English is a tough language. For those of us that grew up speaking it, it’s not difficult – only at times, but for someone where English is a second language, it can be really confusing. There are a lot of rule and lots of exceptions. I’ve personally learned some Spanish and I’ve found out how complicated English really is – it’s tough!
I have a team of developers in India I’ve helped manage and, over the years, I’ve kept track of some English pitfalls we’ve run into. As I look through the communication, there are a bunch of items I’ve had to repeat several times. I get that it’s not easy to learn things one way (Indian English) and then have to all of a sudden switch how you talk to another way – especially when it’s the same language, like English. You’ve learned one way, which is what you learned in school and how your friends talk but then going to American English, you find how have to make lots of adjustments, which are subtle.
Here is a compilation of the notes I’ve kept and hopefully they’ll help you learn some of the finer points of speaking and writing American English. I’ll say correct/incorrect or right/wrong and so on but my aim is to explain what sounds natural to the American English speaker’s ear, so it’s more like, what’s better, not wrong or incorrect.
A great resource (much better than this page – and more correct) is the Spoken English Cafe.
First, a tip on pronunciation…
When speaking English, I noticed most Indians put emphasis on the first syllable of most words but Americans tend to put emphasis on the second syllable more often.
Here’s an example: developer
- Indian: de-vel-oper
- American: de-vel-oper
To us, when the emphasis is on the first syllable of this word, we hear “devil upper” and that doesn’t sound right to us. It has nothing to do with being a programmer / developer and we’re not sure what the Devil is doing there. 🙂
This will be hard to get used to changing but it’s something to listen for and try to focus on.
Now, on to phrases and examples…
This is such a small word, yet it causes so much trouble. 🙂
First (just to get this out of the way), when we speak, we really almost never emphasize the word “the” since it’s a little word and doesn’t mean too much when used properly. I notice some people on my team talk this way, like: “We have to put THE database on the same server.” It’s fine but that’s just not how we talk. I understand in Tamil or maybe Hindi, that kind of thing maybe matters more.
The only time we emphasize saying “the” is when we want to show that it is THE authority. It’s the top. It’s the best. It’s the only one – that kind of thing. Emphasizing “the” when speaking loses its power when you emphasize it too much.
Secondly, the trouble with “the” mainly comes down to adjectives and nouns.
- Incorrect: “Let’s post that on the Facebook.”
- Correct: “Let’s post that on Facebook.”
In the incorrect example, when you put “the” in front of “Facebook” you’re turning Facebook from a noun into an adjective and the noun is missing. We’re left asking ourselves, “the Facebook… what?” Adding “the” makes “Facebook” an adjective (describing something) but then you don’t say what you are describing. It’s incomplete.
Another example: “client”
- Incorrect: “We need to ask client.”
- Correct: “We need to ask the client.”
This is where it gets tricky, of course (English) is difficult). The incorrect version sounds like a cave man – very primitive. Adding “the” here helps in a few ways. It tells us how many there are and it sounds nicer. Again, I’m not an English expert here – I’m really just explaining what sounds right to Americans.
“Please advice us”
Using “advice” as a verb is wrong in American English. It is considered to be a noun. So, it is supposed to be “advise” and not “advice.”
You can’t [noun] something bu you can [verb] something.
The correct American English is: “Please advise us.”
“FYKI” and Kindly
Instead of “FYKI” (for your kind information), just omit “kind” and say “FYI” (for your information). I’m not sure why it’s kind, nice, friendly, or easy to get along with but we don’t say that. 🙂
And instead of saying “kindly” a lot, maybe just change that to “please” if you want to sound more… ‘Merican! Our first thought is, “How do I do it kindly? Am I doing it in a mean way right now and I need to change to doing it kindly? Why do they think I’m mean?”
- Instead of: “Kindly move to the back.”
- Say: “Please move to the back.”
“Email Id” vs. “Email address”
Also, another one I saw was “Id” instead of “ID” for the word “identification.” The proper abbreviation is ALWAYS “ID”. The word “Id” is something I think Freud came up with if I remember Psychology from my high school days. It’s entirely different.
In American, we don’t say “email ID” but we always say “email address” so change “ID” to “address.” Sending something to an ID sounds wrong but sending to an address sounds right to us. Also, you “ID” (identification) sound like something important like your driver’s license or Social Security card – not something so minor like an email address.
“On the website” vs. “in the website”
In the US, when we think of the website and computers, it’s on the screen. It’s not inside the screen, like where all the monitor components are. That’s why we say “on the website” instead of “in the website” when writing and speaking.
“Please do the needful”
Until I started talking with Indians, I didn’t know the word “needful” even existed. That’s a strange word to us. Instead of that, we would say:
“Please take care of what needs to be done.”
“Please take care of this.”
“Where” vs. “were” vs. “we’re”
Believe it or not, there’s a big difference with these words. Which one you use will depend on what you’re saying.
- Example: “Where are the files?” (location)
- Example: “We were looking for that” (verb)
- Example: “We’re looking for that” (contraction of “we” and “are”)
- Wrong Example: “…the CMS we use has a function, were you can upload…”
Saying “client” vs. “the client”
It’s never “Client wants to do this…” but instead, “The client wants to do this…”
When you don’t include “the”, it kind of sounds like a caveman to us or something (“Me want food” or “Client want discount… ughhh.”). 🙂
Also, let’s use their name when we can to show that we think of them as more than just “the client.”
- Example: “The client wants us to do this…”
- Example: “[Mark:] Please do this…”
“We have couple of Clarification in this form”
Just say “question” instead. That sounds better.
There’s no reason whatsoever to capitalize “Clarification”. It’s not a proper noun or the title of something. We just don’t randomly capitalize words in case you were wondering. 🙂
The above line should be: “We have a couple of questions about this form”
And a couple really means two – not a bunch, but we see it as two. If you say a couple, we’re expecting two – as in: “We’ll get back to you in a couple of hours.” which would mean in two hours.
If two hours pass with no response, then we’re going to ask what is going on – which brings me to the next point…
Promises and Deadlines are More Literal to Us
In business especially, when you promise something at a certain time, we’re expecting it at that exact time – no later.
In our minds, you’ve negotiated an exact time and that’s a promise – a contract, almost. You can possibly adjust it and change it but not at the last minute and for sure, not after the time has passed.
If today is Friday and you promise something on Tuesday, you could possibly say on Monday that it’ll be on Wednesday but if Tuesday comes and you say you need more time, that’s not being professional. If Tuesday passes without even a word about what’s going on, that’s very bad.
It’s also up to you to give updates and report. We shouldn’t have to ask you. You are expected to provide updates and confirm something will happen – at least once. If it’s an appointment, that’s not necessary usually.
If you do set or agree to an appointment, you’re expected to be on time. There’s maybe a 5 minute grace period. This is because we’re busy and have things to do. Being later than 5 minutes is very disrespectful. If there is a problem like with traffic or something, call ahead (or maybe text – depending on the situation) as soon as you know there’s a problem and explain the delay. If there’s truly a big emergency, then you can later be excused from missing the appointment, of course – we’re not that unreasonable.
“As per clients requirement”
It should have been: “as per the client’s requirement”
For example: “We have changed email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org mail address on Contact Us page as per clients requirement.”
Should just be this: “We have changed email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org on the Contact Us page.”
We know it’s an email address so mentioning “mail address” is redundant, extra, and we’re wondering why it’s being mentioned. English is more efficient. It’s more linear, too. If you list an email address, we see it and know what it is. Don’t say it’s an email address. That’s just wasting time.
“Please let us know if we need to make all fields Mandatory for this form?”
Why is “Mandatory” capitalized? It’s not a proper noun.
Also, instead of “mandatory” or “compulsory”, please say “required” since it’s less strong sounding.
Lastly, this is not a question. It’s a statement, so no question mark is needed.
This should be: “Please let us know if we need to make all fields required for this form.”
What local machine? There are several here… my paper shredder, the printer, the coffee machine. Which machine? Oh, my computer! Why not just say my computer then? It’s more specific and we don’t call computers “machines”. 🙂
- Example (wrong): “Select the file that you have saved in your local machine”
- Example (correct): “Select the file that you have saved on your computer”
And I can’t save it “in” my computer. I don’t open it up and put it in there. It’s “on” the computer because it’s on the hard drive, on the screen, or on the desktop, etc.
“Given below” or “above mentioned”
You can’t give something below – at least to us, you can’t. 🙂 Just say below.
- Incorrect: “Given below are the chosen Home page and Inside page designs.”
- Correct: “Below are the chosen home page and inside page designs.”
And you don’t capitalize Home or Inside because they’re NOT proper nouns.
- Original: “We will take care of the above mentioned updates today.”
This is one my mom even notices because she used to contact insurance companies at her job and got emails that said things like this.
Instead of “the above mentioned updates” go with “the updates mentioned above”
When you do it correctly like this, you saying:
“the [what] mentioned [where]”
versus the incorrect:
“the [where] mentioned [what]”
See?? That doesn’t work.
- Better: “We will take care of the updates mentioned above today.”
- Instead of: “We have completed the below updates”
- Write: “We have completed the updates below”
This is because when it’s “below updates” the word “below” is an adjective describing the updates, like, WHAT KIND of update it is. If you say “updates below” then you’re describing WHERE the updates are instead of what kind of update it is. The ordering of the words matters here.
“Maybe” vs. “may be”
Make sure you use this word correctly. There are different meanings if it’s used as one word or two.
- One word: “Maybe we will go to the park today.” (uncertainty)
- Two words: “That may be true. I’m not sure.” (verb / more factual)
You could say “that may be what you want” but that’s a different meaning. The “be” is a verb here and they’re separate words then (“maybe” is not a verb – when you separate the words, you’re trying to make it a verb).
“Sometime” vs. “some time”
“Doing mock up will take sometime for us.”
“Doing a mock up will take some time for us”
It should be 2 words here because it will take us some amount of time. When you say “sometime” it’s an actual designation of time – not an amount of time.
– “I will do that sometime for you” (not sure at what time)
– “I will need some time in order to do that for you” (an amount of time)
“Set up” vs. “setup”
- Verb: “Let’s set up the new website.”
- Noun: “Let’s go to the setup and make changes.”
“Work out” vs. “workout”
- Incorrect: “We are also trying to workout a solution for this bug.”
This means you’re trying to lift weights and do some running in order to find a solution. 🙂
- Correct: “We are also trying to work out a solution for this bug.”
- workout = a noun meaning lift weights
- work out = to come up with a solution
“Anyway” vs “any way”
The space matters.
- Wrong: “Please let us know if we can help on this in anyway.”
You mean in any way, not anyway – as in, “It was raining but we went anyway.” where anyway means regardless.
- Right: “Please let us know if we can help on this in any way.”
- “any way” is used like: “in any way possible”
- “anyway” means regardless
You never, ever say “in anyway”.
“A” vs. “Any”
I’m not sure how to explain this one, so I’ll give an example:
- Incorrect: “This is necessary in case a theme update or any plugin upgrade breaks the website.”
What you mean is “any of the plugins” but just say “any plugin” doesn’t sound right. Here are some better ways:
- Correct: “This is necessary in case a theme update or a plugin upgrade breaks the website.”
- Correct: “This is necessary in case a theme update or any of the plugin upgrades breaks the website.”
So, think before using the word “any” when writing or speaking.
“inprogress” / “goto” / “incase” / “inorder” / “upto”
All of these are two words, not one… like, always.
- Correct: “in progress”
- Correct: “go to”
- Correct: “in case”
- Correct: “in order”
- Correct: “up to”
- Correct: “You can go to him in case you have any questions in order to get the right answer.”
I sent in a ticket to a company I deal with and I can tell their support is in India because I received this response:
“Please mail us back incase of any queries!”
Let’s unpack this…
- “Mail us” – send you a letter? You mean email, so say email to avoid confusion.
- “incase” – that’s not one word, it’s two. I don’t know where this comes from but it’s incorrect and looks kind of lazy, sloppy, or too casual. Say “in case” instead.
- “any queries!” – we don’t say queries but we say questions. The exclamation point is too much. Overusing an exclamation point or using it for situations where it’s not needed looks fake.
Instead, say this:
“Please send us an email if you have any questions.”
No spaces before colons
There’s never a space before a colon.
- Incorrect : see that space?
- Correct: no space
Spaces just on the outside or parentheses
Spaces just go on the outside – not inside. And there are spaces on the outsides, not no spaces.
- Correct: He likes (really likes) that girl.
- Incorrect: He likes( really likes )that girl. (wrong twice… or four times, actually)
Spaces just on the outside of quotes
Spaces just go on the outside – not inside. And there are spaces on the outsides, not no spaces.
- Correct: He said, “Please come over here.”
- Incorrect: He said,” Please come over here. “
Dash / negative / minus
some task: – 1 hour
It looks like -1 hour, which would mean we’re charging -1 / charging a negative.
some task: 1 hour
And then this thing:
(what is that?) can sort of turn into part of a smiley face or emoticon or emoji.
Yes, this is picky but this just looks strange and we don’t want people thinking they are negative signs. Around numbers, use colons unless it’s supposed to be a negative number, then yes, use the minus sign.
“The same” and “these”
When you end a sentence with “the same” and then don’t say anything after that, we’re kind of left wondering “the same what?” We’re left hanging. So instead, refer to what you mean without saying “the same.”
- Original: “I am attaching the same”
- Better: “I am attaching the images”
(and then make sure you attach the images, of course) 🙂
More – just replace “the same” with “it”.:
- Original: “If you want us to remove the Member sign-up link please let us know, we will update the same for you.”
- Better: “If you want us to remove the Member sign-up link please let us know, we will update it for you.”
To us, “the same” make us think “the same what?” since there’s nothing after it describing what it is. There’s usually something after it when we say it – like “the same game” or “the same account” or “the same person” etc. Just saying “the same” sound incomplete. The easy way to fix this is just say “it” instead because it’s shorter and makes sense because it refers back that what we’re talking about.
Another weird one for me is the word “these” for some reason. When I hear it, I think, “OK, these what? What is that referring to?” So when “these” appears at the end of a sentence, it can sometimes kind of leave me hanging – where I ask, “these… what?”
Here’s an example:
- “We will get back to you with an update on these.”
Sure, the sentence before it might say what it’s referring to but not always. It’s better to include it so things are clear, like this:
- “We will get back to you with an update on these items tomorrow.”
I added “items” and I also added when we’ll get back to this client so they know and don’t have to wonder (less open-ended and more confident).
“Refer” vs “refer to”
- Instead of: “Please refer the email we have received from them.”
- Say: “Please refer to the email we have received from them.”
You always refer “to” something.
Saying “got” or “have got” so much
I am seeing this word used in a general purpose kind of way and how it’s being used doesn’t sound quite right – it doesn’t sound like how we talk.
- “Since the Brunch had got over on June 12th…”
- “We have got this…”
Kids tend to use “got” like this, not adults.
I would say the above two lines like this, respectively:
- “Since the Brunch was over on June 12th…”
- “We have received this…”
I’d say just try not to use the word “got” so much and instead replace it with words like “was” or “received” or word it another way. Got it? 🙂
- Incorrect: “Please Use Same Username/Password as you have got in Email.”
- Correct: “Please use the same username and password you received via email.”
I used “received” instead of “have got” and I fixed all the unnecessary capitalization. No, you can’t just capitalize random words or nouns – they aren’t proper nouns. Only capitalize proper nouns.
“Turned down” vs. “turned off”
“We have turned down the staging website.”
Turned it down? From a setting of 10 to 4?
We say “turned off” in this case since it’s either on or off. Turning down something means not all the way off. You can’t have a staging site partially off.
It’s not snowing. Why does the first letter have a period and not the second? Why isn’t there a space between then?
This looks foreign to us.
To be safe, use “#” which is more modern. You can also say “Number” or “Item” but “No.” for number looks kind of old, like from the 1970s or something.
“Instruction” vs. “instructions”
We usually say “instructions” and that’s plural. It’s a list of instructions, not a list of instruction. You say instruction when it’s uncountable / too many. At that point, it’s a group, which is singular.
- Wrong: “this instructions”
- Right: “these instructions”
- Wrong: “the instruction” (not typically)
- Right: “the instructions”
You should instead say “that information” because information is singular, not plural. It’s one thing… information – like a group of information where the group is one thing (please refer to the “uncountable items” note from earlier – and “informations” would be wrong).
“Few information” / “a few”
- Wrong: “Here are few information that we need from you.”
The proper way to use “few” is usually saying “a few” and it’s an adjective, which describes something. Saying “few information” just doesn’t sound right. The better way would be “a few bits of information” but that sounds too British. Just don’t use “few” with “information” ever. The two just don’t go together for us.
- Better: “Here is a list of information that we need from you.”
“A day or 2”
- Wrong: “We are working on this and we will have this resolved in a day or 2.”
- Right: “We are working on this and we will have it resolved in a day or two.”
- Right: “We are working on this and we will have it resolved in 1 to 2 days.”
Don’t mix word and digit formats for numbers. Stick to one and be consistent.
Saying “would” too much / “missed” / subject missing
I see “would” used wrong all the time:
- Wrong: “While creating this form she would have missed setting up the email template.”
In sentences like this, the word “would” means “would if” to us. OK, so she would have missed setting it up… if what?
What you mean is that “she didn’t do it” but you’re trying to be too nice about saying it or something. Just remove “would have” and it sounds better:
- Right: “While creating this form, she missed setting up the email template.”
Be more confident and absolute instead of so passive.
And I would probably not say “missed” – missed is like you tried to do something but missed. If you really tried and missed, you would have tried again. If you miss hitting something, like hitting the ball in baseball or cricket for example, you’ll try again. That is why this doesn’t work. You didn’t miss it, you just didn’t do it or you forgot. That’s why it wasn’t done. Saying you missed is almost like lying – or least it may sound that way to some of us. Missing implies trying.
- Right: “While creating this form, she did not set up the email template.”
Here’s a winner: “Hope you would have got my previous posting with the timeline for the project.”
– The subject is missing. Starting with the verb “hope” is sloppy, lazy, and not professional. It’s not good English. Who hopes? Oh, “I” hope. Include the subject.
– “would have got” – again, they would have received it if… what? How would they have received it? What would have needed to happen? They would have received it if you sent it, I guess. Are you asking them if you sent it or what?
- Right: “I was wondering if you received my previous post with the timeline for the project.”
I’m not hoping for it / not basing it on my hopes and dreams. I’m wondering because I did send it. I know I did.
I’m not asking if they “got” it but if they received what I sent to them. To “get” it means, they had to go and get it and since I sent it, they then receive what I sent.
And then just drop “would” in most cases to sound better:
- Original: “We would need a working login information for us to proceed with the updates.”
- Better: “We need a working login information for us to proceed with the updates.”
- Original: “We see that we have missed to include about the Google PageSpeed Insights results in our earlier report.”
- Better: “We noticed we didn’t include the Google PageSpeed Insights results in the report we sent earlier.:
Omitting the subject / starting with “am”
Please do not omit the subject of the sentence when saying “am” as that is not professional (it doesn’t even qualify as slang it’s so odd).
- Original: “Below am sending you all…”
Who is? You are – so say that you are.
- Better: “Below, I am sending you all…”
- Wrong: “If you could notice we have used different domain name…”
This doesn’t sound quite right. It sounds too nice maybe… I’m not sure how to explain it. You’re asking if I can notice. Yes, I can. Oh, you want me to notice maybe?
It’s like… if I can notice – yes, I can notice something. The question isn’t if I can do that or not. I can. I am able. You want me to notice or take note of something.
- Right: “Note that we’re using a different domain name.”
- Right: “Please note that a different domain name is being used.”
And the word “a” was missing before “different domain name”. That’s just bad English.
“Are a list”
- Wrong: “The following are the list of work done on the website:”
“List” is singular so it should be “is” instead of “are”. There’s one list with many items on it but it’s still just a single list.
- Better: “The following is the list of work that was done on the website:”
- Better yet: “Here is a list of completed work:”
People know it was done on the website (where else would we do it?), so there’s no need to say that. It’s extra information. Skip it.
“On the other note”
This just doesn’t sound right. Please say “On another note” instead.
“It’s” versus “its”
This one is confusing and many Americans get this wrong all the time but there’s a very simple way to remember it.
The confusing thing is that an apostrophe can either be used in a contraction or to show ownership… so, how do you know?
The very easy way to remember this is when you see “it’s” it always means “it is” – simple, right? When you read “it’s” in a sentence, just think “it is” in your head and that will get you used to knowing the right way.
Apostrophes / “URL’s” vs. “URLs”
Adding an apostrophe to something never makes it plural.
- Incorrect: “Looks good, just fix the site map page that has reference to staging URL’s.”
That’s not right. If you want to show possession, then it’s actually correct – as in: “What is the URL’s domain?” but you would hardly ever use it like this.
- Correct: “Looks good, just fix the site map page that has reference to staging URLs.”
And then here are more examples of how if you’re trying to make something plural, you should not use an apostrophe. If you’re trying to show possession (like, “the dog’s tail”) then you would use an apostrophe – so these are examples of people trying to make things plural:
- Incorrect: “We should watch the video’s”
- Correct: “We should watch the videos”
- Incorrect: “Back in the 1990’s”
- Correct: “Back in the 1990s”
- Incorrect: “Look at all the TV’s”
- Correct: “Look at all the TVs”
- Incorrect: “Please pass down more menu’s”
- Correct: “Please pass down more menus”
- Incorrect: “We need to ask our member’s”
- Correct: “We need to ask our members”
- Incorrect: “Turn off the light’s”
- Correct: “Turn off the lights”
- Correct: “The car’s color is really cool”
- Incorrect: “The cars color is really cool”
- Correct: “Look at those guys’ cool cars” (multiple guys)
Americans get this wrong all the time and once you learn this rule, you’ll see it wrong everywhere – it’s wrong all over the place. I guess I should have warned you before telling you this because now it might start bugging you like it does for me – ignorance is bliss. 🙂
“A sample text”
It’s just “sample text” without “a” in front of it. It’s not “a text” but rather just “text” since text refers to a group of text (the “uncountable” thing applies here).
- Wrong: “We added a sample text below each image.”
- Right: “We added sample text below each image.”
FYI, You can say “I sent you a text” because it’s referring to an SMS message and people are omitting the word “message” there (as in “I sent you a text message”). The word text here is actually still an adjective (acting like a noun), describing the kind of message.
“Come” and “some”
With this line: “we have come with some plan for this year” there are a few things to adjust.
First, it’s better to say “come up with” as that’s how we say it. Just saying “come” is like there’s a word missing.
Second, when you say “some plan” it sounds like “any old plan” or “just some plan we had laying around” and it’s not anything special – it’s generic and we didn’t put any thought into it at all.
The word “some” here would not mean an amount – or least how I’m describing it and how it sounds to us. The way you’re writing it, it means that it’s unspecified.
So “some plan” here means an unspecified plan, not “a plan” – get it?
What I would say here is: “we have come up with a plan for this year”
Yeah, this one’s redundant. If you discuss something you’re going to talk about it, so we leave the “about” part out.
- Wrong: “We would like to discuss about the project.”
- Right: “We would like to discuss the project.”
- Original: “Here is what we have completed till date.”
I’m not even exactly sure what this means. I think it means what we’ve completed up until today. When I see this, I see “date” and wonder, “which date?”
Also, using “till” instead of “until” is seen as being kind of lazy and used as slang. It doesn’t really exist in the business world, so please don’t use it… unless you’re talking to a client about using a till in their garden. 🙂
- Right: “Here is what we have completed until today.”
- Better: “Here is what we have completed up until today.”
“…in the next 1 hour” / “…in another 15 minutes”
These are weird ones because we don’t talk this way. So, saying “I’ll talk to you in another 1 hour” is strange if there already wasn’t one hour attached to this in the past. Your saying another one, so there must have been a previous hour. That’s how we think. You mean, “I’ll talk to you in one hour” but adding “another” to it again, makes us think there was one before because you’re talking about another one.
Drop the “next” and drop the “another” and you’ve got it, basically.
- Correct: “…in the next hour” or “…in 15 minutes.”
“Code” / “codes” / “a code”
Computer language code is too numerous to count, so it’s always referred to as just “code” and not “a code” or “codes”.
- Incorrect: “We see that there was a code added.”
- Correct: “We see there was code added.”
Try to eliminate the word “that” from your writing and talking because it’s often not needed. See how I removed it?
To us, “a code” sounds like a code word or password or “enter a code to continue” or something like that. For example: “The safe has a code.” or “Enter a code into the keypad to open the door.”
You don’t ever refer to HTML code as “a code.” It’s just “code” as in “a bunch of code.”
And if you want to be even more clear, you’ll specify what kind of code it is.
- Correct: “There was some HTML coding added.”
- Correct: “There was some programming code added.”
- Incorrect: “January month”
- Incorrect: “Brown color”
- Incorrect: “Today evening”
To us, including something obvious is just extra, it isn’t needed and doesn’t sound right. We know that January is a month, so there’s no need to change January to an adjective that describes the month. Leave it as a noun. We know that brown is a color… again, no need to change it to describe a color since it’s already a color.
Hearing the extra word sounds strange to us.
Instead of saying “it will expire today evening” say “it will expire this evening” to sound more confident with your American English. This is because “today” is never an adjective. You’re trying to make it modify “evening” and it doesn’t work. You could say “it will expire today in the evening” but nobody really talks that way too often.
Using “overlooked” the wrong way
- Incorrect: “I overlooked the document and it was fine.”
What you’re trying to say is that you looked it over but you’re saying the opposite here. Overlooking means you missed it / you forgot it.
- Correct: “I looked over the document and it was fine.”
“Enquire” instead of “inquire”
I’m pretty sure we say “inquire” more in the US.
Inquire vs Enquire (dailywritingtips.com)
“In practice, enquire and enquiry are more common in British English, and inquire and inquiry are more common in US English, for both informal questions and formal investigations.”
And we don’t use this word much at all. We normally say “question” instead. If something is an inquiry, then it’s a pretty strong/formal kind of thing.
An example: “They’re doing an enquiry to find out why the money is missing.”
It sounds too formal or British.
- More American: “They’re doing an inquiry to find out why the money is missing.”
Commas / correct verbs
- Incorrect: “Sorry, if I was confusing in my earlier email.”
We get what you mean but this can be better.
– There should not be a comma there since it reads like this:
“Sorry (pause) if I was confusing in my earlier email.”
The comma disrupts the flow of the sentence here. It almost turns it into a conditional sentence that didn’t resolve. It’s kind of like “Sorry. If I was being confusing in my earlier email, then…”
– Also, with “I was confusing” were you being confusing or was your email confusing?
- Correct: “I’m sorry if the email I sent earlier was confusing.”
This sentence states:
- The email was confusing – not me.
- I am sorry (instead of leaving “I” out – this is less casual / more professional).
Questions and question marks
Here’s one more that I’ve been meaning to write. Once you understand this one, you’ll see people doing it wrong all the time – especially in emails.
- Incorrect: “I’m just wondering if you got a signed agreement from them yet?”
This a statement – not a question. There should NOT be a question mark at the end.
In the middle of writing it, maybe the writer forgot that they were writing a statement and thought they were writing a question. If you look at the second half of that sentence, it kind of looks like a question but it still isn’t.
Since questions have upward inflections at the end, you can read it in your head that way and it should sound wrong.
- Correct: “I’m just wondering if you got a signed agreement from them yet.”
- Correct: “I’m just wondering about something. Did you get a signed agreement from them yet?”
You can write this correctly these two ways:
- “I’m just wondering if you got a signed agreement from them yet.”
- “I’m just wondering, did you got a signed agreement from them yet?”
See the difference?
But here’s a good point – which of those two ways is the most effective?
It’s the second way – writing it as a question. When people read emails, they’re looking for answers and they’re scanning for items they need to react/respond to. When you use a question mark, that’s a good cue and it’s something they look for.
If you want an answer from someone, it’s sometimes best to ask a question and use a question mark at the end but do it properly by making sure you’re really asking a question – not putting a question mark at the end of a statement. Also, when writing an email, put the question at the end of the paragraph so it gets noticed – versus buried in the middle of a paragraph.
- Incorrect: “We have received contents for these pages.”
- Correct: “We have received the content for these pages:”
It’s a group – a singular group of things.
“Fill up” used the wrong way
When there’s a spreadsheet, we don’t fill it up – we fill it in. Saying this doesn’t sound right to us:
- Incorrect: “Can you please fill up these details.”
We put data IN a spreadsheet.
Filling something up usually has to do with liquid – like fill up a jug with water or fill up your gas tank with gas.
Try to avoid saying “fill up” with spreadsheets and instead say “fill in.”
- Correct: “Please put your data into the spreadsheet.”
“Inputs” used strangely
This is a new one I haven’t seen before…
- Incorrect: “Here are our inputs.”
I think this means “Here are our responses to your questions.”
If that’s correct, please say that instead of “inputs” which is also something we don’t say. If we were to say that, then it would be singular (“input”) unless you’re saying something like, “Check all the inputs for a faulty wire.”
“Latter” vs. “later”
I see someone was just confused by this one. It’s a subtle difference how it’s spelled but there’s a big difference in what it means.
With latter, it’s used like “the former or the latter” which means first or what followed. It’s kind of like a variable when you talk. If I mention two thing and then refer to the latter item, I’m referring to the second one.
Say “tomorrow” if it’s tomorrow.
- Instead of: “We will get back to you with a report by Thursday (10/8).”
- Say this: “We will get back to you with a report by tomorrow, Thursday (10/8).”
Here’s why… people forget what the date is. If it’s tomorrow, then mention it’s tomorrow. It just sounds like it’ll happen a lot sooner than specifying at date – as if that date is some distant time in the future. Saying “tomorrow” just sounds sooner, which is what you mean and what you want them to know. Don’t send them to a calendar to go figure it out.
As in: “…there is some issue with the theme.”
When you say it like that, it can either sound like “there’s just some issue… I don’t know what it is” or you might be thinking quantity and maybe you mean “there are some issues with the theme” or it sounds like you’re going to specifically list the issue. Usually, none of these things happen.
It’s better to say: “…there is an issue with the theme.”
It’s more formal and professional sounding. It makes it sound like you know what the issue is and that you’re on top of the situation.
“Remainder” vs “reminder”
- Instead of: “This is a gentle remainder that we have scheduled to upgrade your website…”
- Say: “This is a gentle reminder that we have scheduled to upgrade your website…”
They are completely different things, so saying “remainder” is not correct.
“Manufactures” vs “manufacturers”
Here’s another one I saw today:
“Fixed the problem with displaying manufactures and products on the website”
I notice a lot of non-native English speakers get confused between “manufactures” and “manufacturers” for some reason. It’s tricky.
- Manufactures: this is a verb as in “he manufactures tabletops.”
- Manufacturers: this is a noun as in “there are many manufacturers that make tabletops.”
This one is strange because you’re using it right but it’s just not how we talk.
- Instead of: “There are totally 10 users on the current website…”
- Say: “There are 10 users in total on the current website…”
- Or say: “There is a total of 10 users on the current website”
We think of totally as “completely” and you’re using it to say there’s a total amount. It’s also kind of a slang word here – surfers use that word a lot. 🙂
“By” vs. “for”
- This line: “We have scheduled to launch the new website by tomorrow, 8/2.”
means that sometime between right now and before tomorrow comes (tonight at midnight here), we’ll launch it. This is because they said “by tomorrow.” That means before tomorrow comes. The client might expect it to be done sometime today – during the day here and that’s not the right expectation and it’s not what we’re planning to do.
What we mean to say here is that it will be done tomorrow. When we’re more exact, we’re more confident and we should say it like this:
- Change it to: “We have scheduled to launch the new website for tomorrow, 8/2.”
We have set it for then and we plan to get it done then.
See the difference?
“Raised this issue”
- This doesn’t really sound right to us: “We have raised this to the extension developers.”
I just sounds like you’re holding it up in the air for some reason. 🙂
- Instead say: “We have brought this up as an issue with the extension developers.”
“Take a call”
This is one of my favorites. You guys use it for so many things like:
- “At that time we’ll take a call.”
- “We might need to take a call.”
- “He should take a call.”
To us, it means take a phone call. What you mean is make a decision. We would say:
- “At that time we’ll make a decision.”
- “We might need to decide.”
- “He should make a choice.”
“Works” used the wrong way
- Instead of: “We have received your request on the SEO works”
- We say: “We have received your request on the SEO work”
It’s singular… pretty much always. It’s a group of work, not individual works – like tasks. They’re different things and we say them differently.
We do say things like: “it works” but that’s a verb, not a noun, like what is being discussed here.
It’s not “url” but “URL” – always. It’s an abbreviation that stands for “Uniform Resource Locator.”
Instead of “Changed the website admin url” in your blocks page entry, put “Changed the Website’s Admin URL” to look more professional.Oh, and something I see wrong pretty often is using periods with some abbreviations. When you use periods, make sure every letter gets one – including the final letter. Abbreviations are not IP addresses where the last letter doesn’t get a period.
- Incorrect: U.S.A
- Correct: U.S.A.
Even with your name, the last letter needs one – along with proper spacing, of course:
- Incorrect: R.B.Padmanabhan
- Incorrect: R.B Padmanabhan
- Correct: R.B. Padmanabhan
“Explain you” / “Confirm me” / “Reply me”
Ha! I love this one for some reason.
- Incorrect: “…we can explain you more about…”
Here’s how we think about it…
You can’t explain me (a person). Explaining me is saying I’m skin and bones. You can explain something to me though. You can explain about something. I can explain a problem to someone.
When you say “explain you” you’re making “you” the direct object of the sentence. You’re no longer explaining the issue, you’re explaining the person… and that just doesn’t sound right or make sense to us.
- Say: “…we can explain to you more about…”
- Say: “…we can explain the details to you more about…”
- Say: “…we can explain more of the details about…”
but “you” (a person) cannot be the direct object.
The same here:
- “Please confirm me whether I can email him directly.”
I can’t confirm you. I can confirm to you but asking me to confirm you sort of sounds like I have to confirm if you are alive or something. Maybe I can take your pulse but what does that have to do with emailing someone directly? 🙂
- Instead say: “Please confirm if I can email him directly.”
- Or say: “Please confirm with me if I can email him directly.”
And we don’t “reply you” but we “reply to you” – for example:
- Instead of: “Reply me”
- Say: “Reply back to me”
- Or say: “Write back to me in a reply”
- Instead of: “We checked this issue, we updated the price of a product from $3124 to $3120 which get affected on this page.”
- Say this: “We checked this issue. We updated the price of a product from $3124 to $3120, which affected the page:”
- There’s no need for “get” before affected.
- I made it 2 sentences since no conjunction (like “and”) was used to connect them.
- I added a colon at the end since the next line was a URL.
“An year” / “An habit”
Nope. It’s: “a year” – always.
We only put “an” in front of something when the first part of the next word sounds like it’s starting with a vowel.
Another one I hear is “an habit” but it’s just “a habit”.
- Incorrect: “We have attached here an spreadsheet.”
- Correct: “We attached a spreadsheet here.”
You don’t need to say “have” so much and I changed the order of the sentence so it’s subject + verb + direct object + location because we didn’t attach a “here” but we attached a spreadsheet.
- Incorrect: “as per the design”
- Incorrect: “as per the requirements”
I don’t know why but we don’t say “as” here – we just say:
- Correct: “per the design”
- Correct: “per the requirements”
For example, “We did this per your requirements.”
If there are cents in a price, you ALWAYS go to 2 decimal points… always.
- Incorrect: “It will take 1 hour ($47.5) of time to add the field and test a single form.”
- Correct: “It will take 1 hour ($47.50) of time to add the field and test a single form.”
Yup, that’s backwards to us.
- Correct: “Only $47”
This is because “it’s only 47 dollars” – not “it’s 47 dollars only” – only what? Saying “only” doesn’t resolve it for us, it brings up more questions because it’s at the end instead of before something. If you say “only” there must be something after it.
“Oh” vs. “naught” for a zero
When you guys say “404” it comes out as “four not four” but that’s not how we talk (we think: “OK, it’s four… but now it’s not four? Make up your mind.”). Saying “not” for “0” is kind of confusing for us and just not how we do it.
- Correct: “Four oh four”
- Correct” Four zero four”
Yeah, we sometimes put the letter “O” (we say, “oh”) in place of a zero. It’s technically wrong but it’s how most of us talk and it goes by unnoticed.
Also, for a number like “1001” we don’t say “one double zero one” but we say “one oh oh one” or “one zero zero one” instead.
“Zee” vs. “zed” for the letter “Z”
I’m not sure who Zed is and what he’s doing in the alphabet. 🙂 We say “zee” for the letter “Z”. Yes, your way is British English but this article is about how Americans talk, so I’m telling you. 🙂
- Correct: “Zee”
“Once in two years”
Instead of saying “They have to renew it once in two years” we would say, “They have to renew it every two years.”
More British / American English differences
- Correct: “Bathroom” or “restroom” instead of “loo”
- Correct: “Trash” instead of “bin”
- Correct: “Hood” instead of “bonnet” (on a car)
- Correct: “Trunk” instead of “boot” (on a car)
- Correct: “Windshield” instead of “windscreen” (on a car)
- Correct: “Tire” instead of “tyre”
- Correct: “Cell phone” instead of “mobile”
- Correct: “Cookies” instead of “biscuits”
- Correct: “Color” instead of “colour”
- Correct: “Gray” instead of “grey”
- Correct: “Green pepper” instead of “capsicum”
- Correct: “Apartment” instead of “flat”
- Correct: “First floor” or “ground floor” instead of floor 0 (zero)
- Correct: “Line” instead of “queue”
- Correct: “Take out” instead of “take away” (taking food to go / not eat there)
- Correct: “Mail” instead of “post”
- Correct: “Vacation” instead of “holiday”
- Correct: “Truck” instead of “lorry”
- Correct: “Elevator” instead of “lift”
- Correct: “Pajamas” instead of “pyjamas”
- Correct: “Aluminum” instead of “aluminium”
- Correct: “Apologize” instead of “apologise”
- Correct: “Behavior” instead of “behaviour”
- Correct: “Neighbor” instead of “neighbour”
- Correct: “Favorite” instead of “favourite”
- Correct: “Humor” instead of “humour”
- Correct: “Rumor” instead of “rumour”
- Correct: “Arbor” instead of “arbour”
- Correct: “Harbor” instead of “harbour”
- Correct: “Enamored” instead of “enamoured”
- Correct: “Plow” instead of “plough”
- Correct: “Mold” instead of “mould”
- Correct: “Cozy” instead of “cosy”
- Correct: “Soccer” instead of “football”
- Correct: “Tie” instead of “draw” (in sports with the result as the same score)
- Correct: “Mustache” instead of “moustache”
- Correct: “Specialty” instead of “speciality”
- Correct: “Parking lot” instead of “car park”
- Correct: “Gas” instead of “petrol”
- A blog (short for “weblog” (web log)) is software – one installation of the software.
- A blog post is a single post in a blog (in the software).
Saying “blogs” would mean there are multiple instances of blogging software installed on a website.
- Instead of: “Currently, there are around 2,420 blogs are available on the website and it is on WordPress.”
- Say this: “Currently, there are around 2,420 blogs posts on the website and it is using WordPress.”
It sounds better to us.
- This sounds weird: “We want to check with you if we can proceed with the plan that we shared in our earlier email last week.”
- This sounds better: “We want to check to see if we can proceed with the plan that we shared in our email send earlier last week.
Using something that indicates time as an adjective sounds strange and not right to us – an “earlier email” for example. Good adjectives to use before the word “email” would be:
But “earlier” is not a kind of email… an “earlier email” just doesn’t sound good.
You’re trying to indicate when it was sent, so don’t use “earlier” as an adjective. Instead, put it separately and not as an adjective before the noun – like I did above.
I also removed “with you” because we’re, of course, checking with you because we’re sending this email to you. Adding “with you” is not necessary and is seen as sort of being redundant. It doesn’t sound too strange but Americans tend to not add fluff like that to sentences (circular) but instead get to the point (more linear).
“Specially” vs. “Especially”
To us, specially makes it sound like it’s special and we don’t say this, so we say especially to say something should be emphasized. It sounds like you’re missing part of the word when you just say specially instead of especially and it doesn’t sound right to us. I believe specially is more British.
“If you could see…”
This is a phrase I hear often. You’re asking me to look at something but the way this is phrased, it seems like you’re first asking if I’m able to see things. Yes, I have eyes, I am able to see, and I’m not blind. You also know who I am and you know I’m able to see, so there’s just no need to check this every time. You’re starting way too far back. Are you going to also ask if I’m breathing? This is what this phrase sounds like to us. 🙂
So, yes, I can see.
Instead, say: “Please look at…” because that’s beyond finding out if I can see.
When I was young, I used to ask my mom, “Can I go outside?” and her response was, “I don’t know, can you?” which means she’s asking if I’m able and that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking permission. Instead, I should have asked “Please may I go outside?”
See the difference?
There you go! Maybe I’ll add more, so bookmark the page (I’ll try to put new ones at the end unless they relate to something already here). If you have any I forgot, please put them in the comments.
One general tip which will really help you is… speak confidently! Sure, you might get some things wrong but there’s a lot of Americans that don’t talk right, either. It’s better to be more confident and be wrong than for us to barely hear you and still be wrong. Not being able to hear just makes it so much worse.
And when you speak, OPEN YOUR MOUTH! Yes, that helps you be more clear. That’s how we talk. We even inadvertently read lips. We might be looking at someone’s eyes when we’re listening but we’re indirectly seeing what their mouth is doing and that helps what we’re hearing make more sense. It’s confirmation. We’re not used to hearing mumbling and words all smashed together in a string of words. Open your mouth to be clear and speak confidently. Make sure you’re heard. That’s half the battle… really!