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Common grammatical mistakes

Grammatical accuracy refers to the number of mistakes made when producing a spoken answer, and this is a key factor which examiners consider when determining a score for grammar.

Many of these mistakes are influenced by the grammatical structures in your native language and you may find that you make certain types of mistakes because of this. Understanding the errors you make is the first step in working towards correcting them.

There are a number of grammatical errors which are commonly made by candidates in the IELTS speaking test. Let’s have a look at some of these.

Subject-verb agreement

In some tenses in English, the subject must agree with the verb. This means that you need to select the correct form of the verb depending on if you have a single or a plural subject. For example:

  • The student is studying English.
  • The students are studying English.

Mistakes often occur when the subject is a long noun phrase. For example:

The students who often study late at the library are postgraduate students.

Singular and plural nouns

Nouns in English can be countable (e.g doors) or uncountable (e.g. water), singular or plural (e.g. house - houses), and also irregular in their plural form (e.g. child - children). Not understanding this can lead to mistakes related to subject-verb agreement and quantifiers. For example:

  • There is many children here (it should be ‘There are’)
  • I know much people in my class (it should be ‘many people’)

Incorrect or missing articles

Articles (i.e. a, an, the and the zero article) are often used incorrectly because there are a number of exceptions on how they are used and also because they are not part of grammatical rules in some other languages. Using the incorrect article may lead to an unclear or wrong meaning. For example, can you tell the difference in meaning in these three sentences?

  • My sister bought a car.
  • My sister bought the car.
  • My sister bought cars (zero article).

Comparative and superlative adjectives

Some of the questions in the IELTS Speaking test will ask you to compare different things. To compare things in English we often use comparatives and superlatives. Mistakes with comparatives and superlatives often include double comparative or superlative forms with short adjectives:

  • Doctors are more smarter (it should be just smarter)
  • The most biggest city in my country is Sao Paulo (it should be the biggest)

Word order

The standard word order for sentences in English is subject + verb+ object. Adjectives, adverbs and other words can also be added. However, structures can be more complex and when sentences are longer, there is a higher chance of word order mistakes. For example:

  • I always am early (it should be ‘I am always early’)
  • My brother little rode carefully his bike (it should be ‘My little brother rode his bike carefully’)
  • I also can speak French (it should be ‘I can also speak French’)

Prepositions

Prepositions are short words such as in, on, at, before. They are commonly used to show time, place or direction, but can also be used to link nouns to verbs and to other parts of sentences. Some common mistakes are:

  • I’m travelling to Melbourne on next Monday (it should be ‘next Monday’)
  • My sister is married with a lawyer (it should be ‘to a lawyer’)
  • I graduated of university on 2005 (it should be ‘I graduated from university in 2005)

Tense

Tense is the verb form that shows the time of an action. There are sixteen different tenses in English, so making sure your verbs are in the correct tense is an important part of grammatical accuracy. Using the wrong verb tense can change the meaning of your idea and can be confusing for the listener. Look at the example below. What is wrong with the verbs?

When I lived in Italy, I often eat dinner at a small restaurant near my house.

In this case, the verbs are not consistent, one is in the past form (lived) while the other one is in the present (eat). This is a common mistake and you should avoid it. Other common mistakes are:

  • I will go to sleep when the movie will be over (it should be ‘when the movie is over’
  • I didn’t drank enough water yesterday (it should be ‘I didn’t drink’)
  • I living in Sydney for two years (it should be ‘I have lived/have been living in Sydney for two years. )

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