Greetings, language enthusiasts and aspiring polyglots!
Today, everybody speaks English, right? While that may be the case, all of us can enhance our English language skills.
In this blog post, we will go a little bit deeper into the details and intricacies of the English language and you can read about some common mistakes that non-native speakers make while speaking English.
So, without further ado, settle in and let’s embark on this journey!
- Many vs Much
Let’s start with the basics. Although this one might seem logical, as you probably won’t say that you have “many monies”, non-native speakers sometimes mix these two.
Whether we will choose much or many, depends on the fact are we talking about countable or uncountable nouns. As their name says, countable nouns are “things” that we can reasonably count. E.g. tables, chairs, cats and dogs.
Uncountable nouns are the ones where we cannot perceive one unit and therefore, we aren’t able to count them. Examples would be mass nouns, such as coffee, sugar, sand or money.
You might say, well, I can count my money. Yes, you can count individual coins and bills (notes if you’re talking about British pounds), but money is a mass noun, so you don’t have one, two or three monies.
So, what is the conclusion here?
With countable nouns we use many. E.g. How many chairs do we need in the meeting room?
With uncountable nouns we use much. E.g. How much sugar do you want in your coffee?
Bear in mind that if you wish to make one single unit of an uncountable noun, you can. For example, you can always talk about cups of coffee or spoons of sugar.
- Fewer vs. Less
While we’re on the topic of countable and uncountable nouns let’s get all of them out of the way.
You probably use “Less” 99% of the time. Less is, however, used only with uncountable nouns. So, when someone offers you a cup of coffee, you can accept but tell them to put in less sugar than last time.
Fewer is used with countable nouns.
E.g. How many tickets are left for the Flogging Molly concert? -Fewer than 10, you should really hurry up if you don’t want to miss them. -Meh, they’re in Zagreb every year anyway, I’ll catch them next year.
- Team is or Team are
Every English major today will tell you that these categories are very subjective and that a language is a living organism that constantly changes. Yes, we are those English majors.
There are various differences between British and American English also. So, what do we mean when we say subjective? Sometimes, do we perceive a group as a unit or not, depends on the speaker.
An American speaker will perceive the noun “team” as a singular unit and they will say “the team is”.
E.g. “The team is playing well, and I’m sure we’ll beat the Lakers and advance to the league finals” -Nikola Jokić, probably.
In British English, the team is perceived as a group which consists of many individuals. And those individuals make team a plural noun.
E.g. “Jack Grealish feels Manchester City are unstoppable after their win over Real Madrid.”
- Articles – a/an/the
There is enough material for us to write a book about the usage of articles. This category is often difficult to grasp for non-native speakers whose language doesn’t have articles, such as Croatian. Your mind isn’t used to thinking in terms of articles in front of nouns.
However, they are there, much more often than you think.
We will leave the details for a separate blog post, but the general rules are:
We have definite and indefinite articles. The definite article is simply – the.
The indefinite article is – a/an. This might sound confusing, but this is actually just one article that changes its form based on the word that follows it. If the word starts with a consonant we use A – E.g. I saw a great movie last night.
If it starts with a vowel, we use An – I saw an eye-opening documentary last night.
Be careful though, the pronunciation is the one that matters, not the spelling. That’s why we say – “I’ll be there in an hour” and not “in a hour”. The h is silent and this pronunciation starts with a vowel.
But what about the general rules? We use “the” with specific nouns, or to put it differently, when we know what exactly we are talking about.
We use a/an when we are talking about non-specific nouns. That’s why they are called definite and indefinite articles.
But let’s provide an example, it’ll be easier.
Which of these sentences is correct?
I saw a dog.
I saw the dog.
I saw dog.
The first and the second sentence are grammatically correct, but their meaning differs greatly. The third sentence is grammatically incorrect.
In the first sentence we are trying to say that we saw a non-specific dog, we don’t know which dog it is, and it isn’t really important for this discussion. We are just informing someone about a random dog.
In the second sentence, it is implied that we know which dog we are talking about. It is THE dog. So it might be that you were talking about it before, or that this dog is somehow relevant. For example, it might be that cute dog that you see every day on your way to work. Or it might be your neighbour’s dog that barks at you every night you’re coming home. There is some prior knowledge of the dog we are mentioning.
Or to give another example, “Let’s read a book” means that you wish to read any book. “Let’s read the book” implies that you have a specific book in mind.
There is also a case when the noun requires no article, which we call “the zero article”, but more about that in one of our next blog posts.
- Going to school, hospital, prison vs. the school, the hospital, the prison
If you have kids, they probably go to school. You, as their parent, sometimes go to parent-teacher conferences.
When you go to those meetings, you aren’t going to school, but rather to THE school.
Why is that?
Children go to school because they’re students, you go to the school because you aren’t a student.
Here, we have to look at the primary role of school. School is for studying, and if you’re going to the “building of school” for any other use than for studying you should say that you’re going to the school.
The same goes for other institutions such as hospitals, prisons, etc.
If you’re in a hospital, you’re a patient, if you’re going to the hospital, you’re a visitor.
If you’re going to prison, those are some bad news for you, because you’re being put behind bars. But, if you’re going to the prison, you’re probably going as a visitor.
- Few vs. A few.
There is a slight difference between these two. Both denote that the quantity of something isn’t large, but one of these just means little, and the other means not enough.
For example: “I will throw a party, I have a few friends.” – 🙂 This is good, although not many, you have several friends, enough to throw a party.
On the other hand: “I can’t make a party, I have few friends.” 🙁 This means that you don’t have enough friends to throw a party.
So, the difference is subtle, but we can say that “few” has a negative connotation while “a few” has, if not a positive, at least a neutral one.
- Pronouncing the word Technology.
This post was longer than originally intended so this will be our last tip and we’ll save some for our next edition.
Croatian speakers who work in the technology sector would probably say they work in the teHnology sector. This stems from the fact that in Croatian, we say tehnologija with an /H/.
In English, however, this is pronounced with a /K/ – the /ch/ becomes a /k/. We cannot classify this as a mistake, but if you listen to native speakers, you will realize that there never was an /h/ in technology.
Hopefully, these tips were interesting for you as for the person who wrote them and you have learned something new.
This was the first in a series of our English language blogs, so stay tuned for more!