn English. Don’t fall into the same grammatical traps that many native speakers do.
Number and Amount
English contains both countable and uncountable nouns. Certain nouns can have a numerical value assigned to them while others cannot. However, sometimes you need to be able to express an approximate value for uncountable nouns. If this sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone. Native English speakers routinely confuse the words used for expressing the quantities of count and noncount nouns.
Native speakers seem be particularly confused by the difference between number and amount. The best way to keep these straight is to remember to be literal with them. In order to use number, a noun must literally be something that you could attach a number to. If the noun you are trying to quantify cannot have a number attached to it, you should use amount. Let’s use “cars” and “traffic” as examples:
The number of cars on I-285 today is ridiculous.
The amount of traffic on I-285 today is ridiculous.
“Car” is a count noun that refers to an individual unit. While it would be highly impractical, you could conceivably count every single car on I-285. “Traffic,” on the other hand, is a noncount noun that refers to a whole group. In English, whole groups cannot be assigned numbers.
Native English speakers also routinely confuse fewer and less. The idea behind these is the same as with number and amount. Fewer is used for things that can be counted. Less is used for things that cannot be counted.
Fewer (count noun):
There were fewer cars on I-285 than I was anticipating.
Less (noncount noun):
There was less traffic on I-285 than I was anticipating.
Misuse of Contractions
Because contractions are basically grammatical shortcuts, it can be easy to fall into the habit of using them without thinking about the full words that they actually represent. A good example of this problem is there’s: the informal contraction of “there is.” This contraction contains a singular verb and should only be used with a singular subject. Nevertheless, you’ll often hear native speakers say something like the following:
There’s many qualified ESOL teachers at the English Island in Atlanta.
“Teachers” is plural and thus needs a plural verb. Here’s how the sentence should be spoken or written:
There are many qualified ESOL teachers at the English Island in Atlanta.
One infamous contraction where its creators clearly didn’t stop to consider what it actually meant was the log-on message for the online service AOL. If you had new email messages in your inbox when you connected to AOL, the service would greet you with the phrase “you’ve got mail!” This jingle proved extremely catchy (it even became the title of a movie about online romance), but it’s wrong on a very basic grammatical level. “You’ve” is a contraction of “you have.” Thus “you’ve got mail” is the same as saying “you have got mail.” The phrase should have been simply “you have mail.” Neither the contraction nor “got” is used correctly.
A double negative simply means that two words with a negative meaning are used where only one should be present. Traditional rules of grammar hold that two double negatives equal a positive. By using a double negative, the speaker is actually expressing the opposite of whatever he or she is attempting to convey. While this is no longer universally considered to be true, a double negative is still viewed as something that portrays the speakers as ignorant or uneducated:
I didn’t see nothing.
Didn’t and nothing are both negatives.
What the Speakers Means:
I didn’t see anything.
I saw nothing.
I Could(n’t) Care Less
I couldn’t care less/I could not care less is a rhetorical expression used to express the degree to which the speaker does not care about a particular event or situation. The speaker is saying that he or she could not possibly be less interested in an event/situation than he or she already is. However, many native English speakers mistakenly say “I could care less.” When taken literally, this common error means the opposite of what the speaker intended:
I could care less about baseball.
So you could care less about baseball?
I couldn’t care less about baseball.
Okay. I’ll stop talking about the Braves game that I went to on Saturday.