Browsing Category


Featured Grammar

5 Common English Grammar Mistakes

February 25, 2018

5 Common English Grammar Mistakes

When learning English, it is possible that you will make these 5 common English grammar mistakes. Learn what you are doing wrong and how to break these habits!

The 5 common English grammar mistakes we will focus on are:

  • Subject/verb agreement with he/she/it
  • Singular and plural nouns
  • Overusing modals
  • Forgetting the simple future
  • Misusing the simple future with an adverbial clause

5 Common English Grammar Mistakes

Subject/verb agreement with the third person (he/she/it)

What is wrong: In English, the verb changes only in the third person (he/she/it).

  • I like
  • You like
  • We like
  • They like
  • He/she/it likes

English learners often forget to add an “s” to the end of verbs in the present tense.

Why this is a common mistake: It is easy to forget to add the “s” to verbs for the third person since this is the only time we do this in English.

How to avoid making this mistake: Use the third person more often when speaking. Make it a point to talk about your friends, your family, even your pets! The more you correctly use this form of the verb, the more comfortable you will become with its form and the fewer mistakes you will make.

5 Common English Grammar Mistakes

Singular and plural nouns

What is wrong: English learners sometimes use incorrect subject/verb agreements with nouns.

  • The people is excited. (incorrect)
  • The people are excited. (correct)

Some nouns are clearly singular or plural:

  • One house
  • Two houses
  • The car
  • Those cars

However, sometimes it is not so easy to tell if a noun is plural or singular. Some have an “s” at the end but they are singular, while others are plural.

  • The news is on at 7 pm. (singular)
  • My glasses are broken. (plural)

Other nouns are irregular (do not have an “s”). It is difficult to tell if these are singular or plural.

Why this is a common mistake: When we do not know if a noun is singular or plural, it makes it difficult to have correct subject/verb agreements.

How to avoid making this mistake: Read! The more you read, the more often you will be in contact with these verbs. Native speakers do not have to think about subject/verb agreements for most nouns because they have seen them again and again while reading (or heard them while speaking).

For more information, read our article on Singular and Plural Nouns.

5 Common English Grammar Mistakes

Misusing/overusing modals

What is wrong: English learners often try to use two modals that are not used together.

  • You must to drive safely. (incorrect)
  • You must drive safely. (correct)
  • You don’t can’t drive fast near a school.  (incorrect)
  • You can’t drive fast near a school. (correct)

Why this is a common mistake: Students often confuse modals, possibly because some of them (like ought to) have two parts.

How to avoid making this mistake: Be sure that you know how each modal works. Spend a few minutes learning each one individually so that you do not confuse them. For more information, read our article on Modals of Etiquette and our other article, Modals of Obligation.

5 Common English Grammar Mistakes

Forgetting the simple future

What is wrong: English learners will often talk about future plans, but forget to use the simple future.

  • I call you in five minutes. (incorrect)
  • I will call you in five minutes. (correct)

Why this is a common mistake: Sometimes in English, we can use the simple present for future plans.

  • My plane leaves at 10 am.
  • We arrive tomorrow.

However, this is for a scheduled action, not for a promise or intention.

How to avoid making this mistake: Learn how to correctly use the simple present for future events. Read our article on the Simple Future for Plans to understand how to do this.


Misusing the simple future with adverbial clauses

What is wrong: The simple future uses “will” or “be going to.”

  • I will call you tomorrow.
  • We will see you later.

The simple future is often used with an adverbial clause. An adverbial clause modifies the verb: it tells us more about the verb of the sentence.

  • When I get home, I will call you.
  • After we arrive, we will unpack our bags.

We know more about the action of the sentence because of this adverbial clause.

Sometimes, English learners put “will” in the adverbial clause. This is incorrect.

  • When I will get home, I will call you. (incorrect)
  • After we will arrive, we will unpack our bags. (incorrect)


Subscribe to the CISL Blog for more (free!) English learning tips!


Featured Grammar

Fewer vs. Less in English

February 9, 2018

English learners and native English speakers have problems with the words “fewer and less.” Fewer and less are the opposite of more: it is confusing to have TWO words as the opposite of another word!

Fewer vs. Less in English

How are “fewer” and “less” different?

The rules for fewer vs. less in English are actually quite simple.

Fewer = not as many
Less = not as much

Note: “fewer” and “less” are often used to compare two things. You will often see these words followed by “than” to show how they compare two things.

We use fewer with countable nouns.

  • I took fewer English classes than my sister did.
  • Tom ate fewer candies than Sarah did.

We use less with uncountable nouns.

  • I drank less water today than I did yesterday.
  • We ordered less wine at dinner than we normally do.

Fewer vs. Less in English

How do I know if a noun is countable or uncountable?

Countable nouns have different singular and plural forms.

  • One dog
  • Two dogs
  • One flower
  • Two flowers

Uncountable nouns do not have different forms for the singular and plural.

  • I drank a lot of milk. (not “milks”)
  • We bought some furniture yesterday. (not “furnitures”)
  • You need to add more flour to the cake. (not “flours”)

Uncountable nouns also are broken into pieces or portions.

  • A glass of milk
  • A piece of furniture
  • A cup of flour

To learn more about countable vs. uncountable nouns, read our article.


Exceptions for using fewer vs. less

There are some times that we make exceptions with the rule about fewer vs. less and countable/uncountable nouns.

Less vs. fewer exception #1: Money

“Money” is typically an uncountable noun.

  • I am making more money at my new job.
  • How much money do you think we will spend on lunch today?

Fewer vs. Less in English


However, we tend to us “less” with the word “money” and all of its forms (“change,” “dollars,” etc.).

  • I have less money than I expected.
  • This dress cost a lot less money than most of my other dresses, but I love it more than the others.
  • Since I started using a debit card, I have less change in my pockets.*
  • We have to spend $50 less on groceries now that we paid for all of our bills.

*In this example, we do not use “than.” However, it is implied. (The person has less change in his/her pockets than he/she did before getting a debit card.)


Less vs. fewer exception #2: Time

“Less” is also more commonly used with time. Like money, the concept of time can also be broken into smaller pieces: hours, minutes, seconds.

  • I’ve lived here less time than my neighbors.
  • In the future, I think you should bake the cookies for 5 minutes less. They’re a bit burned.
  • We need to help the company employees spend less time on some of their daily responsibilities, like reports. Then they can spend more time helping customers.

Fewer vs. Less in English

Less vs. fewer exception #3: Weight

As with money and time, the concept of weight has measurable units that are countable nouns. However, we use “less” with weights.

  • I weigh less now than when I was 15. Isn’t that crazy?
  • Babies actually weigh less after they are born. They lose some weight in the first days of life.
  • We need no less than 250 grams of sugar in this recipe.

Fewer vs. Less in English

Less vs. fewer exception #4: Percentages

Using “less vs. fewer” with percentages is a little more difficult. To determine which word to use, we must first identify what the percentage is of, and see if that thing is a countable or uncountable noun.

  • _________ than 50% of marriages end in divorce.
  • _________ than 20% of employees thought they were being paid enough money.
  • _________ than 40% of Americans drink every day.

In these cases, the nouns are countable. We can count the number of marriages (it would be a lot, but we can still count them!) We can also count the employees and the number of Americans these sentences are referring to. Therefore, we should use “fewer.”

  • Fewer than 50% of marriages end in divorce.
  • Fewer than 20% of employees thought they were being paid enough money.
  • Fewer than 40% of Americans drink every day.

Fewer vs. Less in English

We use “less” when we cannot enumerate (put into numbers) the percentage we are referring to.

  • It seems like you put about 30% less effort into your exercise this morning.
  • There will be 30% less sunshine tomorrow.
  • I feel about 50% less motivation from this new boss.

Photos from Shutterstock. 

Featured Grammar Learning Materials Lessons

Grammar Lesson of the Month: Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs

December 1, 2017

Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs in English

Do you know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs? Understanding the difference will improve your English speech and writing.

Grammar Lesson of the Month: Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs

Types of Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs use an object. The object can be a noun, a phrase, or a pronoun.

Transitive verb with a noun

A noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. A transitive verb works with the noun.

  • I see the car.
  • I love ice cream.
  • He wants hot chocolate.
  • Have you tried eggnog?

Transitive verb with a phrase

A phrase is a group of words. These words work together as a unit to mean something. There are many types of phrases. Transitive verbs can be used with phrases.

  • I see why you wanted to live in this neighborhood.
  • I love taking long walks by the sea.
  • He wants less now that he’s older.
  • Have you tried talking to your roommate about his dog barking?

Transitive verb with a pronoun

A pronoun is used in place of a noun (usually because we already referred to the noun).

  • Can you see Sarah? Yes, I see her.


Examples of Common Transitive Verbs

Here are some common transitive verbs in English.

  • Buy
  • Cost  
  • Give
  • Leave
  • Lend
  • Make
  • Offer
  • Pass
  • Sell
  • Show
  • Take
  • Wish

Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs do not work with an object.

  • What time does your plane arrive?
  • I love to sit on the beach and relax.
  • Today at the gym I stretched and I ran.


Examples of Common Intransitive Verbs

Here are some common intransitive verbs in English.

  • Act
  • Come
  • Cry
  • Die
  • Do
  • Go
  • Grow
  • Laugh
  • Respond
  • Smile

Verbs that are Transitive or Intransitive

Some verbs can be both transitive or intransitive, depending on their use. Within the context of the sentence, you can see if the verb is transitive or intransitive.

  • Studying abroad will change you in wonderful ways. (transitive) 
  • This neighborhood has really changed! (intransitive) 
  • Can you close the door, please? (transitive) 
  • When did this cafe close? (intransitive) 
  • Please write an email to Jim and thank him for dinner. (transitive) 
  • When did you learn to write? (intransitive) 


Why is this important?

Knowing if a verb is transitive or intransitive will help you properly use each verb: using a transitive verb without an object will of course be a major grammar mistake!

  • Can you see Sarah? Yes, I see. (incorrect)
  • Can you see Sarah? Yes, I see her. (correct)
  • I love to sit on the beach and relax myself. (incorrect)
  • I love to sit on the beach and relax. (correct)
  • Today at the gym I stretched and I ran myself. (incorrect)
  • Today at the gym I stretched and I ran. (correct)


California Life Featured Grammar Lessons San Diego San Diego Travel Tips

“SO” + Adverbs and Adjectives (+ Things that are “SO” San Diego)

November 1, 2017

In the English language, we use the word “so” in several different ways. Each way allows us to speak with more emphasis; some uses of the word “so”  are more typically “Southern Californian” than others. Learn the most common ways of using the word “so” here!

“SO” + Adverbs and Adjectives (and Things that are “so” San Diego)

“So” means several things in English.

“To such a great extent”

In this meaning, “so” is an adverb that shows the degree (level) of an adjective or adverb.

  • Why are you so angry? (This person isn’t a little angry: he is very angry.)
  • I didn’t realize the car was parked so far away. (The person is surprised that the distance is very far.)
  • Why are you speaking so slowly?
  • My presentation didn’t go so well.

“Very, very”

In this meaning, “so” is an intensifier. It intensifies (gives more meaning to) the adverb or adjective it is modifying.

In these cases, we can switch the word “so” with the word “very.” The meanings seem the same, but “so” is more intense than the word “very.”

  • You are so beautiful.
  • Thank you so much!
  • That was so thoughtful of you.


We often use the construction SO + ADJECTIVE/ADVERB + THAT to show the effect of something.

  • He was so tired that he fell asleep while eating his ice cream.
  • I was so upset that I threw my shoe.
  • She was so tall that none of the pants in the store could fit her.

Slang: “so” for a characteristic

With this meaning, “so” is used to show that something or someone is the perfect example of another thing. For example, if someone’s name is Summer, and she lives in San Diego and goes surfing every morning, she is SO Californian!

  • My friend Jane is the perfect student. One day after the teacher gave us our assignment, she completed it! That’s SO Jane.
  • We went surfing, ate a burrito, and then watched the sunset. Today was SO Southern California.
  • With that shirt and those cowboy boots, you look SO country.
  • This sushi roll has avocado and cilantro. It’s SO Californian.

Things that are “so” San Diego

Fish tacos

Yes, tacos with fish. Or lobster. Or scallops! With its close proximity to Mexico, it’s no surprise that California food is influenced by typically Mexican spices and flavors. Since San Diego is on the beach, it’s also no surprise that the local food includes a lot of seafood! While in San Diego, be sure to try fish tacos. In most places, you can order the fish grilled or fried. The toppings will vary at each restaurant, but many include avocado or guacamole, salsa, and cabbage.

Seafood + Mexican food? SO San Diego!


The craziest and most exciting week in San Diego is ComicCon week! Every July, celebrities and comic book fans come to the city’s Convention Center for a crazy week of events, shows, and exhibits. It’s the perfect time to walk around Downtown San Diego and see all of the costumes. Be on the lookout for celebrities as well: you never know who you are going to see!

ComicCon? SO San Diego!


Go to Mission and Pacific Beaches and most days you will see Slomo: a man on rollerblades who rides up and down the beach boardwalk for hours. Slomo is a staple of the city, and he is now famous throughout the nation: the New York Times made a video about him! Slomo is actually a doctor who retired in order to pursue real happiness. He found it . . . on the beaches of San Diego!

The happiest person alive is a doctor-turned-rollerblader? SO San Diego!

Surfboard museum in a taco shop

A taco shop in Pacific Beach isn’t just a taco shop: it’s also a museum that pays tribute to Southern California’s surf culture! In 1989, Cindy and Sam McLarty opened Taco Surf, a surf shop that displays more than 90 surfboards.

Is there anything more “San Diego” than a surf museum in a taco shop? Nope! SO San Diego.


American Traditions Grammar Suggested student activities

5 Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

October 28, 2017

Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  -L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables

Are you studying English in the United States during the fall? You are in for a treat!* Enjoy some of these American fall traditions!

*in for a treat: an expression meaning you will experience something very enjoyable soon.

5 Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

#1: Visiting a pumpkin patch (and carving pumpkins)

Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

A pumpkin patch is an open space, like a field, where pumpkins grow. People visit a pumpkin patch to choose their pumpkin. Which pumpkin will you choose? The tall and skinny pumpkin, the perfectly round pumpkin, the strange looking pumpkin with weird bumps . . . each has its own character!

Pumpkin patches often sell apple cider, pies, and other fall foods: be sure to enjoy them during your trip. (To learn about traditional fall foods, read our article Fall is Here: Time for Pumpkin-Flavored Everything!)

After bringing home their pumpkins, friends or family carve their pumpkins. Carving a pumpkin is when people use a knife to cut designs into the pumpkin (usually a face). Our Guide to Pumpkin Carving has all the information you need for this fun activity. 

#2: Trying pumpkin flavored everything

Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

Pumpkin has always been an important part of American fall food (after all, pumpkin pie is a staple of Thanksgiving dinner!). However, Americans now have a strange obsession with putting pumpkin flavor in everything during the fall. The craze began with Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte and seems to have made its way into all foods: there is now pumpkin flavored beer (yes, beer!), pumpkin candies (such as M&Ms), and even pumpkin cereal. There is a science behind the Americans love for pumpkin: read all about it in this CNN article.

#3: Exploring a corn maze

Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

A corn maze is a large labyrinth made from corn plants. It is common for local farms to create a corn maze, which the public can enter (and get lost in)! Sunflower mazes and hay bale mazes are also popular. They’re a fun fall activity!

#4: Going to a haunted house

Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

Get into the spirit of Halloween and scare yourself by going to a haunted house! This terrifying experience is one of the most traditional for Americans (and also the most scary)! If you’re studying English in San Diego, check out the Haunted Trail in Balboa Park. This outside haunted “house” is actually a trail built in a portion of Balboa Park. It’s one of the most impressive (and frightening) experiences!

Before checking out a haunted house, read our article Synonyms for ‘Scary’ to be able to describe your experience!

#5: Dressing up for Halloween

Fall Activities to Enjoy as an ESL Student in the U.S.

Americans LOVE to dress in costume for Halloween: make sure you join in on this fun holiday! Costumes can be fun, scary, cute, gory*, or even related to something that was in the news. Visit one of the costume stores that open during this time of year and find some inspiration (or, if you’re crafty, make your own costume)!

*gory: involving violence or a lot of blood.