The Ten Most Cringe Worthy Student Mistakes That An English Teacher Has To Endure
Have you ever considered why most English teachers are ageing before their time or have lots of grey hair? It is because sometimes, when a student makes a mistake, after hours of teaching them not to, the teachers shake their heads in despair and wonder just what they have been doing all of this time.
So here, without further ado, in no particular order, is a look at the top ten writing mistakes that you can make in your writing. Teachers, look away now!
- Your vs You’re
No matter how much you try, you cannot seem to get it right. Your teacher has tried. Your Mum and Dad have tried. Heck, even the Budgie has tried to make it sink in, but it hasn’t. Ever considered why YOUR and YOU’RE are so hard to fathom?
The answer lies in the human attitude to cutting corners. In writing, we cut corners by using an apostrophe, that horrible floating comma thing that confuses the hell out of most people. When we want to say YOU ARE we shorten it and miss out the A in the second word, joining them all together with the apostrophe, to make YOU’RE.
YOUR is a word that means it belongs to someone! It is YOUR book! It is as simple as that. But still, students get it wrong. Even my son gets it wrong and when I see him put the wrong one, it just makes me want to scream!
Please try to get these right!
- Being vs Been
My daughter does this one and it simply makes me want to cry. Check out this sentence: I have being to the shop!
Does it make sense to you? If it does, then there is something very wrong with your understanding of words in a sentence and it is based on the meaning and context of each word. The sentence should be: I have BEEN to the shop!
Try to think of it this way in future.
You are a human BEING. You have a sense of BEING. You can say to a child you are BEING nasty to your brother. But would you say you are been nasty to your brother? No? Of course not. It does not make sense. So please, try to think of what you are writing. Your grey haired English teacher will thank you for that little bit of thought before you write the word.
- There, Their and They’re
There is a right way to do something and there is a wrong way and sometimes, there are a lot of ways to play with the rules in anything, but in written English, when it comes to these three beauties, there is only one rule and that is this: Get them right!
So which is which [don’t get me started on which and witch, please]? Have a look at the three words in the context of the following sentence.
There was only one way that their shop was going to be sold.
The word there is one that denotes belonging. It is their book or their car. To add any other in when it denotes ownership is plain crazy. Likewise, when something or someone is over there, it means that is denotes a place. The car was parked over there. The bus crashed into the bus, over there.
So, place = there and ownership + their.
That just leaves the other, brain cringing one that people get wrong. There is a contraction of two words, a way of shortening something down, an example of brevity. The full two words should be they are and are written as they’re with an apostrophe inside and between the y and the r.
They’re going to their hotel over there!
See the placement of each one in that sentence? Please, get them right, for your ailing teacher’s sake. It drives us nuts when you get it wrong and mix them up.
- Write vs Right
This is another one that rankles and makes English teachers reach for the Gin bottle, or something stronger, when we see it.
There is a right way to do something and a wrong way. That is the context of this word right and how it is used but so many times in the last 20 years of teaching this subject, I have seen someone write something like:
The boy was asked to right something down on a piece of paper.
Oh my dear Lord, where is the sick bag? It turns my stomach to even write them down in this blog piece but so many students keep on making these mistakes, and believe me, you will not get a 4 [old fashioned C] if you consistently do this.
- The Dreaded Comma Splice
I am getting palpitations just thinking about what I am going to type next.
You know what a full stop is, yes? You know what it does, yes? It ends a sentence. It is as simple as that. So why, oh why, do so many of you do this:
The girl started to put on her make-up, she then went to the bedroom door and opened it, she saw a vision of beauty in front of her, the boyfriend had bought her a puppy.
Where’s the Valium anyone?
It is the sort of thing that destroys a piece of writing in Section B of the exam. You are asked to write about somewhere or someone, describing them in detail and then you do the above. Yuk!
If you look at the sentence I typed, for it is only one sentence, then you will see 35 words, 3 commas and a full stop, all started with a lovely capital letter. However, it makes no sense whatsoever!
The correct way to write it is to use more full stops, or even a semi colon, like this:
The girl started to put on her make-up. She then went to the bedroom door and opened it; she saw a vision of beauty in front of her. The boyfriend had bought her a puppy.
Much better. Much neater. Much more meaning included. The first sentence would not get you a 4 grade from me, but the latter would get an 8 or thereabouts.
Please be careful out there.
- Scarred vs Scared
My wife makes this mistake, but she has an excuse; she struggles with dyslexia quite badly, but before she writes the correct word, she asks me and I clarify the matter for her.
Why do students get this one wrong? Well, they need to think about the word in its smallest part. The word scar refers to one single scar, say on the faced. You add the other r with the -ed ending and you have scarred just as much as pat and patted works in the same way. It is a common error that leads all English teachers to reach for the forks to stab themselves in the side of the head. It is such a simple, basic error and for anyone marking, is the first sign that a student does not know what they are doing. We as markers will let the odd one go, but do this throughout your exam script and don’t expect more than a 4 [the old fashioned C grade as was].
- Alot and Abit of a Pain
There are times in my teaching career when I have been marking exercise books and I have just wanted to groan and on occasion, jack the job in entirely. This mistake, when seen in a book or in an exam script, makes me cringe madly.
How a student can think that there is alot of pain when you fracture a leg is beyond me to be honest. Yes, there is a lot of pain when this thing happens, but the first effort is a bad one. Yes, there is a word spelt similarly and that is allot and to allot something means to give it out, like a ticket when allot a ticket to a person for a show. But to make such a stupid mistake as this, in my book, means you do not deserve a 4 grade if you do it all the time.
Similarly, I have seen lots of times when a student has written abit as a word to signify when someone has to wait abit. Just give me the drugs now if that is what you think is the right way to spell what are two words. I want to kill myself.
- Improper Use of Capital Letters
Have you ever stopped to think that things have capital letters for a reason? Names of people and places are proper nouns, so they have capital letters. When you type something on a computer, if you use MS Word, it corrects it for you, but to then add capital letters in randomly to words seems insane to anyone who has to read work completed by a student.
I have seen more than one student put capital letters into the middle of a word. So, a sentence like The boy crossed the road to enter the church has ended up being written like this…. The boY croSSed tHe roAd to enTer the ChurCh.
It looks odd when you type it but I see it daily from students and still to this day do not understand it. Claims of “I have done it like this all my life” are simply not good enough when it comes to an exam marker and you are here on this site looking for tips to improve your English skills. One simple one is this: do not use capital letters wrongly.
If something has a name like the capital city of Italy, then write it as Rome but please do not write rome or some other such abomination to the English language. Likewise, when something like a chair does not need a capital letter [because it is a common noun for common things] don’t write it as The boy sat on the Chair. It is mind sappingly wrong!
- The Battle Of The Tenses
English can be a tense and torrid thing to read if it is written badly. Did you see what I did there?
English words, when put together correctly, can be the most beautiful things in the world to the person seeing and hearing them but when they are butchered, then they are awful in their totality.
There are three tenses [but then there are subsections so do not panic] which are present tense, past tense and future tense. If you tell a story using past tense [the boy went to the shops], then keep it in past tense all the way through [apart from direct speech]. Do not, under any circumstances, think you are writing the sequel to Angela’s Ashes and mix them up. It will make zero sense and be impossible to read.
Try to remember this train of thought:
Past tense = stories about things that HAVE HAPPENED in the past.
Present tense = things happening in the here and now.
Future tense = things in the future.
But be careful. It is possible to write a sentence like The aeroplane took [past tense] off at 1120am and it took [past tense] three hours to get to its destination, but in future, the journey will [future tense word] because the journey route is [present tense] being changed [past tense word] as we speak [present tense word].
Generally speaking, the mistakes that students make are putting things like this together badly, not thinking of the meaning and how it will change when they add the wrong word.
Be careful please. This is the single most common error I see across all abilities, even the very clever ones.
- Bad Use Of Apostrophes
There is nothing worse for an English teacher than seeing words like couldnt and cant when they are not words as such. The first one does not exist as a word and the second one does not mean cannot. Get a dictionary and look up the word if you are not sure. Either way, when the apostrophe is used wrongly, it makes the English teacher so sad that they wonder just why they teach in the first place.
Consider this sentence for a second.
The man then asked, “isn’t there a way we could do this, or shouldn’t we be thinking of how we’d do it another way?”
Nothing wrong with the sentence, however banal it might be. Isn’t refers to is not and shouldn’t means should not. All rather obvious. But have a go at reading it out as if there were no apostrophes. Then it becomes:
The man then asked, “is not there a way we could do this, or should not we be thinking of how we would do it another way?”
Is not there a way …. is very wrong when it comes to modern English. Maybe, two hundred years ago, some very high class person may have spoken like that, but not now, and we certainly do not write like that.
There is one simple rule that I teach my students and it is challenging so listen up. It is this: do not use an apostrophe if you do not need to.
Does that sound odd? Well consider that we use an apostrophe for omission [when we leave a letter out – can’t for can not etc] or for possession [Ralph’s book etc] but when we get them wrong, the result is bordering on insanity to read clearly.
By not using them at all, or as much as we can not use them, what happens is we have to rethink our words used. Instead of writing shouldn’t we write should not and so on. In essence, we then make less mistakes, our use of Standard English improves and we get better marks. Our use and command of the language gets better as well.
Leave apostrophes for direct speech when someone is speaking to another person. It is much easier that way.
These are the ten things that get my goat and send me for the bottle of beer. If you want your English teacher to keep his or her sanity, try to follow them. Please.