Common English Mistakes Even Teachers Make

Join a global community of over 200,000 TEFL teachers working throughout the world! Enrol me!

English is a crazy language.

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

Why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Why do we have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t a race at all).

Adapted from Crazy English by Richard Lederer


confused man thinking about common mistakes in English

The simple fact that pony and bologna rhyme* but rough, through and though don’t should be a giveaway but many people don’t realise just how weird English is until they teach English as a foreign language. 

Read more: What Level Should My English Be For A TEFL Course?

English teachers are usually focused on the common English mistakes their students are making, but there are many common English mistakes that even teachers make! (Don’t worry, we won’t tell!)

Of course, there are many different Englishes. People use different vocabulary and even different grammar when they speak. What might be considered incorrect in one English is totally natural in another – and that’s not what we’re talking about. Differences in dialect is one thing, but there are some instances of language usage which are just plain wrong no matter what English you speak. 

Read more: Which English? English In The EFL Classroom

We’re not going to bother with the usual their, they’re, there or its, it’s, because it seems like those common English mistakes are forever ingrained in our collective consciousness *sigh*. 

Instead, we’re going to do us all a favour and highlight a few of the most common atrocities our ears and eyes are subjected to, just to clear up any confusion once and for all. 

Read more: Why Do My Learners Make The Same Mistakes?

AdobeStock 242307181

Do you make these mistakes in English?

Let’s start with a few basic ones:

Desert vs dessert

Desert is a verb, meaning to leave without permission, or a noun, referring to a dry, sandy region.

The soldier was punished for deserting his battalion.

The Sahara Desert is the biggest desert in the world.

Dessert is a noun, referring to the sweet course of a meal.

He had ice cream for dessert every Tuesday.

Lose vs loose

Lose is a verb, meaning to misplace something so that it cannot be found, or to fail to win.

She had to buy another pair of glasses because she had lost hers.

Manchester United lost to Arsenal last night.

Loose is an adjective, the opposite of tight.

She has lost weight so that dress is very loose on her.

Past vs passed

Past is an adjective or a noun, referring to time gone by.

My granny always used to reminisce about the past.

Passed is the past tense of pass.

When they had passed the library, they began to talk again.

Principal vs principle

Principal is a noun, referring to the head of a school, or an adjective, describing the most important thing.

My father was the principal of the high school for five years.

She was the principal ballet dancer in the show.

Principle is a noun, referring to a fundamental belief.

Don’t let anyone force you to give up your principles.

Site vs sight

Site is a noun, referring to a piece of land which is used for a specific purpose.

This is the site of the new shopping centre.

Sight is a noun, referring to something we see or the sense of seeing.

The sunset was a spectacular sight.

After the operation, he regained his sight.

Stationary vs stationery

Stationary is an adjective, meaning not moving.

The train was stationary because it was at the station.

Stationery is a noun, referring to writing materials such as pens and paper.

Before the school term started, they went shopping for new stationery.

Every day vs everyday

Every day refers to something that happens every day.

I have eggs for breakfast every day.

Everyday is an adjective referring to something which is commonplace, ordinary or typical. 

My everyday work outfit is a suit. 

Affect vs effect

Affect is a verb.

Effect is a noun. 

Man pondering common English mistakes

Now let’s take it up a notch.

Should of 

If I had known she was going to be there, I would of told you


If I had known she was going to be there, I would’ve told you?

Zero points and a shake of the head if you chose option A, 10 points and a high-five if you chose option B!


Repeat after me: not a word. Not. A Word.

The clue is in the affixes, people! Ir is a prefix of negation, as is the suffix –less. There is no need for both of them.

Hint: use regardless.

for all intensive purposes 

Perhaps an understanable mistake, but still a mistake. It should be for all intents and purposes, [please and thank you.

bare with me 

A possibly embarrassing mistake, this one.

Bare means naked, so instead of saying bare with me, you need to say bear with me. 

you’ve got another thing coming 

No, actually you’ve got another think coming.


When you’re trying to blame someone for something you’ve done wrong then you’re not looking for a goat trying to escape. You’re, in fact, looking for a scapegoat.

on tender hooks

To be on tender hooks sounds very strange indeed but, to be fair, the correct on tenterhooks doesn’t make sense to us these days anyway.

case and point 

Case in point means that you are about to relate something which perfectly describes the point you are trying to make. Case and point imply that the case and the point are two separate things entirely.

nip it in the butt

To nip something in the bud means to stop something before it gets out of hand. While to nip something (or someone!)  in the butt is just outrageously inappropriate.

wreck havoc

To wreak havoc means to cause chaos. If you use the word wreck, you mean that the chaos is destroyed. This would presumably result in a state of calm, which is the actual opposite of what is meant by the phrase.

one in the same

Seriously though, one in the same what? It’s one and the same. 

slight of hand

Magicians use sleight of hand to make those pesky coins appear out of our ears. Slight means a small amount which could possibly refer to someone with small hands but it wouldn’t really make any sense.

baited breath

To bait someone means to taunt them, which is not exactly possible when it comes to breathing.

In the case of bated breath, your breath is bated, coming from the word abated, which means to lessen in severity. In other words, you have less breath because you are holding it.

beckon call

To beckon means to call someone, so we can see why this one can cause confusion. However, the true idiom is to be at someone’s beck and call, meaning that you are there to wait on them hand and foot.

scotch free 

Presumably, scotch free means free of scotch, while to get off scot-free means to commit a crime and not be punished for it. While we’re not sure of the exact origins of the phrase, no, it doesn’t have anything to do with someone called Scott.

mute point 

If something or someone is mute, it means it cannot speak or it has no volume, which is clearly not applicable to a point.

Interestingly, a moot point refers to both a point that needs to be discussed (in legal situations) and a point that is not worthy of discussion.

I could care less 

While I could care less implies that you still care, the correct I couldn’t care less shows that you care so little that you would not be able to care any less – which is really what you are trying to say, isn’t it?

peaked my interest 

A peak is the highest point of something, while pique means to arouse or provoke, so something piques your interest.

While this mistake is a bit more understandable than the others, the true meaning of the phrase is that your interest was aroused rather than reaching its peak.

piece of mind 

Pizzas and cakes have pieces. Hopefully, wherever you live there is peace.

While it’s certainly possible to give someone a piece of your mind, if you do something for peace of mind, you are doing it to alleviate any related worry – not because your brain is breaking into tiny, little pieces.

do diligence 

While diligence is something you do, you also need to make sure you do your due diligence, especially when you are considering which TEFL course you should take.

Read more: Which TEFL Course Should I Take?

wet your appetite

Yes, yes, yes, appetite refers to food and drink, but that’s not to say that it’s something that we can actually wet.

To whet your appetite means to increase your desire for something, usually by exposing you to a small amount of it. For example, doing a TEFL course will whet your appetite for teaching English abroad. #truestory

And lastly but certainly not leastly**, our pet peeve:


It’s. Not. A. Word.

AdobeStock 321745603

Okay, rant over. We feel better now. 

If you’re a teacher and you want to know how exactly to tackle common English mistakes like these (and others) that our learners make in the classroom, check out Encouraging Mistakes In The TEFL Classroom: Effective Error Correction.

And if you enjoyed reading this and you’re not a teacher yet,  you’ll probably enjoy doing a TEFL course and teaching English as a foreign language. Chat to us to find out how we can make your dreams come true!


*In US English

** Also not a word.


Thanks. I like English and wish to be an English teacher some day.

Mbota Catherine, 26th May 2020

I like English and I am impressed with your teachings. I wish to get online job or any other job related to this

Edwin, 19th May 2020

how do I find a job in South Africa. I have completed the TEFL course and only teaching in China was mentioned by the presenters. I look forward to hearing from you. I would be available to teach adults / business people as well.


Jenni Linley, 4th May 2020

Thanks, we often forget about the obvious ones!!!

Newton King, 2nd May 2020

Get Social

Follow us on social networks, join our newsletter - get the latest news and early discounts

Sign up to our newsletter

Follow us on social networks, sign up to our e-newsletters – get the latest news and early discounts

Accreditation Partners

The TEFL Academy was the world’s first TEFL course provider to receive official recognition from government regulated awarding bodies in both the USA and UK. This means when you graduate you’ll hold a globally recognised Level 3 (120hr) Certificate or Level 5 (168hr) Diploma, meaning you can find work anywhere and apply for jobs immediately.

Product added to your cart

You have added to your cart:

Request call back

    Please leave your details below and one of our TEFL experts will get back to you ASAP:

    captchaType characters on the left:

    Would you like us to update you on TEFL opportunities, jobs and related products & services?

    Yes, keep me updatedNo, but thanks anyway!

    Thank you! Your message has been sent!

    Download the TEFL World Factbook

      Please enter your details in order to download the latest TEFL World Factbook.

      Would you like us to update you on TEFL opportunities, jobs and related products & services?

      Yes, keep me updatedNo, but thanks anyway!

      Thank you for downloading the TEFL World Factbook!

      If the TEFL World Factbook did not download
      > Click Here To Download <

      Download the Online Teaching Guide

        Please enter your details in order to download our Online Teaching Guide.

        Would you like us to update you on TEFL opportunities, jobs and related products & services?

        Yes, keep me updatedNo, but thanks anyway!

        Thank you for downloading our Online Teaching Guide!

        If the Online Teaching Guide did not download
        > Click Here To Download <

        Download Prospectus

          Please enter your details in order to download our latest prospectus.

          Would you like us to update you on TEFL opportunities, jobs and related products & services?

          Yes, keep me updatedNo, but thanks anyway!

          Thank you for downloading our prospectus!

          We hope you enjoy reading our prospectus, we have tried to make it as useful as possible! Please get in touch if you have any questions.

          If the prospectus did not download automatically
          > Click Here To Download <