Session 1

In this Masterclass, Dan's going to help you do some grammar maintenance. Join him to see if you make these two common mistakes.

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

BBC Masterclass

Advanced Learner Mistakes

While many advanced learners are more than capable of communicating extremely effectively, no one is perfect. You can always improve! Dan explains two common mistakes that advanced learners can make.

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Dan
Hi guys! Dan for BBC Learning English here. In this session, we’ll be taking a look at advanced learner mistakes. Are you ready? Here we go!

Number 1: Word order in WH word clauses

So, sometimes in English, we use a WH word clause as the object of a verb. For example: 'He realised what he was doing,' – or – 'I can’t believe what you have done.' Now, advanced learners generally make two mistakes here. The first is that they invert the auxiliary verb and the subject, like you would do with a normal question. Let me show you.

'He realised what was he doing,' - and - 'I can’t believe what have you done.'

Remember that these whos, whats, wheres, whens and whys are not question words, but relative pronouns, and so the clause which comes after follows normal sentence order. Come and see. So: Not 'He realised what was he doing,' but 'what he was doing.' Not 'I can’t believe what have you done,' but 'what you have done.'

Now, this problem is simpler with a tense which has an auxiliary and main verb form, but the second problem is that learners forget to use an affirmative verb form when talking about the present or past simple. For example: I don’t know where did he go last night,' - or - 'They want to see what does he do.' Now, remember these are not questions. When we make an affirmative sentence with the present or past simple, we only use one verb – and these clauses act the same. So: 'I don’t know where did he go last night,' becomes 'I don’t know where he went last night.' And ‘They want to see what does he do,’ becomes 'They want to see what he does.' Have you got it? Good!

Number 2: Generalisations with 'The'

'The life is beautiful!'
'What makes me sad is the poverty.'

Ok guys, this one is an old one, but still a tricky one. Many advanced learners still use the definite article when talking in general about a plural or uncountable noun. Remember that in English, when we are talking in general and we mean all of a thing, we don’t use the.

'Life is beautiful'
'What makes me sad is poverty.'

That doesn’t mean we can’t use the. But when we do, it means we are being specific and only referring to one thing. For example: 'I’m reading about the life of Michael Jackson.'

Having said that, if you want to generalise about a SINGULAR COUNTABLE noun, then using the as the definite article is the correct thing to do. So: 'Life would be much less interesting without the tiger' (or tigers…general) 'The car is probably the most important invention in mankind’s history.' (or cars…general) Have you got it? Good!

Summary

1. Word order in WH word clauses

a) Advanced learners often automatically invert the subject and auxiliary verb after a WH word clause, as if it were a question. However these WH clauses are the same as normal sentences so the word order is the same too!

  • NOT: He realised what was he doing.
  • Correction: "He realised what he was doing. (OR: He realised what he wasn't doing.
  • NOT: I can’t believe what have you done.
  • Correction: "I can’t believe what you have done. (OR: I can't believe what you haven't done.

b) Advanced learners can forget that an affirmative clause after a WH word which uses the present simple or past simple tense does NOT use an auxiliary (Negatives still have two verbs)

  • Past Simple:
  • NOT: I don’t know where did he go last night.
  • Correction: I don’t know where he went last night. (OR: I don’t know where he didn't go last night.
  • Present Simple
  • NOT: They want to see what does he do.
  • Correction: They want to see what he does. (OR: They want to see what he doesn't do.

2. Generalisations with 'The'

Many advanced learners forget that English does not use a definite article (the) when speaking about a plural or uncountable nouns in general; i.e. meaning ‘all of them’.

  • NOT: The life is beautiful.
  • Correction: (-) Life is beautiful.
  • NOT: What makes me sad is the poverty.
  • Correction: What makes me sad is (-) poverty.

When we use 'the' with a plural or uncountable noun, it means that we are being specific about only one of that type of noun

  • I’m reading about the life of Michael Jackson. Only his life and no other)
  • The poverty in our society is a terrible thing. (Only our society and no other)
  • The sports that you do don’t interest me. (Only your sports and no others)

HOWEVER: It is possible to use the definite article plus a singular countable noun to generalise too. This makes one noun an example for all of the same group. Compare: 

  • Life would be much less interesting without tigers.
  • Life would be much less interesting without the tiger.
  • Cars are probably the most important invention in mankind’s history.
  • The car is probably the most important invention in mankind’s history.

A quiz about these Advanced Learner Mistakes

5 Questions

Choose the correct option to test your knowledge of these types of Advanced Learner Mistakes

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End of Session

That wraps up this week’s Masterclass. Remember that mistakes are perfectly normal and everyone makes them, but by reviewing things regularly, you can reduce them, making you a better language user and a more confident communicator.

Next, join us for News Review, where we'll be discussing a major story in the news, and the language you need to understand it.

Session Grammar

  • Word order in WH word clauses

    1. Don't use invert the subject and auxiliary. It's not a question.

     Not: I tried to work out why was he crying.

    Correction: I tried to work out why he was crying. 

    2. Use a single affirmative verb in the present and past simple.

     Not: He couldn't understand why did she leave.

    Correction: He couldn't understand why she left. 

    Generalisations with 'The'

    1. Don't use 'The' when generalising about plural or uncountable nouns.

    Not: The birds sing so beautifully.

    Correction: (-) Birds sing so beautifully. 

    2. Use 'The' with plural or uncountable nouns when you are being specific.

    The books I have read helped me to understand.

    3. Use 'The' with a singular countable noun to use it as an example for all

    The apple is an excellent fruit.

Session Vocabulary