5 Common Grammar Mistakes Intermediate English Speakers Make

In this article you’re going to see a list of some of the most common mistakes I see intermediate and even sometimes advanced English speakers make both in writing and speaking.

Making mistakes is great as long as you can learn from them, but sometimes you might even not be aware you’re making a mistake.

With this article you’ll reconnect with the practice of learning from your mistakes as I’ll show you how to properly use some of the structures that might be giving you a hard time.

Also, you’ll find out about some of those mistakes you don’t even know you’re making!

This article is especially useful for intermediate and even low advanced English speakers. We will work to keep those mistakes from fossilizing in your way of speaking.


Articles Before the Possessive S

You can use articles (thea/an) before a noun with a possessive S, as in:

The world’s best athletes met in Rio 2016.
A man‘s brain is different from a woman‘s.

However, you can’t use articles when the possessive s modifies a proper noun (i.e. a person’s name). This is the mistake many make.

I drove the John’s car.


See below another recurring mistake relating the possessive s:

John‘s and Sarah‘s car. (incorrect)
John and Sarah‘s car. (correct)
Matt‘s and Nick‘s project. (incorrect)
Matt and Nick‘s project. (correct)

On the other hand, the grammar of the following structure isn’t so much a recurring mistake, but rather a pattern that’s avoided because of it’s difficulty.

Andrew‘s dog is a Labrador, what’s Emma‘s?

What’s Emma’s? refers to what breed Emma’s dog is, but you don’t need to repeat dog since it’s already been mentioned. This is called ellipsis, the omission of unnecessary or redundant words. Another example:

Stephan‘s learning style is not the same as Tim‘s.

Being able to speak sentences like these without even thinking will add a lot to your fluency.


Misplacing “to”

Not to want to do something” is correct, but “to don’t want to do it” is not.

On the other hand, although “to not want to do something” is correct, it is not as common as to “not to want to do something.” Whenever you’re confused which form to use, thinking of Shakespeare’s famous quote will probably help:

To be or not to be…

Consider how it would have sounded if he had said to be or to not be.

Going back to the faulty “to don’t…” here are some more examples to compare:

YES (3)

Another common grammar structure with ‘to‘ intermediate as well as advanced speaker have a hard time using is the following:

She didn’t come home at the time her parents told her to.
I didn’t go because I didn’t want to.

The mistake you might be making is either omitting “to” completely or repeating a verb within the same sentence.

She didn’t come home at the time her parents told her. (‘to’ is missing)
I didn’t go because I didn’t want to go. (‘go’ should have been omitted)  


Indirect and Reported Questions

This is a direct question:

What’s the time?

This is an indirect question:

Could you tell me what the time is?

Indirect questions do you know where the gas station is

As you can probably tell, indirect questions are more polite and are used with people we don’t know very well.

Indirect questions are essentially two questions in one sentence: “Could you tell me…?” (that’s one). “What’s the time?” (that’s two).

The grammar point you shouldn’t miss is that the second question takes the form of an statement: “…what the time is?” Take a look below at the correct and incorrect wording of an indirect question.

Do you know where the gas station is? (correct)
Do you know where is the gas station? (incorrect)


Reported Questions

A reported question is a question with the grammar of a statement. It’s used when we’re talking about what other person asked. See the example below:

She asked me what my job was.

The question referred to in the example is “what’s your job?” And while it’s okay to say:

She asked me “What’s your job?”

You need to bare in mind that you should reproduce the question with the proper intonation of a question. In writing, you need to use quotation marks (“”) to enclose the question.

However, when we tell someone what someone else asked, it’s more common to use the reported form. The two major grammar adjustments we make in reported questions is moving the verb to be after the subject, and setting it in the past tense.

Original question (asked in the past): Rick, how old are you?

Reported question (in the present): He asked Rick how old he was.

Original question (asked in the past): Matt, what is your brother’s name?
Reported question (in the present): He asked Matt what his brother’s name was

One last thing worth knowing is that if the original question contains the auxiliary do/does, the reported question takes if or whether.

Original question (asked in the past): Do you have any tickets left?
Reported question (in the present): He asked me if/whether I had any tickets left.


Numbers in Compound Adjectives

A compound adjective is a unit made up of two words that modifies a noun. We use compound adjectives to express an idea in a more succinct way.

A country where English is spoken.
An English-speaking country. 

An athlete that holds a world record.
A world record holding athlete.

The mistake foreign English speakers tend to make is to pluralize the compound adjective when there’s a number in it. Take a look at the examples in the image.

An 8-hours shift. (incorrect)
An 8-hour shift. (correct)

Following this grammar rule, you should avoid this mistake when referring to someone’s age.

A 9-years-old boy. (incorrect)
A 9-year-old boy. (correct)


Verbs After Prepositions

It’s important you absorb and master the form the verb takes when it’s after a preposition because making this mistake can really damage your English. The rule in question states that…

Verbs must go in the -ing form when placed after prepositions

Prepositions are words like:

in from with
to through at
of for by
about on towards
after over into


A very common mistake I see people make on Facebook is saying

Thanks for add me to the group.

Since the verb “add” is followed by the preposition “for” it should be said in the gerund or -ing form: “adding

Thanks for adding me to the group.

Here are some more examples for you to take a look at:

This mistake is super common with the phrasal verb to look forward to. “To” is a preposition, and therefore the verb that follows it is expected to be in the gerund form.

I’m looking forward to seeing you.


Final Word

As you can see everywhere on this article, these mistakes are quite common among foreign English speakers. However, settling for mediocrity is anything but a path to master fluency. If you’re really into improving your skills, I’d suggest you choose to take the posture of a good perfectionist and try your hardest to free your English of errors.

A good perfectionist is someone who aims high with his goals, but understands mistakes are an absolute natural part of the process. Mistakes are good in the sense that they are an opportunity to grow, but will only occur if you are proactive and determined to make real progress with your English. The best immediate way to become that good perfectionist is by getting your Master Fluency File copy.

Now, over to you…

What’s a common grammar mistake you have noticed other learners make?


what’s a grammar structure that gives you a hard time? (I’ll gladly answer any grammar question you might have in the comments)


About the Author Max

I'm the content creator and founder of Max English and the Master English Fluency Academy. As a professional ESL educator my mission is to help learners achieve their full potential by teaching them the skills they need to become a confident, successful and unstoppable English speaker.

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