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10 common English mistakes desis make

Last updated on: April 1, 2013 16:23 IST

10 common English mistakes desis make

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Prof Malavika Nagarkar, faculty, Business Communication at WeSchool, Mumbai points out the common mistakes Indians make and tells you how you can avoid them.

English today is both a commonly used and also the most misused (misunderstood) language, especially in India.

We may dislike it, we may criticise it but we cannot do without it.

In India we already have many regional idiosyncrasies of English.

Apart from these, there are some common mistakes that seem to spread almost uniformly across the country.

Let's see what these are and what we can do to correct these.

Illustration by Uttam Ghosh

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1. Anyway/ Anyways/ any which ways

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'Anyway' means 'any one way' and so cannot take the plural form with 's' either as 'anyways' or 'any which ways'.

In the following example, it is used to put aside a discussion and get on with whatever is in hand.

E.g. Anyway, let's go ahead and complete the task.




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2. Use of Since and For

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Notice the use of these two in the following sentences:

1. I have been working in this organisation since last July.

2. I have been working in this organisation for eight months.

'Since' is used when we are referring to time from a point of time in the past: Eg: 'since last July'.

In sentence 2, 'for' is used. This is because the reference is to duration or period of time, that is, 'for this period of time'.

A common mistake is to say: I have been waiting here since ten minutes.

The correct form would be: I have been waiting here for ten minutes.




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3. Improve/ improvise

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There's a world of difference between these two words.

To 'improve' something is 'to make of a better quality'.

To 'improvise' means to to make do with what you have at hand

Unfortunately, many MBA students seem to use the word 'improvise' when they mean 'improve'.

And the speaker ends up saying what s/he does not mean.



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4. a few/ few and a little/ little

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Imagine a speaker at a company meeting starting his presentation with the words: 'I have few things to tell you."

You wonder to yourself: "Why have I taken the trouble of coming to listen to you if you have nothing much to tell us?"

Now, why did you think this way?

Simply because the word 'few' without the 'a' means 'hardly any'.

When you say: "I have a few things to tell you", it means that you have 'some' things to tell them.

The same applies to 'little' and 'a little'.

E.g. "There is a little water in the glass."

This means that there is 'some' water and possibly you mean that it is sufficient for your purpose.

However, if you say: "There is little water in the glass", you mean that there is 'hardly any' water in the glass and it is not sufficient for your purpose. 

So, 'few' or 'little' are negative and mean 'hardly any', suggesting absence of something, whereas 'a few' and 'a little' are positive and mean 'at least some', suggesting presence of something.

 

Caution for MBA aspirants: If you are asked about your qualities in the interview, do not say: "I have few qualities"



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5. Myself XYZ

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When you introduce yourself, please either say "I am XYZ" or "My name is XYZ".

Please do not say "Myself XYZ".

This is incorrect and possibly a hangover from the childhood composition topic 'Myself'.

Avoid it!


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6. Incident vs Incidence

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The word 'incident' means 'an event which is unpleasant or unusual'.

Eg:  Five people were injured in the shooting incident.

'Incidence' means 'event' or 'occurrence of' or 'the rate at which something happens'.

Eg: There is a high incidence of malaria in the slums of Mumbai.



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7. Use of slang and expletives

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Strictly avoid the use of slang and expletives:

Don't say: I'm gonna speak about...... Use 'going to'

Similarly, do not say: "Damn good"

Over the phone, avoid saying "Who's this?" when asking for someone's identity. It sounds rude.

A better idea to keep to would be: "May I know who is calling?" Or "May I know your name, please?"



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8. If and Unless

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This is something most of us have studied and practiced over and over again in school. Yet, we blunder!

Note the following:

1. If you work hard you will succeed.

Unless you work hard you will not succeed.

2. If you do not work hard you will not succeed.

Unless you work hard you will not succeed.

Note that in the second pair of sentences 'If' takes the negative 'not', where as 'unless' does not take the 'not' in the first part of the sentence.

Here is another example. Note the way the sentence changes:

  • If you do not complete the work you will not go home.
  • Unless you complete the work you will not go home. 

The common mistake is to say: "Unless you will not complete the work you will not go home."




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9. Use of 'more' for comparative degree

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The comparative degree works in three ways:

(i) you add --er

(ii) you use the word 'more' and leave the adjective unchanged

(iii) you use a different word.

Eg: old -- older, beautiful -- more beautiful, good -- better.

The common mistake is to use 'better' with 'more'.

The word 'better' suggests the comparative -- the word 'good' is replaced by 'better' so there is no need to add the word 'more'




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10. Repeat and return

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'Repeat' means 'to do/ say again'

'Return' means 'to come back'

What is the common mistake?

Most often we hear people saying: 'repeat again'.

The word 'repeat' means 'to say again'. There is no need to add the word 'again'.

This is what is called a 'redundancy', i.e. saying the same thing twice without effect.

The same rule applies to the word 'return'.

It is incorrect to say 'return back'.

These are only ten of the many common mistakes made while speaking English.

As you become aware of these and change to the correct forms, you may start noticing other errors that need attention.



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