Correctness (15)

“Iedere Nederlander die denkt dat Engels een gemakkelijke taal is, droomt”, zei Wout Wotz, (oud-NRC-correspondent Engeland) afgelopen zaterdag (lees hier). Deze week gaan we verder met de meest voorkomende grammaticale fouten die Nicola Courtney tegenkomt als zij door Nederlandstalige juristen geschreven stukken bekijkt. (Voor Deel 1, klik hier).

  1. Present Perfect

Use (or non-use) of the Present Perfect has to be the most frequent mistake that I and my colleagues come across. There are, of course, rules surrounding its usage, but very often, use depends on the speaker’s/writer’s perception of the situation. The most common
mistakes include:

  • I have studied in Leiden in 2003.             I studied in Leiden in 2003

You cannot use the Present Perfect to talk about a completed action in the past (e.g. in 2003, last year, yesterday etc.) – instead we use the Past Simple (studied, worked, was etc.) for completed actions in the past.

  • I know him for three years now.              I have known him for three years (now)
  • I work here for five years.                           I have worked OR have been working here

This mistake is due to direct translation from Dutch. However, in English, we use the Present Perfect to describe an action which began in the past and has continued into the present i.e. it is still going on. When describing how long something has been going on, you can use both the Present Perfect Simple (e.g. have/has worked) and Continuous (e.g. have/has been working). More on this subject: read here!

  1. Adverbs and Adjectives

An adjective describes a noun (e.g. a bad driver) and an adverb describes a verb (e.g. he drives badly). Many Dutch speakers have the habit of using adjectives when they should be using an adverb. This non-use of adverbs can only be described as ‘sloppy’. When native speakers make this mistake (which they frequently do), it is considered ‘slang’. So, to avoid this mistake, remember this:

  • Adjectives describe  nouns:                         It is an exceptional book.
  • Adverbs describe a verbs:                             He considered their proposal carefully
  • Adverbs describe adjectives:                       An extremely good film.
  • Adverbs describe other adverbs:               An exceptionally well-written report.

Most ‘how’ adverbs are formed by adding –ly, -ally or –ily  to an adjective e.g.
slow – slowly / full – fully / dramatic – dramatically / steady – steadily

However, some adverbs and adjectives have the same form e.g.
fast / hard / early / daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly / high / low

Tip: if you can ask the ‘how’ question, you need an adverb e.g.

  • Prices rose steadily.

Question: How did prices rise?                   Answer: They rose steadily.
More on adverbs & adjectives: read here.

  1. ‘Directional’ verbs

A very common mistake Dutch speakers make is:

  • The bank borrowed me money.                                        The bank lent me money
  • My teacher learned me …                                                   My teacher taught me …
  • I bring my son to school every day                                  I take my son to school every day

As you can see, English uses different verbs for different directions. For example, I borrow from the bank – the bank lends me money / a teacher teaches me and I learn (from the teacher) / I take something to one place – I bring something back etc.

A simple concept, but always a glaring mistake.

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