• Cecilia Viana

Keep your sentences right; don't do this! (Part 1)

In this post, we are going to explore how to make positive sentences, more specifically, how to avoid the four mistakes I see more often.

Remember this: you don’t have to be perfect and panic if you make mistakes. Your objective should be to be clear and to make yourself understood easily. Sometimes, when you are learning a language, your mother tongue can influence the way you structure sentences. You can end up using Spanglish, for example: using English words and Spanish grammar. This can be very confusing for the listener, so make things easier for the other person by avoiding these common mistakes.

Mistake 1

Look at these sentences. What's wrong with them?

Finish late every day.

Rains every day in Auckland.

Is amazing!

Did you discover the problem? I hope you have said that the problem is.... that there is no subject! In English, sentences always need a subject:

I finish late every day.

It rains every day in Auckland.

It is amazing!

This is confusing because in Spanish, it is possible to start a sentence without a subject. For example, it is correct to say ‘termino tarde todos los días’, ‘llueve todos los días en Auckland’, y ‘es increíble!’

Mistake 2:

Now look at these sentences. What's wrong with them?

My boss he is very strict.

Oprah she has a very popular talk show.

What is the problem here? The problem is that... there is an extra subject! You know you need to start with a subject, but don’t repeat it! My boss and he are the same person; it doesn’t make sense to use the pronoun right after the subject. Simply say:

My boss is very strict, or he is very strict.

Oprah has a very popular talk show, or she has a very popular talk show.

Mistake 3:

Look at the following sentences now. What's wrong with them?

I’m live in a flat in the CBD.

I’m work at Google.

We’re have lunch together.

Do you see what's wrong? The problem is... using the verb to be when it is not necessary. Remember to be means ser or estar, so if you don’t want to say soy or estoy, don’t use it. I think some of us have been traumatised with the verb to be at school; every year we studied the verb to be again and again, so now we want to put it everywhere. But please, don’t!

I live in a flat in the CBD.

I work at Google.

We have lunch together.

The verb to be can be next to another verb in the continuous tenses, like in these cases:

I’m living in a flat. (Estoy viviendo...)

I’m working at Google. (Estoy trabajando...)

We’re having lunch together. (Estamos almorzando...)

Mistake 4:

Now look at these final sentences. What's the problem with them?

Always I arrive on time.

Never she keeps her promises.

Can you see the mistake? The problem is... that the word order is wrong. These sentences need to start with the subject. Adverbs of frequency typically go between the subject and verb. Not always, though. Sometimes can start a sentence, go between the subject and the verb, or go at the end.

I always arrive on time.

She never keeps her promises.

I sometimes arrive on time. / Sometimes, I arrive on time. / I arrive on time sometimes.

So, to recap:

Make sure that:

  • your sentence has a subject

  • you don’t repeat the subject

  • you don’t add the verb to be before every verb

  • you start your sentence with the subject (not an adverb of frequency, unless it is sometimes).

Remember that the goal is to be easy to understand, not to be perfect. Pay attention when you speak to make sure you don’t make these mistakes, and be as clear as you can.

If you want to avoid making other common mistakes, watch this!

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