Pay attention to the ‘hot five,’ five mistakes that native speakers never make.

There are five mistakes in speaking that you should not make. The reason you should not make them is not because they are terrible mistakes that will stop you from communicating; it is only because native speakers do not make these mistakes. If you were to buy a very nice Armani jacket, a beautiful dress or a cool, colourful shirt, you would not want to spill coffee on it, or drop some pieces of food on the front for everyone to see. Why then would you want to do very well in learning English and then not bother to keep your expression clean of ‘up-front’ errors? ‘Up-front’ errors are the ones that are like little neon signs that show you are not an accomplished speaker.

Therefore, clean up your speech by paying attention to the Hot Five!


The first of the hot five is the pronunciation of ‘s’ in third person singular, present tense:

Don’t forget to say the ‘s’ in in third person.

I sing,
You sing
He, she or it singS
We sing
You sing
They sing

‘He sings.’ Remember?


The second of the hot five is the general use of plurals, especially in general statements:

Don’t forget to pronounce your ‘s’! ‘BicycleS are efficient machines.’


The third of the hot five is the use of verb tense:

Learn to use tense. Don’t ignore it! I realise that verb tense in English can be quite complicated but just start by getting your basic tenses correct, such as past, present and future. You can do more complex things as time goes on. Just learn to be correct in the basics of the three time-locations.


The fourth of the hot five is the use of articles:

Learn when to use a, an and the in the right places. A and an are used for countable nouns. The is used for particularity, except generally when we are identifying companies like Toyota, Heier or Coco-Cola; names of persons or places such as Lily, John, Paris or Finland; or concepts like love, tourism or infrastructure.


The last of the hot five is the use of prepositions. I know you will be annoyed with me for even mentioning them; however, many verbs, nouns and adjectives in countless situations will be useless to you in real sentences without the accompanying prepositions.

You must look TO someone for advice on your grammar; have patience IN dealing with your writing; know when you are tired OF studying; and try to get the most OUT OF every situation.


Now, you may feel that I am being too tough with you to mention these grammar errors. Actually, I’m not. I’m just trying to warn you!

What I noticed over my years of teaching was that many students who had studied English for a long time were ‘walking out the door,’ in other words, leaving their training years with all of these mistakes totally out of control. I am afraid that most of them will never learn how to speak well. They will not know how to speak in a professional setting or use their English in an academic context. Why do I know that? It is definitely true that unless these students were to begin another intensive course, they would not change their expression due to the fact that no-one will help them in the future. Shopkeepers, bosses, friends, family and colleagues will usually never help you. Unless you have gained the method of independent language learning, where will your learning come from when you leave your intensive English training?

What went wrong with these students? Why were they so blocked about their errors? Was it their fault or was it their teachers’ fault? I must say that both parties are involved. Due to the fact that this kind of learning is 50% teacher and 50% student and also involves many other people, we cannot give the blame to any one person and should not. Nonetheless, it is a shame if students ‘walk out the door’ with this kind of poor grammar foundation. I have seen students who finish their training using almost no articles, few prepositions, no plurals and having no thought of using anything but present tense.

You do not want to end up in this position. Keep in mind that your speaking is your writing too. Unlike native speakers who may speak quite differently than they write, it is most likely true that all your speaking problems are completely reflected in your writing as well. You must really try to eliminate basic mistakes that are not made by native speakers. Native speakers do make many mistakes in grammar when they speak but you must learn not to habitually make the mistakes that they never make.

If you are having difficult with the ‘Hot Five,’ that is all right. That’s why I call them the ‘Hot Five.’ They are trouble areas by nature. The third person singular ‘s’ is a very odd structure. In the singular, you add ‘s’ to the verb. How strange! The second structure, the plural particle ‘s,’ is not used in many languages, particularly Asian languages. The third structure, verb tense, is quite complex in English and generally takes a few years to master as an adult speaker. The fourth structure, articles, is also not found in many languages. The last structure, prepositions, is also quite hard to master. In order to use prepositions correctly you must read a lot to get enough input to see how all these prepositions work in different situations. It is difficult to absorb all these crazy little connecting words in ordinary conversation.

Although these structures are difficult, you should not forget about them. The “Hot Five’ are in every sentence and clause in the language; therefore, you should work at them. You do not want to fall into the situation where all your wonderful work in English is these five little enemies. These five small demons can be totally eliminated and I wish you luck in doing so, sooner rather than later, because later it will be nearly impossible.

Brian Ursich