Today’s English lesson might upset a lot of people! We’re going to talk about five rules that native English speakers rarely follow. Do you think it’s okay to break grammar rules if no one else is following them?
I know that many of you learn the correct way of speaking and writing English by learning grammar rules from English textbooks or from your English class. Then, when you get out into the real world and you listen to or engage with native English speakers, you start to notice that not everything you hear is correct. What you hear people saying is not the same as what you learned in your English class.
Most likely, others are breaking the rules you’ve learned which can be a bit confusing, but is very common.
What about your native language? Are there certain rules that many people break? Maybe they use your language incorrectly. Is it common for people to break the rules speak in an incorrect way in your language? Let me know what those rules are that people are breaking in the comments below. I’m very curious!
Five Rules That English Speakers Often Break
Here are five things that native speakers do that are common in everyday spoken English, but are actually incorrect. Am I suggesting that you speak this way, too? Well, not really, but I think it’s important that you understand what you hear when native speakers speak differently than they do in your textbook or classroom.
Who Vs. Whom
Who is used in the subject, like he or she.
Who is going with us? (He is going with us.)
Who wants ice cream? (She wants ice cream.)
Whom is used in the object, like him or her.
To whom was the letter addressed? (It was addressed to him.)
Whom do you believe? (I believe her.)
When in doubt, try replacing the word whom with he or she. If you can, then who is correct. If you can replace whom with him or her, then whom is correct.
The problem is, most native English speakers no longer use the word whom at all. We just find it too complicated to use correctly so we’ve stopped using it. Since we’ve stopped using it, sentences that need it sound strange. It’s still used, however, in very formal or academic speaking and writing.
So, the correct usage would be a sentence like this:
Whom should I ask?
A lot of native speakers would simply say, “Who should I ask?” When you speak English with a native speaker, just remember that we say who for both who and whom. We really don’t use whom anymore.
Mixing Up Plural and Singular
This is strange, but native English speakers often mix up plural and singular, especially when the subject is “there.”
For example, when you use there is, you know that the next word should be singular. When you use there are, you know that the next word should be plural.
There is a problem with this report.
There are some problems with this report.
Because problems is plural, we use the plural form of the verb to be, which is are. However, native speakers will commonly say, There’s problems with this report, or There’s problems with our grammar.
Why do we do this? Well, because there are is very difficult to pronounce as a contraction. Try to say it – there’re. That’s a lot harder to say than there’s! When we speak, we often want to naturally use the easiest sounds to produce. Is it correct? No! But is it common? Yes!
Past Perfect Tense
This is one of those more advanced and complex tenses English learners ask me about a lot. This is probably because you don’t hear it used very often by native speakers.
Your English textbook tells you to use it when there is an action or event that happened in the past before another action or event that happened in the past, especially if there is some change that happened in between. A correct way to use the past perfect would be a sentence like this:
Before I went to New York City, I had thought it was dangerous.
Do you see that something changed? Before I went, I thought it was dangerous. When I went, I discovered it wasn’t dangerous. A lot of native speakers wouldn’t bother with the past perfect tense, even though it is the most correct in this situation. They would simply say:
Before I went to New York City, I thought it was dangerous.
Honestly, this carries the same meaning. Many times we won’t use the past perfect anymore unless it’s really necessary to show a difference between something that happened first in the past before another past action. Using the past perfect is getting more and more rare.
Was Instead of Were
I’m sure you’ve learned the conditional tense, where you say something like,
If I were you, I wouldn’t do that!
That’s correct. But you’re going to hear a lot of native English speakers say was instead of were.
If I was you, I wouldn’t do that!
Why do we do this? Not all native English speakers really follow all the grammar rules and I’m sure that’s becoming more and more clear to you through this lesson!
It’s commonly acceptable to say:
If I was you I wouldn’t do that.
If I was you, I wouldn’t go there.
This is not correct. If you want to speak English correctly, continue to say, “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.”
Sometimes we mix up singular and plural verbs with subjects like he, she, it, or they. Let me explain.
We do this because sometimes we don’t know if the subject is he or she. In English we don’t have a singular neuter subject pronoun like you might in other languages. We have the word it, but we can’t use it when we are talking about people. We often just use they. But the problem is, they is plural. For example:
I met someone yesterday and he/she is from Brazil.
That is correct, even though it’s awkward. We don’t know if this person is male or female because the word someone doesn’t have a gender. If I were speaking and I didn’t want to say he is from Brazil, or she is from Brazil, I would simply say:
I met someone yesterday, and they are from Brazil.
This could be a little confusing, because you might wonder, well, who are they? Are we talking about one person, or more than one person? The answer is that we just have to listen for the context. If you heard the word someone, first you know that means just one person. This is really common when we just don’t know the gender, or we don’t want to say the gender for some reason.
I have one more to share with you, because native English speakers make plenty of mistakes, don’t we?
Ending a Sentence with a Preposition
You probably learned in your English class that you should never end a sentence with a preposition. However, this is changing quickly. I rarely see a native English speaker end a sentence without a preposition.
It’s even hard for me to think of examples because it’s so common in spoken English now.
Correct – Of what other common grammar mistakes can you think?
Incorrect – What other common grammar mistakes can you think of?
Correct – We need a box in which to put it.
Incorrect – We need a box to put it in.
The “correct” sentences sound really awkward to me! Ending a sentence with a preposition is super common and I don’t think that it’s such a huge mistake to end a sentence or a question with a preposition. it’s just considered better not to end a question or a sentence with a preposition.
What Do You Think?
What do you think? Have you noticed any of these common mistakes? Do you think it’s okay to use the more common way of speaking, or is it better to always follow the correct grammar rules?
Can you think of any other grammar mistakes that are becoming more common because they’re being used more often? Let me know what you think in the comments. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!
Now, if you’d like to learn more the Go Natural English way, find out more about our complete English course and how it can benefit you. Join the information wait list at GoNaturalEnglish.com/pre-reg to learn more about the present perfect, and much more! See you there!