Six Common Mistakes in ESL Writing: How to Avoid Them

Six Common Mistakes in ESL Writing: How to Avoid Them

Writing in English as a second language can be challenging, especially when it comes to avoiding common mistakes. Many learners often make errors in switching tenses, resulting in inconsistency in their writing. For example, using the past tense in one sentence and then switching to the present tense in the next can sound weird and confuse the reader. To avoid this, learners should stick to the rules of verb tenses and pay attention to the context of their sentences.

Another common mistake is the incorrect use of possessives. For instance, some learners might say “the kids’s toys” instead of “the kids’ toys”. This error often needs a simple fix, as they just need to add an apostrophe after the last letter of the word “kids”. Remember, possessives indicate the ownership of something, so it’s important to use them correctly.

Many learners also struggle with using articles correctly, especially when it comes to the difference between “a” and “an”. It’s important to remember that “a” is used before words that begin with consonant sounds, while “an” is used before words that begin with vowel sounds. For example, “a car” and “an apple”. This skillset needs practice and attention to detail to master.

Using transitional adverbs is another area where many learners tend to make mistakes. Omitting these adverbs can make their writing sound choppy and disjointed. These adverbs, such as “however”, “therefore”, and “meanwhile”, provide a smooth transition between ideas and help the reader understand the flow of the text.

Misuse of numbers is a commonly seen error among ESL learners. For example, when writing the number 9, some may mistakenly write it as “nine” instead. However, in most contexts, using the numeral “9” is the correct choice. Remember to follow the grammar rules for using numbers in English writing.

Lastly, the misuse of first-person pronouns stands as a top mistake among English learners. For instance, saying “I are” instead of “I am” sounds incorrect and needs to be fixed. Understanding the correct construction of sentences and using the appropriate subject and verb agreement is essential in English writing.

Mistake 1: Using Incorrect Verb Tenses in Academic Writing

Here are some suggestions to help you avoid making this mistake:

1. Study the verb tenses: To avoid using incorrect verb tenses, it is essential to have a good understanding of the different tenses in English. Take the time to study and familiarize yourself with the different tenses and their usage.

2. Pay attention to the context: When writing academically, it is important to pay attention to the context and determine the appropriate tense to use. For example, when making general statements, it is common to use the present tense.

3. Use the infinitive form after certain words: Sometimes, students use verb forms incorrectly after certain words, such as “hope,” “want,” or “need.” Remember that after such words, the infinitive form of the verb should be used. For example, “I want to study English.”

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4. Avoid excessively using adverbs: Using adverbs excessively can lead to incorrect verb tense usage. Instead, focus on using adverbs sparingly and in the appropriate context.

5. Watch out for wordiness: Wordiness can often lead to incorrect verb tense usage. Be concise and precise in your writing, and avoid unnecessarily adding extra words that can confuse the verb tense.

7. Understand subject-verb agreement: Pay attention to subject-verb agreement when using verb tenses. Make sure that the verb agrees with the subject in terms of number and person. For example, “He studies” (correct) versus “He study” (incorrect).

By being aware of these common mistakes and knowing how to fix them, you can greatly improve your English writing skills. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep writing and learning from your mistakes!

Mistake 2: Neglecting Proofreading and Editing

  1. Always Proofread: Don’t be afraid to spend some time proofreading your work. By carefully reviewing your writing, you can catch and correct any grammatical errors or inconsistencies.
  2. Use a Thesaurus: To avoid wordiness and repetition, use a thesaurus to find synonyms for common words and phrases. This can make your writing more varied and engaging.
  3. Check for Grammar and Spelling Mistakes: Grammar and spelling mistakes can make your writing appear unprofessional. Always use spelling and grammar checks, and consider having someone else review your work for mistakes you might have missed.
  4. Pay Attention to Word Choice: In English, certain words have specific meanings and should be used in the appropriate context. For example, “cost” and “shops” are both nouns, but “cost” is more appropriate when discussing prices, while “shops” is more appropriate when referring to retail establishments.
  5. Avoid Inconsistency: Make sure your writing maintains consistent tense, word usage, and sentence construction. Switching between tenses or using incorrect grammar can confuse the reader and weaken the clarity of your writing.
  6. Be Clear and Concise: Avoid wordiness and excessive use of adverbs. Keep your sentences and paragraphs concise and to the point, making it easier for your readers to understand your message.
  7. Use Articles Correctly: The usage of articles (such as “a,” “an,” and “the”) can be tricky for ESL learners. Pay attention to proper usage, especially when referring to specific or general nouns.
  8. Avoid Number Errors: Be mindful of how numbers are used in English. For example, “8” is written as “eight,” and “100+” can be written as “over one hundred.” Incorrectly using numbers can lead to confusion and inaccuracies in your writing.

By avoiding these mistakes and taking the time to proofread and edit your work, you can improve your writing skillset and produce clearer, more professional pieces of writing in English.

Mistake 3: Lack of Cohesion in Paragraphs

  1. Using incorrect tenses: It’s crucial to use the correct tenses when writing in English. Make sure that your verb tenses are consistent throughout the paragraph.
  2. Misuse of coordinating conjunctions: Coordinating conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “or” are often used incorrectly, leading to incoherent paragraphs. Learn the proper usage of coordinating conjunctions to avoid this mistake.
  3. Overusing adverbs and adjectives: While adverbs and adjectives can add color to your writing, using them excessively can make your paragraphs wordy and confusing. Use them sparingly and only when they add value to your sentence.
  4. Misuse of possessives: Misusing possessives (e.g., using “its” instead of “it’s” or “kids’s” instead of “kids'”) can make your writing look careless and unprofessional. Double-check the correct usage of possessives in different contexts.
  5. Misuse of articles and prepositions: Incorrect usage of articles and prepositions can make your writing sound unnatural. Pay attention to proper article usage (e.g., “a” vs. “an”) and preposition placement (e.g., “in London” vs. “at London”).
  6. Missing subject-verb agreement: Ensure that the subject and verb in your sentences agree in terms of number. Singular subjects should be accompanied by singular verbs, and plural subjects should be accompanied by plural verbs.
  7. Failure to use transitions: Transitions are words or phrases that help connect ideas within and between paragraphs. Using appropriate transitions (e.g., “however,” “therefore,” “in addition”) will make your writing more cohesive and easier to follow.
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To avoid these errors, it’s important to continuously practice your writing skills and seek feedback from teachers, native English speakers, or language exchange partners. By identifying and fixing these mistakes, you can improve the cohesion and clarity of your paragraphs and become a more proficient writer in English.

Mistake 4: Writing in the First Person in Academic Contexts

One mistake that students often make is using the infinitive form of a verb instead of the appropriate conjugated form. For example, instead of writing “I am shopping online”, they may write “I to shop online”. To avoid this mistake, it’s important to always use the correct conjugation of the verb “to be” (am, is, are) when referring to oneself.

Another mistake that ESL students make is using adverbs in the wrong order. For example, instead of writing “I always shop online”, they may write “I shop always online”. To fix this error, one should be aware of the correct placement of adverbs in English sentences, which is typically after the verb and before any objects.

Furthermore, ESL students sometimes omit the use of coordinating conjunctions in their writing, which can lead to fragmented or incomplete sentences. For example, instead of writing “I shopped online, and I found the best deals”, they may write “I shopped online, I found the best deals”. To avoid this mistake, it’s important to remember to include appropriate coordinating conjunctions (such as “and”, “but”, or “or”) to join clauses together.

In addition, another common mistake is the incorrect use of capitalization. For example, students may write “i” instead of “I” or “american” instead of “American”. To fix this error, it’s important to be aware of the rules of capitalization in English and to always capitalize proper nouns, the first word of a sentence, and the pronoun “I”.

Mistakes in agreement are also commonly made by ESL students. For example, they may write “your welcome” instead of “you’re welcome” or “kids’ toys” instead of “kid’s toys”. To avoid these errors, it’s important to understand the rules of agreement in English and to use possessives and contractions correctly.

Another mistake that students make is inconsistency in their writing. For example, they may use both “it’s” and “it is” within the same paragraph, or switch between British and American spellings. To avoid this mistake, it’s important to proofread and edit your writing for consistency in language and style.

Finally, ESL students may struggle with using transitional words and phrases effectively. For instance, they may misspell transitional words or use them incorrectly. To improve in this area, ESL students can consult a thesaurus for synonyms and example sentences to ensure proper usage of transitional words and phrases.

Mistake 5: Overusing Complex Vocabulary and Phrases

First and foremost, it’s important to stop and consider whether the complex vocabulary or phrase you want to use is truly necessary. Will it add meaning or clarity to your sentence? If not, it’s best to work on finding a simpler and more definitive way to express your ideas.

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There are some words and phrases that are commonly misused or misunderstood, and you should be cautious when using them. For example, the word “there” is often used incorrectly, especially in the phrase “there is” or “there are”. Students tend to omit or misuse articles and plurals in these phrases, saying “there is many students” instead of “there are many students”.

In addition, excessive use of conjunctions such as “which” and “that” can make your writing confusing and difficult to follow. Try to use these words sparingly and only when necessary to maintain clarity in your sentences.

Another common error is the incorrect usage of adverbs. Many students overuse adverbs or place them incorrectly in their sentences. For example, saying “I quickly went to the store” instead of “I went to the store quickly” is a common mistake.

One way to avoid these errors is to pay close attention to the style and tone of your writing. Are you trying to sound too formal or sophisticated? Remember that clarity and simplicity should be your main goals in ESL writing. Keep your sentences and paragraphs concise and focused, and avoid excessive use of complex vocabulary and phrases.

Here are some suggestions to help you avoid this mistake:

1. Use simple and clear language:

Avoid using words or phrases that are unnecessarily complex or difficult to understand. Keep in mind that your goal is to communicate your ideas effectively, not impress the reader with your vocabulary.

2. Use adverbs correctly:

Pay attention to the placement of adverbs in your sentences. Make sure they modify the correct verb and are placed in the appropriate position for clarity.

3. Proofread for errors:

Always proofread your writing to check for any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors. Use tools like spell check and grammar check to help you identify and correct mistakes.

4. Seek feedback:

Ask a teacher, tutor, or native English speaker to review your writing and provide feedback. They can help you identify areas where you may be overusing complex vocabulary or phrases and offer suggestions for improvement.

By avoiding the overuse of complex vocabulary and phrases, you can improve the clarity and effectiveness of your writing. Remember, simplicity is often the key to successful communication in any language.


What is the “SASHCOMUN” rule in ESL writing?

The “SASHCOMUN” rule is a strategy for avoiding common mistakes in ESL writing. It stands for Subject-Verb Agreement, Articles, Sentence Structure, Homonyms, Capitalization, Organization, Modifiers, Usage, and Numbers.

Why is subject-verb agreement important in ESL writing?

Subject-verb agreement is important in ESL writing because it ensures that the subject and verb in a sentence agree in terms of singular or plural form. When subject-verb agreement is not maintained, it can lead to confusion and grammatical errors.

What are homonyms and why are they important to consider in ESL writing?

Homonyms are words that sound the same but have different meanings. They are important to consider in ESL writing because using the wrong homonym can change the meaning of a sentence entirely. For example, confusing “their” with “there” can result in a sentence that doesn’t make sense.

Why is capitalization important in ESL writing?

Capitalization is important in ESL writing because it helps convey meaning and clarity. Certain words, such as proper nouns and the beginning of sentences, should always be capitalized. Failure to capitalize correctly can lead to confusion and make the writing appear unprofessional.

What is the importance of organization in ESL writing?

Organization is important in ESL writing because it helps the reader follow the flow of ideas and understand the content. Without proper organization, the writing can seem disorganized and confusing. Clear and logical organization improves readability and makes the writing more effective.

What is the “SASHCOMUN” rule?

The “SASHCOMUN” rule is a mnemonic device that helps ESL writers remember the six common mistakes in writing: Subject-Verb agreement, Articles, Spelling, Homonyms, Capitalization, Overgeneralization, and Unnecessary Negatives.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.