Common grammatical mistakes by Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Nationals

Indians, Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals that come to the U.S. for higher study usually arrive speaking very good English, often due to having spent many years speaking English in school in their home country. Usually the accent is easy to understand, and it sounds charming.

However, there are a few grammatical mistakes that seem to be very common in these otherwise excellent English speakers and writers. By fixing these mistakes, they can improve both comprehension and the impression they make on others: using grammar incorrectly can sometimes dramatically change the meaning of a sentence, confusing their listeners.

I was once asked why I single out Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis on this page. I can think of two reasons: (a) I encounter many very intelligent people from this region in my work, and (b) I've noticed a short list of extremely common and easy-to-fix differences between their English and American/British English, which would help them make themselves understood more easily, and make a better first impression here in the U.S.

"I have a doubt about your research." - Substituting 'doubt' for 'question'.

The word 'doubt' implies a suspicion that something is wrong. The sentence "I have a doubt about your research." means "I believe there may be something wrong with your research." What you typically want to say is "I have a question about your research."

"This past homework had very less programming." - Substituting 'less' for 'little'

The word 'less' is a comparative term, as in "This past homework had much less programming than the last one". Correct usage is "This past homework had very little programming." Also note that the phrase "very less" is never correct, as far as I am aware. If you want emphasize the term "less", use "much" as in "much less", followed by the object of comparison: "I like chocolate much less than (I like) strawberry."

"The signal power was very less." - Substituting 'less' for 'low'.

See above.

"I had done this yesterday." - Misuse of the pluperfect tense

Another common mistake is misuse of the pluperfect tense (had). "Those were all the universities I had applied to." actually implies that something has changed between some time in the past and now, as in: "Those were all the universities I had applied to, but yesterday I applied to two more." The correct tense is the present perfect, as in "Those are all the universities I have applied to."

Similarly the pluperfect "I had submitted it yesterday." is incorrect, correct usage being the imperfect "I submitted it yesterday." Pluperfect is correct in a past-tense context, as in "I told you that I had submitted it yesterday," which means the same thing as "I told you yesterday that I had submitted it."

"Hi Professor, are you taking Networks next semester?" - Substituting 'taking' for 'teaching'

While students may be said to 'take' a class, professors typically do not, unless they are sitting in the audience!

"Even I had this problem." - Misuse of the word 'even'.

In this sentence, the use of "Even I" is understood to suggest: "(Although I almost never have the sort of problems you have,) even I had this problem."

For example, if you are much taller than your friends, you might say "Even I couldn't reach the top shelf," or if you feel that you are much smarter than them, you might say "Even I couldn't solve this homework problem."

However, if you do not have an obvious advantage over the person you are speaking to, this is not correct usage. What you want to say is "I had this problem as well," "I could not reach the top shelf either," and "I also could not solve this homework."

Copyright 2016 The Board of Trustees
of the University of
Helping Women Faculty Advance
Funded by NSF