10 Grammar Conflicts that Can Lead to Misunderstandings

Misunderstandings happen as a result of a breakdown in communication: what the speaker meant and what the hearer heard. For us, these are not always simple grammar mistakes, but conflicts that could create a misunderstanding between you and another person, whether you are speaking or writing using English. This list of confusing points in grammar may just help you avoid some misunderstandings.


*Did you fix the computer by yourself or yourself?*

When we use the expression BY MYSELF, it generally means that ‘I did it alone,’ without anyone else around.

When we say MYSELF, it generally means that we did it with our own abilities.

In Use:

I fixed the computer by myself. (I fixed the computer alone. No one was with me.)

I fixed the computer myself. (I fixed the computer by using my own skills)


*Was he tired or is he tired?*

Forming contractions using HE/SHE/IT + WAS (e.g. he's/she's/it's) is considered ungrammatical and can lead to confusion. You may be speaking in the past but your listener/reader thinks you are speaking in the present.

The contractions we form using HE/SHE/T are only with IS (e.g. he's/she's/it's).

In Use:

He was tired. (The last time I saw him)

He's tired. (Now)

If we say:

He's tired. (And mean the last time we saw him)

We can create a conflict for others who know that he can only be combined with is.


*Did you begin the meeting with a joke, do you want to start with a joke, or a joke must be first?*

Sometimes there can be confusion when to use these three expressions. Let’s look at their grammar function and their meanings.

AT FIRST, is an adverbial phrase meaning initially or at the beginning.

FIRST, is an ordinal-adjective that we use to indicate the beginning of a sequence.

FIRST OF ALL, is an adverbial phrase meaning before anything else.

In Use:

When I spoke at the meeting, at first, I felt shy, but after I shared a joke with the members, I felt more comfortable.

Instructions for a successful meeting: First, start with a joke.

First of all, let me start the meeting by telling you this joke I heard.

### 4. HEAR vs. LISTEN

Did you listen to the gunshots or did you hear the gunshots?

HEAR generally means that you incidentally picked up a sound such as thunder, or the squeak of a mouse, or gunshots, etc.

LISTEN generally means that we are giving our attention to something - that we are intentionally focused on a sound or voice.

In Use:

Did you hear that! I think I heard a gunshot.

Listen to the sounds of those gunshots. Something bad is happening over there.


Does she look tired or does she seem tired?

When we use the expressions LOOKS / LOOKS LIKE, we are referring to the APPEARANCE of someone or something.

For example:

We say:

She looks tired (because her eyes are red and she has eye-bags).

Or, we can say:

She looks like she is tired (because her eyes are red and she has eye-bags).

When we use the expressions SEEMS / SEEMS LIKE, we are referring to our IMPRESSION of something.

For example:

We say:

She seems tired (because she is sleeping during her break times).

Or, we can say:

She seems like she is tired (because she is sleeping during her break times).


We use LOOKS/SEEMS with an adjective directly following:

E.g. looks/seems tired (Adj.)

We use LOOKS LIKE/SEEMS LIKE with a noun phrase directly following:

E.g. looks like/seems like she is tired (Noun Phrase).

### 6. BECAUSE vs. SO

*Is it because you hurt your leg that you fell down or is it that you hurt your leg then fell down?*

When we use the conjunction BECAUSE, there is a reason.

E.g. I hurt my leg because (the reason why is that) I fell down.

However, we use SO, THUS, THEREFORE, or WHICH IS WHY to express the consequence.

E.g. I fell down, so the consequence is that I hurt my leg.

In Use:

I cannot run very fast because I hurt my leg.

I hurt my leg so I cannot run very fast.

### 7. (-ING) vs. (-ED) FORMS

*Were the people exciting or excited?*

We use the (-ING) form to describe SOMETHING (e.g. exciting place, interesting movie, etc.)

We use the (-ED) form to describe how people FEEL (e.g. they were excited, I'm bored, etc.).

In use:

The people at the rally were excited!

The rally was exciting!

### 8. MOST vs. MOST OF

Do most people work during the day, or do most of the people work during the day?

Use MOST OF to refer to a quantity of a specific group. We use MOST when we are speaking in general and do not have a specific group of people or things in mind.

In use:

Most people (in general) like to work during the day.

Most of the people in my neighborhood (a specified group) work late.

### 9. OTHER vs. ANOTHER

Do you have another car or do you have other cars?

We use the adjective OTHER for plural references and the adjective ANOTHER for singular references.

In use:

Do you have other cars? (plural reference - more than one)

Do you have another car? (singular reference - only one)

We do not say:

Do you have other car? (number conflict: other plural vs. car singular)

Do you have another cars? (number conflict: another singular vs. cars plural).

### 10. FUN vs. FUNNY

*Was the show last night fun or was it funny?*

We say something is FUNNY if it makes us laugh (hahaha) but something is FUN if we enjoyed it.

In use:

The show last night was funny. (It made us laugh - hahaha)

The show last night was fun. (We enjoyed the show)

When you look at these specific examples, they can help you avoid these specific misunderstandings. However, in a broader sense, these examples can help you avoid misunderstandings in a variety of situations, in conversation and in writing.
April 3, 2017
Mi vida antes del Covid- 19 (IMPERFECTO) A-2
Profile Picture
Alejandra Santiago
August 7, 2020
Profile Picture
Abby H
August 7, 2020
The Origins of popular English Idioms
Profile Picture
Jen Mc Monagle
August 7, 2020