Some mistakes crop up again and again in my training sessions. People are aware that what they said is wrong and know what the correct version is, but that doesn’t stop them making the same mistakes. When I correct them, the reply is usually a frustrated “Of course, I know that! Why do I always make the same mistakes?” Bad habits are so hard to break.

Below are (slightly adapted) sentences I’ve heard over the past couple of weeks. Can you find and correct the mistakes? Which ones do you make? 

1.  I’m working in customer service. I’m answering questions and entering orders. 

2.  My colleague doesn’t want that I open the window in the office.

3.  I’ve already attended three different trainings on safety.  

4.  Last week I have booked a skiing holiday.

5.  I’ll let you know until the end of the week.

6.  If I would answer every mail, it would take too long. 

7.  I’ve worked for this company since three years.


Interested to see how you did?

Here are the correct versions together with a very brief explanation.  

1. Overuse of the present continuous

👿   I’m working in customer service. I’m answering questions and entering orders. 

😇  I work in customer service. I answer questions and enter orders. 

My theory is that so much emphasis is placed on the present continuous at school in Germany (because unlike German there are two tenses for the present in English) that it sticks in people’s minds and then they overuse it.

The present continuous is used for actions which are taking place now, for temporary situations and for future plans and arrangements. So I’m working in customer service is fine for telling someone about your temporary job. But not for talking about your permanent job or things that are true in general or for describing routines.


2. Want me to …

👿 My colleague doesn’t want that I open the window in the office.

😇 My colleague doesn’t want me to open the window in the office.

Want that, need that, would like that … – these constructions don’t exist in English. Instead you need to use an infinitive with to and the pronoun me, you, him, her, us, them.

I need you to send me the mail by the end of the week.
They’d like us to host the event. 


3. Training is uncountable in British English

👿 I’ve already attended three different trainings on safety.  

😇  I’ve already attended three different training courses / workshops on safety.  

In British English, training is uncountable, so there’s no plural. That’s no problem when you are talking about training in general: Our company spends a lot on training. But if you want to talk about specific training events, you need to talk about courses, workshops, seminars, training days, (training) sessions, classes, … (American English dictionaries do list the plural form as trainings – so who knows how long it will take for British English ones to follow suit 😉)

The same is true for coaching, by the way. Here you could say: I’ve just booked three coaching sessions. (NOT three coachings)


4. Overuse of the present perfect

👿 Last week I have booked a skiing holiday.

😇 Last week I booked a skiing holiday.

I get the impression that for many Germans the present perfect is their go-to solution for talking about the past. Almost certainly because it’s so similar to the German construction they’d use (ich habe … gebucht). But if you’re talking about a finished period of time in English you need to use the simple past tense.


5. By and until

👿 I’ll let you know until the end of the week.

😇 I’ll let you know by the end of the week.

Until means up to. It expresses how long a situation or an action continues. So until Wednesday = all the time up to Wednesday. I’ve got until Wednesday to write the report. (Till means the same and is used in conversation or informal writing.)

By, on the other hand, means on or before. It expresses that something will happen not later than a certain time. By Wednesday = on or before Wednesday. I need to finish the report by Wednesday.


6. Conditionals

👿 If I would answer every mail, it would take too long. 

😇 If I answered every mail, it would take too long.

The easy rule to remember: There is generally* no will or would in the if part of the sentence.

In this example you’re imagining a situation and so you use the simple past in the if-clause and would in the main clause.

* However, would is used in the if-clause in very polite, formal requests: I would appreciate it if you would organise transport for me.


7. For and since

👿 I have worked for this company since three years.

😇 I have worked for this company for three years.

Since is not used with a period of time, only with a point of time in the past: since 2019, since June, since Monday.

Use for with a period of time, whether it’s in the past, present or future:

I was a member for 5 years. (I no longer am.)
She’s lived in Germany for a while now. (She still does)
I’ll be at my desk for the next couple of hours.


No one speaks English correctly 100% of the time!

Of course, making mistakes is part and parcel of learning a language. The worst thing you can do is let yourself be held back by a desire for absolute accuracy (I’m only going to say something if I’m sure it’s correct). As you stretch yourself, find yourself in new and challenging situations, tackle unknown topics, you’re bound to get some things wrong.

Mistakes are opportunities for learning, for making progress. How can you make the most of these chances?


Break bad habits and make progress

Pay attention to the details – This is often difficult while you’re speaking, but how about checking emails especially carefully and making a note of the mistakes you find?

Slow down a little – Allow yourself more time to think when you’re speaking. Fluency doesn’t always equal speed. Faster isn’t always better. What’s more, you will probably be doing weaker listeners a favour.

Focus on one or two points at a time – Pick a “mistake of the week/month”. Concentrate on eliminating that one mistake. You could ask your trainer or even a colleague to give you a certain sign every time that mistake crops up.



Posted on Oct 26, 2022 in getting ahead
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Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too. » more