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Some common mistakes to avoid in English

There are some very big problems that are worth special mention. These are mistakes made by Spanish-speakers at the most advanced level of English.

The word people is plural.

A verb must have a subject.

The subject must be before the verb.

    Spain does not have a president. The word people is plural. It is effectively (though not in fact)  the irregular plural of person: six people; people are; people were; people have; these people; those people; many people. In more complex sentences you have to remember to say There are not many people who have climbed Mount Everest in their pyjamas.

    A verb must have a subject. Is Wednesday today; Is very difficult; Is nice your new car. The first two examples must begin with It is or It’s: It is Wednesday today; It’s very difficult. The third has another problem and should be Your new car is nice (see it to delay the subject). Questions begin with Is: Is it Wednesday today? Is it very difficult? Is your new car nice?

    The subject must be before the verb. If you say It is nice your new car (Es bonito tu nuevo coche) it is easy to see that it should be Your new car is nice with the subject before the verb, where it should be. It is more difficult in a sentence such as It is very complicated the situation facing the company but it in English it still has to be The situation facing the company is very complicated.

    Spain does not have a president. There are two English words that correspond to presidente: chairman and president. In most organisations and clubs the person with the greatest authority is the chairman; some organisations might have an honorary president who has no executive authority but shows an interest in the running of it. A special case in Spain is el presidente del Gobierno, which would be the chairman of the government in English. However, in Britain that position is called prime minister and that is the name that is used for the equivalent position in other countries, including Spain. It is a serious mistake to talk about the President of Spain or the Spanish President because that title is used for the president as head of state of a republic, President Sarkozy of France for example, but there is no presidente del Estado español.

Examples adapted from Great English Mistakes made by Spanish-speakers by Peter Harvey, published by Lavengro Books (www.lavengrobooks.com).


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