Common Grammar Mistakes
in British English

Common Grammar Mistakes Learning a language is difficult, and I see students make lots of mistakes. But making mistakes isn't always a bad thing.

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If someone tells you your mistakes, it is how you learn and how you know what to do in the future.

What are the most common grammar mistakes in British English?

Grammar mistakes in English usually fall into three main areas:
  1. Tenses

  2. Articles (the/a/an or zero article)

  3. Word order
Let's go over each of them.


Many other languages have only one past tense and one future tense but English has many tenses. This makes it difficult for many learners.

Some of the most common mistakes are between the use of the present perfect: "I have seen the Harry Potter film," and the simple past: "I saw the Harry Potter film last week."

Let's look at some of the differences between how they are used.

The most common uses of the present perfect are:
  • When you are talking about any time before now (not a specific time in the past), or we don't know when something happened.

    Example: "I have been to Italy."

  • When you are talking about 'unfinished' time (such as today, this year, etc.).

    Example: "I have drunk five cups of coffee today."

  • When there is a strong connection to the present.

    Example: "I don't know where my book is. Have you seen it?"

  • With certain set phrases and time words.

    Example: "I'm not hungry, I've just eaten dinner."
    "I've recently returned from Hong Kong."

  • When we are starting to tell a story, the first sentence usually contains the present perfect.

    Example: "John has broken his arm, did you know? He fell off a ladder yesterday."

  • When you are talking about a situation that started in the past and continues in the present.

    Example: "I have lived here for three years."

    Many other languages would use the present tense to communicate this idea.

There are other times the present perfect is used, but these are the most common.

It is used much more in British English than it is in American English.

The simple past is used if we talk about a fixed time in the past, or about time that is now finished.

For example: yesterday, last year, in 1965, when Shakespeare was alive.

We can't, for example, say "Shakespeare has written a lot of plays."

Shakespeare has been dead for a very long time, so his time of writing is finished. We therefore use the simple past and say, "Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays."

Compare this with: "J.K. Rowling has written seven Harry Potter books." She is still alive and there is a possibility she may write more books in the future.


Articles are another problem you might have with the English language. Maybe your language doesn't have articles, or maybe it uses them in a different way, and this makes it very difficult for you.

There are two different kinds of articles in English:

the definite article (the) and the indefinite article (a, an). There is also something called the zero article, which means there is no article used.

So what problems do people have with articles?

Well, the most basic rule is that if we know what is being talked about we use "the" and if we don't know, then we use "a" or "an". (Of course, the noun has to be singular and not plural!)

  • "I can see the moon."
    We use "the" because there is only one moon.
  • "I gave my chocolate to the girl in the blue dress."
    We use "the" because we know which girl we are talking about (she is wearing the blue dress).

  • "I saw a big dog yesterday."
    We use "a" because we don't know this dog. It is the first time it has been mentioned.

  • "I saw a big dog yesterday. Then the dog bit me."
    We use "the" in the second sentence because now we know which dog is being talked about.
Another mistake students make with articles is when they are talking about things in general.

It is often difficult to understand why we say "People are more selfish these days," but "The people I met on holiday were very friendly."

The basic rule is that if we are talking about something in general, we do not use an article (zero article), but if we are talking about one group of something then we use the definite article (the).

There are lots of other article rules, and some of them are very advanced.

The best advice I can give is to read as much as possible and you will start to get a feel for what is right and what is wrong.

Word order

Word order is another challenge for learners of English.

One mistake students often make when they start to learn is with the word order of adjectives.

Many languages would say "I have a bag brown." But in English we always put the adjective before the noun and say, "I have a brown bag."

There are also rules about the order of adjectives if we use more than one.

For example, "I have a beautiful big blue wooden table."

The basic rule is that we use adjectives in this order:
  • Opinion (beautiful, clever, expensive)

  • Size (big, short, wide)

  • Color (blue, red)

  • Material (wooden, metal, plastic)
There are other times that word order in English may be different from your language, and you will only discover these as you continue learning.

The more you read and listen to English, the more you will start to recognize what is right.

This article is by no means a comprehensive grammar guide, but it should have given you an idea of some of the common grammar mistakes that students make in British English.

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