By Michael Swan




1. Don’t use an with own.

Sue needs her own room. (NOT Sue needs an own room.)
I’d like a phone line of my own. (NOT … an own phone line.)

2. Use or rather to correct yourself.

She’s German – or rather, Austrian. (NOT She’s German – or better, Austrian.)
I’ll see you on Friday – or rather, Saturday.

3. Use the simple present – play(s), rain(s) etc – to talk about habits and repeated actions.

I play tennis every Saturday. (NOT I am playing tennis every Saturday.)
It usually rains a lot in November.

4. Use will …, not the present, for offers and promises.

I’ll cook you supper this evening. (NOT I cook you supper this evening.)
I promise I’ll phone you tomorrow. (NOT I promise I phone you tomorrow.)

5. Don’t drop prepositions with passive verbs.

I don’t like to be shouted at. (NOT I don’t like to be shouted.)
This needs to be thought about some more. (NOT This needs to be thought some more.)

6. Don’t use a present tense after It’s time.

It’s time you went home. (NOT It’s time you go home.)
It’s time we invited Bill and Sonia. (NOT It’s time we invite Bill and Sonia.)

7. Use was/were born to give dates of birth.

I was born in 1975. (NOT I am born in 1975.)
Shakespeare was born in 1564.

8. Police is a plural noun.

The police are looking for him. (NOT The police is looking for him.)
I called the police, but they were too busy to come.

9. Don't use the to talk about things in general.

Books are expensive. (NOT The books are expensive.)
I love music. (NOT I love the music.)

10. Use had better, not have better.

I think you’d better see the doctor. (NOT I think you have better see the doctor.)
We’d better ask John to help us.

11. Use the present progressive - am playing, is raining etc - to talk about things that are continuing at the time of speaking.

I’m playing very badly today. (NOT I play very badly today.)
Look! It's raining! (NOT Look! It rains!)

12. Use for with a period of time. Use since with the beginning of the period.

for the last two hours = since 9 o'clock
for three days = since Monday
for five years = since I left school
I’ve been learning English for five years. (NOT I’ve been learning English since three years.)
We’ve been waiting for ages, since eight o’clock.

13. Don't separate the verb from the object.








very well . (NOT She speaks very well English.)




very much. (NOT Andy likes very much skiing.)


14. Don't use the present perfect - have/has seen, have/has gone etc - with words that name a finished time.

I saw him yesterday. (NOT I have seen him yesterday.)
They went to Greece last summer. (NOT They have gone … last summer.)

15. English (the language) normally has no article.

You speak very good English. (NOT You speak a very good English.)

16. After look forward to, we use -ing, not an infinitive.

I look forward to seeing you. (NOT I look forward to see you.)
We’re looking forward to going on holiday. (NOT … to go on holiday.)

17. Information is an uncountable noun.

Can you give me some information? (NOT Can you give me an information?)
I got a lot of information from the Internet. (NOT I got a lot of informations from the Internet.)

18. Use -ing forms after prepositions.

I drove there without stopping. (NOT I drove there without to stop.)
Wash your hands before eating. (NOT Wash your hands before to eat.)

19. Use this, not that, for things that are close.

Come here and look at this paper. (NOT Come here and look at that paper.)
How long have you been in this country? (NOT How long have you been in that country?)

20. Use a plural noun after one and a half.

We waited one and a half hours. (NOT We waited one and a half hour.)
A mile is about one and a half kilometres. (NOT A mile is about one and a half kilometre.)

21. Use the present perfect, not the present, to say how long things have been going on.

I've been waiting since 10 o'clock. (NOT I'm waiting since 10 o'clock.)
We've lived here for nine years. (NOT We live here for nine years.)

22. The majority is normally plural.

Some people are interested, but the majority don't care. (NOT ... but the majority doesn't care.)
The majority of these people are very poor. (NOT The majority of these people is very poor.)

23. Use too much/many before (adjective +) noun; use too before an adjective with no noun.

There's too much noise.
I bought too much red paint.
Those shoes are too expensive. (NOT Those shoes are too much expensive.)

24. Use that, not what, after all.

I've told you all that I know. (NOT I've told you all what I know.)
He gave her all that he had.

25. Don't say according to me to give your opinion.

I think it's a good film. (NOT According to me, it's a good film.)
In my opinion, you're making a serious mistake. (NOT According to me, you're making a serious mistake.)

26. Don't ask about possibilities with May you ...? etc.

Do you think you'll go camping this summer? (NOT May you go camping this summer?)
Is Joan likely to be here tomorrow? (NOT May Joan be here tomorrow?)

27. Use who, not which, for people in relative structures.

The woman who lives upstairs is from Thailand. (NOT The woman which lives upstairs is from Thailand.)
I don't like people who shout all the time. (NOT I don't like people which shout all the time.)

28. Use for, not during, to say `how long'.

We waited for six hours. (NOT We waited during six hours.)
He was ill for three weeks. (NOT He was ill during three weeks.)

29. Use to ..., not for ..., to say why you do something.

I came here to study English. (NOT I came here for study English.)
She telephoned me to explain the problem. (NOT She telephoned me for explain the problem.)

30. Use reflexives (myself etc) when the object is the same as the subject.

I looked at myself in the mirror. (NOT I looked at me in the mirror.)
Why are you talking to yourself? (NOT Why are you talking to you?)

31. Use a present tense to talk about the future after when, until, as soon as, after, before etc.

I’ll phone you when I arrive. (NOT I’ll phone you when I will arrive.)
Let’s wait until it gets dark. (NOT Let’s wait until it will get dark.)
We’ll start as soon as Mary arrives. (NOT We’ll start as soon as Mary will arrive.)

32. Before most abstract nouns, we use great, not big.

I have great respect for her ideas. (NOT I have big respect for her ideas.)
We had great difficulty in understanding him. (NOT We had big difficulty in understanding him.)

33. Don’t use the with a superlative when you are not comparing one person or thing with another.


  • She’s the nicest of the three teachers.
  • She’s nicest when she’s working with small children.
  • This is the best wine I’ve got.
  • This wine is best when it’s three or four years old.

34. Put enough after, not before, adjectives.

This soup isn’t hot enough. (NOT This soup isn’t enough hot.)
She’s old enough to walk to school by herself.

35. Don’t use a structure with that … after want or would like.

My parents want me to go to university. (NOT My parents want that I go to university.)
I’d like everybody to leave. (NOT I’d like that everybody leaves.)

36. After link verbs like be, seem, feel, look, smell, sound, taste, we use adjectives, not adverbs.

I feel happy today. (NOT I feel happily today.)
This soup tastes strange. (NOT This soup tastes strangely.)

37. Use than after comparatives.

My mother is three years older than my father. (NOT My mother is three years older that/as my father.)
Petrol is more expensive than diesel.

38. Inquestions, put the subject immediately after the auxiliary verb.

Where are the President and his family staying? (NOT Where are staying the President and his family?)
Have all the guests arrived? (NOT Have arrived all the guests?)

39. Used to has no present.

I play tennis at weekends. (NOT I use to play tennis at weekends.)
Where do you usually have lunch? (NOT Where do you use to have lunch?)

40. Use through, not along, for periods of time.

All through the centuries, there have been wars. (NOT All along the centuries, there have been wars.)

41. Use can’t, not mustn’t, to say that something is logically impossible.

It can’t be the postman at the door. It’s only 7 o’clock. (NOT It mustn’t be the postman at the door. It’s only 7 o’clock.)
If A is bigger than B, and B is bigger than C, then C can’t be bigger than A. (NOT … then C mustn’t be bigger than A.)

42. Use the present perfect with This is the first time … etc.

This is the first time I’ve been here. (NOT This is the first time I’m here.)
This is the fifth cup of coffee I’ve drunk today. (NOT This is the fifth cup of coffee I drink today.)

43. Use be, not have, to give people’s ages.

My sister is 15 (years old). (NOT My sister has 15 years.)

44. Use between, not among, to talk about position in relation to several clearly separate people or things.

Switzerland is between France, Austria, Germany and Italy. (NOT Switzerland is among France, Austria, Germany and Italy.)
The bottle rolled between the wheels of the car.

45. We don’t normally use the before abbreviations that are pronounced like words (‘acronyms’).

My cousin works for NATO. (NOT My cousin works for the NATO.)
The money was given by UNESCO. (NOT … by the UNESCO.)

46. Everybody is a singular word.

Everybody was late. (NOT Everybody were late.)
everybody ready? (NOT Are everybody ready?)

47. Use any, not some, in negative sentences.

She hasn’t got any money. (NOT She hasn’t got some money.)
I didn’t see anybody. (NOT I didn’t see somebody.)

48. Use interested for feelings; use interesting for the things that interest people. The same goes for bored/boring, excited/exciting etc.

I’m interested in history. (NOT I’m interesting in history.)
History is interesting.
I’m bored in the maths lessons. (NOT I’m boring in the maths lessons.)
I think maths is boring.

49. Use by, not until/till, to mean ‘not later than’.

Can you mend this by Tuesday? (NOT Can you mend this until Tuesday?)
I’ll finish the book by tonight. (NOT I’ll finish the book till tonight.)

50. Use like, not as, to give examples.

I prefer warm countries, like Spain. (NOT I prefer warm countries, as Spain.)
I eat a lot of meat, like beef or lamb.


51. Use whether, not if, after prepositions.

We talked about whether it was ready. (NOT We talked about if it was ready.)
It’s a question of whether we have enough time. (NOT It’s a question of if we have enough time.)

52. Use the present progressive passive, not the simple present passive, to talk about things that are going on just around now.

Our flat is being decorated this week. (NOT Our flat is decorated this week.)
Your bill is just being prepared, sir. (NOT Your bill is just prepared, sir.)

53. We don’t normally use must to talk about the past.

I had to see the dentist yesterday. (NOT I must see the dentist yesterday.)
When I left school, young men had to do military service. (NOT When I left school, young men must do military service.)

54. When you put two nouns together, be careful to get the right order.

I like eating milk chocolate. (NOT I like eating chocolate milk.)
What’s your phone number? (NOT What’s your number phone?)

55. Use the whole of, not whole, before the name of a place.

The whole of Paris was celebrating. (NOT Whole Paris was celebrating.)
He knows the whole of South America very well. (NOT He knows whole South America very well.)

56. We don’t normally use progressive forms of believe.

I don’t believe him. (NOT I’m not believing him.)
Do you believe what she says? (NOT Are you believing what she says?)

57. Don’t use in front of to mean ‘facing’ or ‘opposite’.

She sat down facing me and looked into my eyes. (NOT She sat down in front of me and looked into my eyes.)
There’s a hotel opposite our house. (NOT There’s a hotel in front of our house.)

58. Use it, not I, he, she etc to identify people.

(on the phone): Hello. It’s Alan Williams speaking. ((NOT Hello. I’m Alan Williams.)
‘Who’s that?’ ‘It’s John.’ (NOT Who’s that?’ ‘He’s John.’)

59. People (meaning ‘persons’) is a plural word.

The people in this town are very friendly. (NOT The people in this town is very friendly.)
Who are those people? (NOT Who is that people?)

60. Use although or but, but not both together.

Although it was late, she went out.
It was late, but she went out.
(BUT NOT Although it was late, but she went out.)


61. With if, we normally use the present to talk about the future.

If I have time, I’ll phone you. (NOT If I’ll have time, I’ll phone you.)
I’ll be surprised if she answers my letter. (NOT I’ll be surprised if she’ll answer my letter.)

62. Use almost, not nearly, to say that one thing is very like another.

She is almost a sister to me. (NOT She is nearly a sister to me.)
I almost wish I had stayed at home. (NOT I nearly wish I had stayed at home.)

63. If you don’t do something any more, you stop doing it.

The doctor told me to stop smoking. (NOT The doctor told me to stop to smoke.)
I’m going to stop working so hard. (NOT I’m going to stop to work so hard.)

64. A singular countable noun must normally have a determiner
(e.g. a/an, the, my, that).

She broke a/the/that/my window. (NOT She broke window.)
Where is the station? (NOT Where is station?)

65. We don’t often use would in subordinate clauses; instead, we use past tenses.

Would you follow me wherever I went? (NOT Would you follow me wherever I would go?)
I would tell you if I knew. (NOT I would tell you if I would know.)

66. With when, use the past perfect to make it clear that one thing finished before another started.

When I had written my letters, I did some gardening. (NOT When I wrote my letters, I did some gardening.)
When he had cleaned the windows, he stopped for a cup of tea. (NOT When he cleaned the windows, he stopped for a cup of tea.)

67. Don’t use can to talk about the chance that something will happen.

It may/might/could rain this evening. (NOT It can rain this evening.)
I think Jane may/might/could come tomorrow. (NOT I think Jane can come tomorrow.)

68. Don’t use an infinitive after think.

I’m thinking of changing my job. (NOT I’m thinking to change my job.)
Are you thinking of going home this weekend? (NOT Are you thinking to go home this weekend?)

69. Use a singular noun after every.

I play tennis every Wednesday. (NOT I play tennis every Wednesdays.)
He wrote to every child in the village. (NOT He wrote to every children …)

70. When you say what somebody’s job is, use a/an.

My sister is a photographer. (NOT My sister is photographer.)
I’m studying to be an engineer. (NOT I’m studying to be engineer.)


71. Use at last, not finally, as an exclamation.

At last! Where have you been? (NOT Finally! Where have you been?)
She’s written to me. At last!

72. Get can mean ‘become’, but not before nouns.

It’s getting cold.
It’s getting to be winter.
(BUT NOT It’s getting winter.)

73. Don’t use negative questions in polite requests or enquiries.

Could you help me, please? (NOT Couldn’t you help me, please?)
You haven’t seen John, have you? (NOT Haven’t you seen John?)

74. One negative word is usually enough.

She looked, but she didn’t see anything. (NOT She looked, but she didn’t see nothing.)
I have never heard of him. (NOT I haven’t never heard of him.)

75. Much and many are unusual in affirmative sentences (except in a very formal style).

He has a lot / plenty of money. (NOT He has much money.)
My father has travelled to lots of countries. (More natural than My father has travelled to many countries.)

76. Don’t use since to talk about the future.

I’ll be home from three o’clock. (NOT I’ll be home since three o’clock.)
The shop will be closed for two weeks from Monday. (NOT The shop will be closed for two weeks since Monday.)

77. Singular fraction + plural noun: use a plural verb.

A third of the students are from abroad. (NOT A third of the students is from abroad.)
A quarter of the trees have been cut down.

78. You listen to something.

She never listens to me. (NOT She never listens me.)
Listen to this! (NOT Listen this!)

79. Don’t use the past progressive for past habits.

When I was 20 I smoked / I used to smoke. (NOT When I was 20 I was smoking.)
I played / I used to play a lot of football at school. (NOT I was playing a lot of football at school.)

80. Don’t use most of directly before a noun.

Most of these people agree with me.
Most people agree with me.
(BUT NOT Most of people agree with me.)


81. In ‘unreal’ conditions with if, use would, not will.

If I knew the price, I would tell you. (NOT If I knew the price, I will tell you.)
It would be better if he told the truth. (NOT It will be better if he told the truth.)

82. Don’t use later with an expression of time to talk about the future.

I’ll see you later.
I’ll see you in a few days.
(BUT NOT I’ll see you a few days later.)

83. Don’t use in case to mean ‘if’.

I’ll take an umbrella in case it rains. (= ‘… because it might rain.’)
I’ll open the umbrella if it rains. (NOT I’ll open the umbrella in case it rains.)

84. Use so before an adjective, but not before adjective + noun.

I love this country – it’s so beautiful. (NOT I love this so beautiful country.)
Thanks for your help. That was so kind of you. (NOT Thanks for your so kind help.)

85. Only use unless to mean ‘except if’.

I’ll see you tomorrow unless I have to work.
I’ll be really upset if I don’t pass the exam. (NOT I’ll be really upset unless I pass the exam.)

86. Use be with adjectives, not have with nouns, to talk about physical sensations like cold, hunger, thirst etc.

I am thirsty. (NOT I have thirst.)
We are cold in this house. (NOT We have cold in this house.)

87. Don’t use to-infinitives after can, could, will, would, may, might, shall, should or must.

I can swim. (NOT I can to swim.)
Must you make so much noise? (NOT Must you to make so much noise?)

88. Use not, not no, to make sentences negative.

I’m not asleep. (NOT I’m no asleep.)
We are open on Saturdays, but not on Sundays. (NOT … but no on Sundays.)

89. We don’t usually use present tenses after past reporting verbs.

She told me she had a headache. (NOT She told me she has a headache.)
I asked him what he wanted. (NOT | asked him what he wants.)

90. Use to after married, engaged.

He’s married to a doctor. (NOT He’s married with a doctor.)
My sister is engaged to a computer engineer. (NOT My sister is engaged with a computer engineer.)

91. Use which, not what, to refer back to a whole sentence.

She passed her exam, which surprised everybody. (NOT She passed her exam, what surprised everybody.)
My father has just climbed Mont Blanc, which is pretty good for a man of 75. (NOT … what is pretty good for a man of 75.)

92. Don’t use the with society when it has a general meaning.

We all have to live in society. (NOT We all have to live in the society.)
Rousseau said that society makes people evil. (NOT Rousseau said that the society makes people evil.)

93. Use a to-infinitive after want.

I want to go home. (NOT I want go home.)
The children want to stay up late. (NOT The children want stay up late.)

94. Use make, not do, with mistake.

I have made a mistake. (NOT I have done a mistake.)
You can’t speak a language without making mistakes. (NOT … without doing mistakes.)

95. Don’t repeat a relative pronoun with another pronoun.

There’s the man that I work for. (NOT There’s the man that I work for him.)
She saw a doctor who sent her to hospital. (NOT She saw a doctor who he sent her to hospital.)

96. After a superlative, use in with a place expression.

Which is the biggest city in the world? (NOT Which is the biggest city of the world?)
This is the best restaurant in the city. (NOT This is the best restaurant of the city.)

97. You explain and suggest something to somebody.

Please explain to me what you want. (NOT Please explain me what you want.)
Can you suggest a good restaurant to us? (NOT Can you suggest us a good restaurant?)

98. Work is an uncountable noun.

I’m looking for work. (NOT I’m looking for a work.)
My brother has found a new job. (NOT My brother has found a new work.)

99. Be careful of the word order in negative infinitives.

It’s important not to work too hard. (NOT It’s important to not work too hard.)
I asked her not to make so much noise.

100. Possessives replace articles.

We stayed in John’s house at the weekend. (NOT We stayed in the John’s house at the weekend.)
She’s been studying Britain’s foreign policy since 1980. (NOT She’s been studying the Britain’s foreign policy since 1980.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 70.

Created: 19/08/2011
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