Use of Indefinite / Definite Articles (the, a, an) Knowing when to use definite or indefinite articles can be difficult. Here are some of the most important rules to remember when using definite and indefinite articles. Indefinite articles are used (a, an) the first time something is presented in a sentence. Use indefinite articles with anything that is not specifically known to BOTH the writer and the reader. Related to the first two: Use a definite article when referring to something that has already been mentioned. Conversely, Use a definite article (the) when referring to an object which is known to both the writer and the reader. Use no definite or indefinite article (nothing, in other words) when speaking in general using a plural with a countable noun, or the singular with a uncountable noun.
Capitalize 'I' and National Adjectives / Nouns / Names of Languages and the First Word of a New Sentence The rules of capitalization in English are confusing. However, the most common capitalization mistakes that are occur are with national adjectives, nouns and names of languages. Remember these rules to help you avoid this type of capitalization mistake. Capitalize 'I' Capitalize nations, national nouns and adjectives - French, Russian, English, Italy, Canadian, etc. Capitalize the first letter of the first word in a new sentence or question Do NOT capitalize common nouns, nouns are only capitalized if they are the name of something Capitalize proper names of people, institutions, festivals, etc.
Slang and Texting Language Many English learners, especially young English learners like to use slang and texting language online. The idea behind this is good: learners want to show that they understand and can use idiomatic language. However, using this sort of idiomatic language can lead to many mistakes. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to no use texting language or slang in a blog post, comment or other online written communication. Texting is fine if you are texting, otherwise it should not be used. Any type of longer written communication should not use slang. Slang is used in spoken English, not in written communication.
False friends 'False friends' more commonly occurs in languages close to English than languages that are far removed. They are words that look like, and sound so similar to, words in your own language that you assume they mean the same thing. As English is a bastard language it has basically two kinds of word roots, Germanic and Romanic. This means that 'false friends' are particularly prone to appear in languages where Germanic and Romanic roots abound. Example (picked from Norwegian): The chairman's orientation was surprising. Now, much confusion and amusement may rise from this. The intended meaning is 'the chairman's statement/report', which in Norwegian is called 'orientering'. 'Orientation' in English tends to be understood as 'sexual orientation'. Ouchie! Suffice to say 'false friends' are something to watch out for. A little paranoia may be a good thing in this case. It's better to check too often than rarely, and if you're in even a tiny bit of doubt, look up the word in a Dictionary.
Word confusions This is not identical with the 'false friends' above. Sometimes you'll find words whose spelling are so similar that you'll get their meaning confused. The funniest example of this that I've been made aware of in my own writing, was pointed out to me by Elfwood writer Che Monro: What I wrote: 'To see the beauty and knowing its significance, installed a feeling of unreality paired with considerable worry from the American delegation.' How Che Monro pointed out the error: 'How are you feeling right now?' 'Oh, um, OK.' 'No feelings of unreality paired with considerable worry?' 'Um, nope, those are being installed next Tuesday.' Instilled. The word you want is instilled. 'Nuff said. Suffice to say, I'll never forget the difference between install and instill again. Besides confusing instill with install, the sentence above has an inconsistent use of the verbal tense, (see vs. knowing) which makes it a very bad sentence. Don't do this. Know the meaning of your words, be careful with your verbal tense, and you'll be much better off.
Connotations Connotations are that which is implied by a word or a phrase in addition to its literal or primary meaning. For natural English speakers these come naturally as they grow into their language. For foreign speakers connotations are a veritable minefield of potential disasters. Again, the funniest example in my own writing that I've been made aware of, was pointed out to me by Che Monro:
What I wrote: 'The cylinder at the hub served as fixation point for an extensive net of beams, bars and more of the transparent passages stretching from the core cylinder to the outer wall.' What Che Monro commented: Ah, a cylinder fixation, Dr Freud. Very significant! I believe the patient may require an extensive course of rhomboids and dodecahedron therapy... Fixation is technically correct but it makes it sound like your space station has some kind of a fetish. Ops! How was I to know that fixation carries a sexual connotation when I wrote about a perfectly innocent manufactured construct? Especially since this connotation is non-existent in my own language. The result was unintentionally funny. All native English readers might not have noticed the connotation, but for those who do notice these things the effect of the paragraph would probably become comical rather than the intended visual. Or, God forbid, both. So how do we cope with this little problem? Besides using dictionaries and thesauruses, my best suggestion is to recruit a number of native English speaking people you can use for reference. Ask them what connotations they have to the word you're wondering about, but be conscious about regional varieties and local uses. Sometimes the person you ask will be aware of how common his or her connotations are, and sometimes not. Therefore it's good to have more than one person as reference, and preferable someone not living in the same neighborhood, or country, for that matter.
Contractions, genitives and common irregular verbs The confusion between contraction and genitive is so common that I mention it here, although it's not unique to foreign users. However, if you want to write well in English, you should try to get this issue under control. It's is a contraction of it is, while its is the genitive form of it. That little apostrophe makes a lot of difference. The more common irregular verbs are important too. A quick example would be my one of my own nemeses: to confuse was and were, which are the singular and plural past tense of to be.