IELTS Grammar: 10 most common mistakes in exams/tests; with corrections and explanations

IELTS Grammar: 10 most common mistakes in exams/tests; with corrections and explanations

Candidates make a good number of mistakes in the IELTS exams due to their lacking in English Grammar. Studying regularly is important to understand grammatical rules and twists. Here are 10 most common or frequent grammatical mistakes found in different English language exams as well as job exams around the world. Take a look at the usage of singular and plural number, placement of prepositions, use of verbs in tenses, spelling errors, possessives, relative pronoun, double negatives and antecedents. The errors are quite frequent and so corrections are also provided along with the mistakes. I hope this post helps you.

IELTS Grammar: 10 most common mistakes in exams/tests; with corrections and explanations

  1. Wrong placement of prepositions:

Many time candidates make mistakes in placing prepositions after certain words. Most grammar books contain a chapter called ‘Appropriate prepositions’. This chapter does not talk about why some prepositions should go after some specific words.  So, we just need to memorise a good chunk of them. Here are a few examples:

Absorbed in: NOT absorbed at

The word ‘absorbed’ means soaked up but the phrase ‘absorbed in’ means ‘very interested in something and not paying attention to anything else when doing it’.

Don’t put down ‘at’ after this word.

Example sentence: Najib is absorbed in studying.

Accustomed to: NOT accustomed about/with

‘Accustomed to’ means ‘habituated’. Many learners put down ‘with’ after the word ‘accustomed’. Don’t do that. This phrase is synonymous to the phrase ‘used to’.

Example sentence: Pricilla is accustomed to such behaviour from her relatives.

Afraid of: NOT afraid about/from

The word ‘afraid’ always takes the preposition ‘of’.

Example sentence: John is afraid of his math tutor.

Deprived of: NOT deprived from

‘Deprived of’ means ‘lacking a specified benefit that is considered important’. Don’t use ‘from’ after the word.

Example sentence: Nelson Mandela, along with all other black people, was deprived of all his rights during the apartheid.

These are just a few examples out of many. Candidates should learn as many of the uses of prepositions with different words as they can.

  1. Wrong use of verbs in different tenses:

Students make some silly mistakes in tense forms/ verb forms while writing sentences.

Here are a few mistakes with corrections.

Incorrect: The number of workers was increased from 200 to 1000. (Subject in the sentence: The number)

Correct:  The number of workers increased from 200 to 1000.

Note: In ‘Simple past tense’ the main verb itself does the function. No auxiliary verb is needed here.

Incorrect: She like to eat ripe fruits.

Correct: She likes to eat ripe fruits.

Note: In ‘Simple present tense’ the main verb always takes s/es after ‘Third person singular number’.

Remember: The word ‘I’ and ‘We’ are the first persons. The word ‘You’ is the second person. All other subjects in English grammar are third person. When any third person means ‘one’, it is third person singular number.

Incorrect: Did Raaj went to the capital with you?

Correct: Did Raaj go to the capital with you?

Note: When we use the auxiliary verb ‘did’ in any question / interrogative sentence, the word functions to indicate ‘Simple past tense’ and the main/ principal verb remains in the base form.

  1. Problems with number:

In the IELTS sessions/classes/workshops or exams trainers/ tutors frequently report that students and candidates make a lot of mistakes in ‘number’. Here are some mistakes with corrections.

Incorrect: The number of workers in the factory were 200 in 2015.

Correct: The number of workers in the factory was 200 in 2015.

Note: The subject in this sentence is ‘The number’, NOT ‘workers’. So, the auxiliary verb will be ‘was’, NOT ‘were’.

Here is a TIP to recognize/ find out the subject in a sentence: Any word / words/ phrase preceded by a preposition is not the main part of a sentence, it is an ‘extension’ to the sentence. For this sentence ‘of workers’ and ‘in the factory’ are extensions.

Incorrect: It is therefore not a criteria.

Correct: It is therefore not a criterion.

Note: The word ‘criterion’ is singular, while ‘criteria’ is plural.

Incorrect: A lot of peoples were present there.

Correct: A lot of people were present there.

Note: The word ‘people’ is itself plural, it doesn’t take an s/es to be plural. The singular form of people is ‘person’.

Here is a list of irregular plural nouns which do not s/es.

Singular Plural
Man Men
Woman Women
Person People
Foot Feet
Tooth Teeth
Goose Geese
Medium Media
Criterion Criteria
Child Children
Mouse Mice
Fungus Fungi
Cactus Cacti
Alumnus Alumni
Crisis Crises
Analysis Analyses
Thesis Theses
Datam Data
Bacterium Bacteria
Curriculum Curricula
Index Indices
  1. Problems with spelling:

Students and candidates often make mistakes in spellings of some words. Here are a few spelling mistakes with corrections. Wikipedia has a great list of spelling errors but here are a few mistakes that I regularly find in exam papers.

Incorrect spelling Correct spelling
Calender Calendar
Commitee Committee
Accomodation Accommodation
Curiousity Curiosity
Embarassed Embarrassed
Fourty Forty
Independance Independence
Necesary Necessary
Seperate Separate
Truely Truly
Tommorrow Tomorrow
Aweful Awful
Awsome Awesome
Acheive Achieve
Recieve Receive
Buisness Business
Shef Chef
Beautifuly Beautifully
Colum Column
Garantee Guarantee
Extreem Extreme
Crysis Crisis
Neice Niece
Occassion Occasion
Pronounciation Pronunciation
Rythm Rhythm
Relevent Relevant
Untill Until
  1. Using possessive ’s with inanimate object:

This mistake is often done even by experts in English.

Incorrect: The room’s window is broken.

Correct: The window of the room is broken.

Note: An inanimate object is a thing that is not alive, such as a rock, a chair, a book, etc. We don’t use possessive (’s) with these objects. We say ‘The streets of New York’, NOT ‘New York’s streets’; we say ‘The canals of Tokyo’, NOT ‘Tokyo’s canals’.

However, we do say ‘a day’s off’, ‘a night’s rest’, ‘a week’s holiday’, to indicate measures of time.

  1. Using relative pronoun ‘which’ to indicate ‘person’:

Incorrect: We have a number of players which are quite skilled in football.

Correct: We have a number of players who are quite skilled in football.

Note: Always use ‘who’, ‘whom’ or ‘whose’ as a relative pronoun when ‘the antecedent’ indicates ‘human being(s)’.

To learn more about ‘antecedent’ click here.

  1. Using a double negative:

This serious mistake is done in different writing exams and speaking tests which upsets the trainer/tutor/examiner.

Incorrect: My brother is not afraid of nobody.

Correct: My brother is not afraid of anybody. / My brother is afraid of nobody.

Note: In English grammar two negatives are equal to an affirmative statement. It’s like the mathematical rule of (minus and minus equal a plus).

We should not use a negative word or anything indicating negative (like ‘not’) with the following words:

None, nobody, nothing, nowhere, neither…nor.

If we want to use ‘not’ in our statements, we need to change those words.

None changes to anyone,

Nobody changes to anybody,

Nothing changes to anything,

Nowhere changes to anywhere,

Neither…..nor changes to either…..or,

  1. Using one time, two times, three times:

Incorrect: I called Alice one time/ two times/ three times.

Correct: I called Alice once/ twice/ thrice.

Correct: Alice came to my house four times.

Note: We use the word ‘time/times’ with all numbers except ‘one’, ‘two’ and ‘three’.

  1. ‘More than one’ is not ‘two’:

Often many students, candidates or even trainers have the view that something more than one is plural but it is not the case. Look at the examples:

Incorrect: I want one-and-a-half cakes.

Correct: I want one-and-a-half cake.

Note: One and more than one (fraction after one) is singular unless it is two.

Here are some more examples:

Incorrect: She needs a leave of one-and-a-half weeks.

Correct: She needs a leave of one-and-a-half week.

Incorrect: I’ll stay in the UK for two-and-a-half year.

Correct: I’ll stay in the UK for two-and-a-half years.

  1. Some plural ‘words’ are never singular:

Some words in English grammar always indicate plural. Never use them as singular.

Incorrect: The circumstance is bad.

Correct: The circumstances are bad.

Incorrect: Cattle is grazing in the field near the river.

Correct: Cattle are grazing in the field near the river.

Incorrect: I am fond of vegetable.

Correct: I am fond of vegetables.

Here is a list of words which are generally used in grammar as plurals:

People, cattle, vegetables, goods (things), circumstances, marks (academic grades), pains (sufferings), studies (academic works), literary works, customs (tax), premises, arms (weapons), irons (chains), manners (behaviour), quarters, scissors, pants, trousers, spectacles/glasses, pliers, tongs etc.

Click here to learn about simple, complex and compound sentences

Click here to learn about identifying Subject and Object

Click here to learn about basic prepositions

Click here to learn about the use of linkers/ connector/ connecting words

Click here to learn about ‘Number’ and its forms, rules/methods and examples

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