I'm an ESL teacher looking for display board ideas. A lot of my students say things that just can't be said in English. So far I have noticed the following sometimes written or said:

did gone 
is do

What other verb forms are semantically incorrect? I'm not looking for repeats of the same mistake, though, just some common ones using common verbs.


One common tense I error I have noticed has to do with the verb to be. Specifically, students confuse the participles. Thus, one sees, for instance, "was been" or "has being". I have also seen this: "I been..."

Most of the tense errors made by non-native speakers occur frequently with the use of irregular verbs: to be, to have, to go, etc.

One of the most common errors I have encountered is the confusion in constructing the perfect conditional tense of the verb to go. For instance, one might hear "I would have went..." instead of "I would have gone..."

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    I think you'll find the perfect conditional is a problem for native English speakers as well. "I wish I would have known about that earlier." Ack. – bikeboy389 Dec 17 '10 at 17:37
  • Interestingly, I originally had "...I have encountered, even among native speakers, is the confusion in constructing the perfect..." but I edited it out! – Jimi Oke Dec 17 '10 at 18:04
  • On the right track, but I'm looking for more of a comprehensive list. – brainysmurf Dec 18 '10 at 0:18

I'd suggest you look to the constructions of the native language(s) of your students. It's there that you're likely to find parallels to the errors they'll make in English construction.

It's early in the day yet and I haven't had my coffee, so I can't think of too many examples. But if your students were native Russian speakers, for example, they might have a hard time remembering to put direct articles (the) in their sentences, as that's not typically in Russian.

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    Agreed. Now that I've studied some Mandarin, I completely understand why Chinese speakers make the mistakes they do when learning English, and it's all to do with how they say things in Chinese. Chinese-> literal translation -> chinglish. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 17 '10 at 19:36
  • I'm looking for semantically impossible verb tense problems, not just blanket L1 interference problems. – brainysmurf Dec 18 '10 at 0:19
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    brainysmurf: you might want to clarify that in the question then. I'll also add that substrate languages with different pluralisation (e.g. Indo) result in regular disagreements in number in English. – Mark Dec 18 '10 at 15:17
  • Mark: "What are the most common tense mistakes made in English?" is my question. Again, not blanket L1 interference problems. – brainysmurf Dec 19 '10 at 13:17

As bikeboy389 said, you can learn a lot by looking at students' native languages. French and Italian students will sometimes say "I am born in..." when they mean "I was born in..." ("je suis ne a...", "sono nato a...").

Then there are false friends: actual is often misunderstood as meaning "current" and eventual as meaning "possible" by speakers of many European languages; German students will often confuse "when" and "if" ("wann" and "wenn" in German).

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    Your wording seems to imply that Germans confuse "when" and "if" because the corresponding words are very similar in German. Such an argument would be flawed: while "wann" and "wenn" might look awfully similar to native English speakers, to native speakers of German they are two completely different words. A German would never confuse "wann" and "wenn" in his native tongue. Much rather, whenever German students of English use "when" instead of "if", it's just yet another instance of false friends: "when" sounds very similar to "wenn", which means "if". – RegDwigнt Dec 18 '10 at 8:02

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