Common Errors in English
Source: Dr. James McCabe
Hello Everyone Notice I said Everyone, and not everyone, a classic Jerry mistake. Notice also I said "Hello Everyone", and not "Dear All" (which is Quatsch) or "Dear Ladies and Gentlemen" (which is worse trash - Ladies and Gentlemen is for public speeches, not for written English). Notice I said English, and not english. Nations, nationalities and languages always take capitals (German, the Russians, Chinese etc.). So next time you mail someone, try to pay attention to the subtle (pronounced sutl) differences that make all the difference.

Persons The word persons does exist, but only in a legal context (e.g. sign on a lift/elevator: Max 12 Persons). It is definitely NEVER used in spoken English, especially in business. The word is people, or guys (slang American). You can see how this ties in with being touchyfeely, because when you say persons, you are describing people as boxes, objects, a bag of bones with no value. Well done. By the way, guys is a unisex word in the States only. UK females will not take kindly to being included in the word "guys".

Can "Can" expresses physical ability, "Fähigkeit" etc.It's not a very polite way to ask for what you want, even if you preface it with "Please". In fact, "Please can you phone me back..." is really just a direct translation of "Bitte können Sie..." It's much better to say "Could you phone me back please?" with please in it's proper place at the end of the question. Could offers the person some respect, Can is really for family etc. Remember, English language is a house of strangers, unlike Deutsch.

You're Welcome Please don't go around saying "Your're Welcome" on the phone the whole time. "You're Welcome" is really only for hospitality (Gastfreundschaft) - in other words after giving something major to a guest. So you see it's really not the cleverest thing in the world to say this every time someone thanks you over the phone. Remember, you've only given them (probably) a little info, and not a cheque for 3 million quid (slang: pounds), so don't overdo it. On second thoughts, if you'd like to sound the equivalent of the guy down the road serving chips (Br. English for pommes) at MacDonalds, and not the high powered executive you no doubt are, then continue saying "You're welcome" every day.The correct expression, of course, is "Not at all", often rolled on the tongue to make the phonetic sound "Nodadall". Trust me. It's true. It's better to keep "You're Welcome" for that special occasion...

Actual In English, actual means "wirklich", not current, which is what you want to say. This is classic of classics. Typical expression in Business English: "What's the current state of the plan ?" or "What's happening today ?"

Guys Be careful with the word guys. This is unisex in the States, i.e. refers to both men and women. In British English, a guy is a man only. Saying guys to a group including an Englishwoman is not very clever or tactful.

Make or Do? Basically, any process/continuous activity is denoted by do (e.g. do the shopping/the washing/the housework/your job); while make is used with single products (e.g. make the tea/a date/a plan/a telephone call). Got the idea? So...last night I made the dinner (normally my wife does the cooking...)

Date or Appointment? A date is what you have with your wife/husband; not the bank manager/dentist at 10 o'clock Monday morning. Unless, that is, you're Casanova. The correct word is appointment/termin.

For/Since? For is for duration (Dauer), since is for a point in time (Zeitpunkt). E.g. for three years, but since 1997. So, since three years is, of course, a classic error.

During/While? During is for use with nouns, while for use with verbs. E.g. during the meeting/my life/the weekend aber while I was driving/thinking/sleeping...

So/Such? So is used with adjectives; and such with structures involving nouns. Jim is so lovely aber Jim is such a lovely guy...

Smalltalk In fact, smalltalk has a bad reputation (Ruf), especially in Germany where it's considered to be of marginal (unwesentlich) importance. You use the word smalltalk in German, but unfortunately not in it's exactly correct sense. When you say smalltalk, you mean little talk, i.e. subjects various (unterschiedlich) but of little significance (Bedeutung). For us, smalltalk is BIGTALK, for the very reason that we use it as a strategic tool in doing business.

Yes/No? English is famously inaccuarate. When you ask me for a favour and I say "I don't know, Markus, leave it with me", that means yes. When I say "I don't know" ohne your Vorname that could just as easily mean "no", for the very reason I have distanced myself from you by not using your name. In fact, the first name is, I suppose, the most essential ingredient (Zutat) in smalltalk.

Seven good signs... So, how do you know when you've clicked (casual for succeeded with) a business situation? Seven good signs to look out for: the guy's using your first name; he's asking about your weekend; he's touching base for no reason; he's laughing with (and not at) you; he's trading tips for good pubs; he's telling you "Say hello to your boss/wife/friend for me" and last but not least, he's following up on his promise...

Meeting... A meeting can be cancelled (called off), postponed (put off), it can happen on time (it goes ahead), or it can happen earlier (it's brought forward). These four phrasals - Call off (absagen), Put off (verschieben), Go ahead (stattfinden) and Bring forward (vorverlegen) - are very handy ways of discussing timing of meetings etc.. In other words, we don't actually say cancel that often. Spoken English almost always uses a phrasal verb instead of these other written verbs.

False Friends... False Friends are words which sound safe to use, but are really dangerous or misleading, z.B. a gift is something you give your wife (in English!); you don't park your car at the backside of a building etc. A classic false friend is spend, from German spenden. The correct English for this, of course is donate or treat. Basically, Helmut Cabbage is suffering from a donations scandal, and "I'll treat you to a coffee". Often, German speakers translate phrases literally into English which sound okay but are in fact Quatsch, e.g. und und und is not and and and but etcetera or and so on.

-ing form We only use the present continuous (-ing form) for momentary actions. So, I'm living in Augsburg or I'm working at Fujitsu Siemens Computers are both "falsch". The correct tense in English is the present simple: I live in Augsburg or I work at ... A classic error in business English is to say "He's sitting in Munich". Of course, the correct English is "He is based in Munich".

Plurals A typical error that I regularly come across involves plurals. For example, there are no such things in English as criterias, for the very reason that criteria is itself the plural form of the word criterion. So, singular criterion; plural criteria. In Business English, there are a few classics - such as datas, informations and trainings. This is not English. The plural of data is data, of information is information, and the correct English for "trainings" is courses. You will immediately see one of the big differences between Deutsch and English - the latter is nicht genau. In English we have a piece of date, some data or a lot of data. One cannot say three datas, two informations, as is possible with German. The same holds true of luggage (baggage in US) - singular one piece of luggage, plural two pieces of luggage. By the way, the word headquarters is always spelt with an "s".


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