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Common Errors in Writing

Updated on October 26, 2011

ESL common writing mistakes of high school and university students

As we all know that English is a language o be acquired rather than a subject to be studied. It is a unit of different skills that should be integrated together when learning it. ESL learners may face some problems with some of these skills due to the difference between their mother tongue and English. Consequently, they make some mistakes. Here are some of the major mistakes they may make.


Some learners may find it easy to talk English, and this may due to the period they spent practicing and talking with their friends, family members, or other people. But when it is the time to write they can not remember the correct spelling of the words they want to use. It is clear here that they have heard such words but rarely used them in written work. Here are some examples:

  • - My sister is a teacher but my brathar…….. .
  • - English is important becase it is required in many places for work.
  • - I want to be an English techer in the future.
  • - My handwriting is week.


Lack of knowledge as well as practice leads students towards a poor punctuated writing work. They may have the needed vocabulary and a good knowledge of grammar rules but they do not know anything called ‘Punctuation marks’, or in other words they do not know how to punctuate words, phrases, sentences, or questions. Here are some examples of such errors.

  • - english is an International language .
  • - Smoking is bad, and it hurts your lungs, Too.
  • - Where have you found This scarf?
  • - I Like reading books, but My sister Likes Listening to cassettes .

Verb forms

Most of ESL learners use incorrect form of a tense , specially the present perfect and the past simple. Some of them use the present simple to express both present and past, and others may use the continues with frequency adverbs like ‘’ everyday’’ explaining that the action is continuous everyday


  • I have been to India in 1967.
  • - She write me a letter last night.
  • - I am talking to my friends everyday.
  • - We have gone to Paris two years ago.

Sentence structure

The sentence structure is different between English and learners mother tongue. This difference causes major problems to learners. In Arabic, for example, there is no need of the verb ‘’to be ‘’. Nominal Arabic sentence consists of subject and predicate without any verb between. Another difference is the place of the subject and the verb in both languages . In English, the sentence begins with the subject while in Arabic, it begins with the verb. So the difference of sentence structure between English and learners mother tongue can cause problems in forming correct sentences .The difference in word order is an aspect of this error as well.

  • - Wants Mary to go to the market. ( Mary wants to go to the market )
  • - English important .( English is important )
  • - I want to be teacher English language . ( I want to be an English language teacher )
  • - I want to speak English good . ( I want to speak good English , or , I want to speak English well .)
  • - Find in the city places beautiful. (There are beautiful places in the city ).

Using articles

Using the correct and appropriate article with nouns is another error of ESL learners. During my work period, in the last three years, I have realized that most learners face difficulty in using the appropriate article, and others may leave the word, or phrase without any article. Most students have the thought that words begin with vowel letters need the indefinite article ‘’ an’’ and this leads them to use the wrong article here. In English, we use ‘’ an ‘’ before nouns begin with vowel sounds not letters. And since it is hard to break down some habits students have built, they use the wrong article before the noun.

Examples of this:

  • - An university (instead of a university).
  • - An uniform (instead of a uniform).
  • - A X-ray (instead of an X-ray)

Some learners use articles before names of countries that do not need any.

  • - We visited the Yemen last year.
  • - My father has been to the India twice.

Another mistake with articles is that, some learners use indefinite articles before unique nouns like moon, sun, sky, …….. . They write a moon, a sky … and this due to that they use it as a single noun .


Repeating words again in the same context is a common mistake ESL learners make when writing. Here is a short example of a learner work:

It was early in the morning when I heard a sound in the kitchen .When I went to the kitchen to find out about the sound, there was nothing in the kitchen. Then I heard the sound again , and that time the sound was coming from the living room.

The learner repeated the words ‘’ kitchen, sound ‘’. While it is better to replace them with other words: pronouns or adverbs, for example. Or some words can be deleted when there is no necessity for them. This short text could be written as :

It was early in the morning when I heard a sound in the kitchen .When I went to find out about it, there was nothing there. Then I heard the sound again, and that time it was coming from the living room.


Using and choosing the appropriate word is a serious mistake of ESL learners. This can change the meaning and mislead the reader. This problem is a result of mixing similar words and using them in the same context. From the other hand, it can be because of the differences between learners’ mother tongue and English.

In English, we say ‘’ good/bad at’’, but a common mistake of ESL learners here is ‘’ good/bad in ‘’. Other mistakes, ‘’ different than …. Instead of ‘’different from ….’’…….. ‘’in night’’ instead of ‘’ at night’’ ……..

To overcome such problems, learners need a good guide and enough practice. It is not enough for them to listen to teachers and do and submit the home work.


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    • Fatema Aref profile image

      Fatema Aref 5 years ago

      thank u t.nawal for good info

    • roanna profile image

      roanna 6 years ago from Virginia

      Great overview of the main ESL errors.