Czech people who don’t have a lot of experience with native speakers tend to be really shy and embarrassed of their English, even when it is actually very good. It’s easy to think that native speakers are perfect, but any one of us will tell you that we make lots of casual slip-ups or even deliberate manipulations of correct grammar all the time. If you think about your own native language, you will find you do the same. But of course, you have to learn it correctly before you can break the rules – and we’ve earned it!
Still, a grammar nerd like me is always on the lookout for funny mistakes.
These are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same, though they have different meanings.
‘There, there,’ is a way of comforting someone.
Native speakers will frequently mix up ‘to’ and ‘too’ or ‘your’ and ‘you’re,’ much to the frustration and chagrin of grammar nerds.
“Your stupid.” “My stupid what?”
One of the most frustrating things about Czech is that it has “flexible word order,” which basically means that it’s possible to organize the sentence any way except the way that I want to organize it.
This isn’t possible in English. In terms of pronouns (zájmena), ‘I’ is always the subject of the sentence and ‘me’ is the object. However, lots of native speakers will say things like “Me and my sister are going to…” or “Me and him were just…” This won’t always work out so well for you:
Sorry, sorry! “My sister and I are going to…” and “He and I were just…”
Speaking of pronouns, nowadays we are trying to figure out the correct way to talk about gender in English, especially as we try to be more inclusive of LGBTQ individuals. When we don’t know someone’s gender OR want to make a general statement – and don’t want to seem sexist by saying “he” – we can use the word “one,” as in, “One should always obey the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” However, this is thought to be very formal and awkward.
Another option for making general statements is to use “he and/or she,” as in, “If he or she doesn’t understand a test question, he or she should tell the nearest teacher.” But as you can imagine, this can also be awkward and unwieldy.
So nowadays, many people will just use the general and plural “they” to avoid this entirely, but grammar nerds are split on whether this is acceptable or not.
Punctuation – commas
Commas are used differently in English and Czech. While comma use is quite logical in Czech, it looks really stupid to native English speakers. As I understand it, one main way a comma is used in Czech is between complete thoughts/clauses, which means any one that contains a verb. For example:
“Myslím, že prší.” = I think (that) it’s raining.
The problem is that Czech speakers tend to write “I think, that it’s raining,” which is not acceptable in English. Really in both English and Czech, “I think” and “it’s raining” can technically be complete sentences, but
-in Czech this is expressed with a mandatory comma
-and in English, we use commas to separate incomplete thoughts/clauses from complete thoughts/clauses (“After the movie, we went home”) and never in the middle of two complete clauses (X”She is nice, I like her”X). You can use these tips to avoid comma errors – called a comma splice when you are, but shouldn’t be, putting two complete sentences together.
Here’s a different but equally embarrassing way to confuse your commas:
The comma is used to separate “grandma” and make it clear that she is the person being spoken to. This mistake actually wouldn’t be possible in Czech as it has the 5th case, which changes words to show that someone or something is being spoken to (so be careful about it in English!).
For another very funny comma mistake for you to look at at your own “risk,” click here.
wierd (wrong) X weird (right)
tommorow / tommorrow X tomorrow
unfortunatly X unfortunately
Here’s a funny example, including those wonderful puns so abundant in English:
“This door is alarmed” is not wrong, but it is easy to confuse the idea that “The door has an alarm” with the door being surprised or shocked (alarmed, startled or taken aback). Some vandals with a sense of humor, as they should have, took advantage of the situation.
Feel free to post your favorite mistakes!