If you want a quick way to improve your English skills, identifying and targeting your mistakes is one of the most effective ways to get there. So to help you speak your best English, I’m going to talk about a mistake that I hear learners make, no matter their native language or even their level.
So what is it?
Ok, you caught me. That’s not a term that you’ll find in most grammar textbooks. And yet, I hear a big variety of students of make this mistake.
What does it mean?
In a verb phrase with both a helping verb and main verb, some speakers will incorrectly conjugate both.
Let’s back up. What are “helping verbs” and “main verbs”?
English is language full of “helping verbs”, also known as “auxilary verbs”. They include:
do, should, will, shall, may, might, can, could, must, ought to, would, used to, need
… and be and have are also sometimes used as helping verbs.
Helping verbs allow us to express tense, mood, and likelihood, but the action in the sentence comes from the “main verb”.
For example, in:
He might come later.
She can’t swim.
She didn’t buy eggs.
“Might”, “can”, and “did” are helping verbs, while “come”, “swim”, and “buy” are main verbs. The main verb gives us information about the action, while the helping verb gives us information about how or whether an action happened.
So what can go wrong?
Let’s come back to this idea of “over-conjugation”. Here are a few examples of incorrect sentences, plus their correct versions. The differences are bold.
I hear speakers of all levels make this mistake. But if your English skills are more advanced, then you’re more likely to make mistakes 4 and 5 than the mistakes 1 – 3, so watch out for those in particular.
1) He might meets us later.
3) My cat doesn’t likes to swim.
4) They didn’t got the question.
5) We didn’t moved this year.Correct:1) He might meet us later.
2) She won’t help them.
3) My cat doesn’t like to swim.
4) They didn’t get the question.
5) We didn’t move this year.In the incorrect version, both the helping and main verbs are conjugated.
In the correct version, only the helping verb is conjugated. The main verb is in the infinitive form (the form that you’ll find in the dictionary).
What can you do?
Knowledge is power. Often simply learning about and becoming aware of the mistake will help.
In addition to that, reading and listening to correct English – through books, podcasts, and films – will help you improve your English intuition. As a result, you’ll be more likely to notice mistakes, as well as less likely to make them.
Finally, practice makes perfect. So if you’re not getting something right, use it – in speech and in writing – over and over and over again.