The Most Common Mistakes for Korean Students





The most common mistakes happen with articles, prepositions, singular and plural, and countable and uncountable nouns.  Besides these general mistakes, here is a list I made of specific mistakes common for Koreans!






1)  Yes and No answers.  Many students don’t answer correctly when the other person’s question (or statement) was negative.

 Example of this mistake:  “You haven’t done this exercise yet, have you?

--“Yes, I haven’t done it.”


This is wrong because in English you need to say, “No, I haven’t done it” (or simply “No”).  If you answer “yes”, it means that you disagree!  Koreans and Japanese make mistakes here because in their languages they use "yes" to agree.  But in English we use "no" to agree with a negative.  Not knowing how to use "yes" and "no" leads to a lot of confusion.  If you want to avoid having to think about it each time, just answer “right” – it always works.



2)  Do you mind – questions.  To give permission, you need to say "no". 

Example of this mistake:  “Do you mind if I use your phone?”

            --“Yes, go ahead”


This is wrong because the verb “to mind” means to dislike – so if you say "yes", it means you dislike the speaker’s using your phone.  The correct answer is “No, go ahead”.



3)  Sorry.  The word “sorry” in English is used for apology, but also for sympathy.  When I say “I’m sorry I’m late” I am apologizing. But when I say “I’m sorry to hear that your father is ill” I am expressing sympathy.  An answer to the first statement is “That’s ok”, but an answer to the second statement is “Thanks”. (Korean students might misunderstand and answer, “That’s not your fault”, not understanding that “sorry” was used for sympathy rather than apology.)



4)  Apartment.  In English the word “apartment” means the same as “suite” or “flat”, while in Korean and several other languages, it is used for the whole building.  This leads to countless confusions when people ask for apartment numbers.  So don’t confuse “apartment” and “apartment building”.  The apartment building is large, has many floors, and on each floor there are several apartments!



5)  Rental fee.  The English noun “rent” already means a kind of fee which you pay for an apartment, house, etc.  Therefore to say “rental fee” is like saying “fare fee” or “price fee”.  



6)  Lend / borrow.  “To lend” means to give temporarily.  “To borrow” means to take temporarily.  If  I lend you my book, that means you borrow it.  (That means you have to give it back to me.) 



7)  Take over.  Many Japanese and Koreans use this as a kind of  noun (“I’m looking for a take-over.”).  This sounds funny.  You could use it as a verb – that might sound better (“My friend took over my apartment”, “The driver was tired, and another driver took over”, “When the manager resigns, Mr. Kim will take over” – these sentences sound ok.)



8)  Neighbor / neighborhood.  A neighbor is a person; a neighborhood is an area of a city.  Correct:  “The area near Stanley Park is a nice neighborhood.  My neighbor is an old lady.”   



9)  Hospital.  In North America a hospital is a place where you go only for emergencies or surgeries.  A hospital is a big building with many people (doctors, nurses, and patients, many of whom stay overnight).  When something is not an emergency, people don't go to the hospital, but to a doctor's office.  There seems to be a translation problem that leads many students to confuse "hospital" and "doctor's office".



10)  Fee / price / bill / fare/ check / tuition, tuition fees / rent / charge / rate / fine / salary.  These nouns for money are easily confused.  You should use them as follows:


Rent – apartment/house


Bill/check – restaurant


Tuition/tuition fees – school  (Note that “tuition” is singular, “tuition fees” plural)


Price – store  


Fare - transportation


Daily rate – hotel/rental car


Fine – punishment


Salary (paycheck)– money received for work


The words “fee” , "cost", and “charge” are sometimes used in other situations (for example, “application fee”). 


The word "cost" is most often used a verb, and can be used in any situation.  ("How much does it cost?")



11)  Come / go.  Always confusing for Korean and Japanese students.  “Come” means move to where the speaker is, or move to where the listener is.  “Go” is used in all other situations.  So which one you use depends on who you are talking to.  Because this is so difficult, ask me for some practice exercises.



12)  Jeans /pants / glasses / pajamas /scissors.  Remember that these words are always plural.  It is impossible to say “a pant” – you need to say pants, even if it is only one.  (We call this one pair of pants, strangely.)



13)  Cross / across.  The first is a verb.  (“The man crossed the street.”)   The second is a preposition that needs to be used with a verb.  (“The man walked across the street”)  



14)  Boring/bored, interesting/interested, annoying/annoyed, ……  Confusing these words is a common mistake.  “Boring” means that it makes you bored; “bored” describes your state of mind when you do boring things.  (“The class was very boring; the students were bored”)  Once you understand this, you can understand “interesting” and “interested”, etc. 



15)  Wish / hope.  If your friend is sick, you should not say “I wish you would get better”, but you should say “I hope you will get better.  “Wish” is usually for things that are impossible – for possible things you should use “hope”.  Unfortunately, to make things more confusing, sometimes we use “wish” for possible things (“I wish you a merry Christmas”, “She wished me good luck”, etc.)



16)  Another / other / the other / others / the others.  "Another", "other" and "the other" are adjectives.  They are placed in front of nouns to describe the nouns.  "Others" and "the others" are pronouns.  A pronoun is a word which replaces a noun.  So you should say “The other students are Mexican”, not “The others students are Mexican”.  Also remember how articles are used:  I don’t say “My an apple is red” – so I also should not say “My another apple is red”.  Because this is so difficult, ask me for some practice exercises. 



17)  Don’t say “ask to my friend”.  I know, prepositions can drive you crazy.  Some verbs need prepositions (for example, “talk to”); others don’t.  “Ask” does not need “to”.  (I mean the preposition "to".  “To” is possible as part of an infinitive, though.)  Because prepositions are so illogical, it will take years until you develop a feeling for them.  But don’t feel bad –everyone has this problem.  



18)  Don't say "I'm easy to find a job" or "I'm impossible to study", etc.  Instead you should say "It is easy for me to find a job" and "It is impossible for me to study", etc.  Sometimes it is possible to use I+be+adjective+infinitive (for instance, "I am happy to see you"), but it is not always possible.  When I say "I am happy to see you", the word "happy" describes me, but in the sentences above the words "easy" and "impossible" do not describe me; that's why the sentences are wrong.



19)  Open / close / closed.  At 9 am tomorrow the library will open (verb).  After that, until 8pm, it will be open (adjective).  At 8pm it will close (verb).  After that it will be closed (adjective).  The verbs describe actions (happening at exactly 9am and 8pm); the adjectives describe continuous states.



20)  Korean / a Korean.  Nationality words (German, Mexican, Japanese, Canadian, etc.) can be nouns, or adjectives.  When I say, “I am a Canadian” I use a noun, meaning “a Canadian citizen”.  When I say, “I am Canadian” or “ Canadian culture is strange” I use an adjective.  The nationality nouns can also refer to a language (“Do you speak Korean?”).



21)  Don’t say “I lost my weight”.  Just say “I lost weight”, “He lost weight” (not “his weight”), etc.  The same rule applies to the verbs “gain” or “put on” when talking about weight.



22)  Don’t say “Dear my friend”.  You should say “My dear friend”.  Similarly, you should say “Your poor mother”, etc.



23)  Get in/get out of, get on/get off.  The first pair of idioms is for cars; the second pair is for busses, trains, planes, bicycles, elevators – everything else.



24)  Don’t say “in here” when talking about a country or city.  Although we say “in Canada” or “in New York”, we don’t say “in here” – just “here”.  (“In here” is only used to mean “in this room” or “in this box”.)



25)  Don’t say “I want to find my apartment” or “I want to buy my TV”.  Why not?  Because before you rent an apartment it is not yours, and before you buy the TV it is not yours.  So just say, “I want to find an apartment”, etc.



26)  Don’t say “Where are you come from?”.  Wrong grammar.  Instead say “Where do you come from?”



27)  Say /tell /talk / speak.  This is very confusing.  The following are correct usages:


Say – Examples:  [1] “He said that he was hungry."  [2]“What did he say about the exam?” [3]“What did she say to you?"


Tell – Examples:  [1]“He told me that he was hungry” – not “He told to me….” (“Tell” means “say to, so “tell to” would mean  “say to to”)   [2]“He told me to close the window.”  (Here “to” is part of an infinitive and expresses a command.)   [3]“She told me about her dog."


Speak – Examples:  [1] “Do you speak English?”  (Meaning:  “Are you able to speak English?”) [2] “She spoke about her trip.”  (Correct, but “talked” is more common) [3] "They spoke in Korean."  (Meaning: "They used Korean to communicate")  [4] “He spoke to me.”


Talk - Examples [1] “He talked to me."  [2] “He talked about his trip.”   [3] “They talked in Korean.”  (Meaning:  “They used Korean to communicate.”) Don’t say “They talked Korean.” 



28)  Don’t say “go to home”.  Simply say “go home” – here the word “home” is an adverb here, as is “downtown”, “here”, or “downstairs”.  Some students say “go to my home” – this is correct (“home” could be a noun), but extremely uncommon.  So just say “go home”.



29)  Don’t say “make a  girlfriend”. Even though “make a friend” is a common idiom, you can’t say that you made a girlfriend or boyfriend.  Use “find” instead of “make”.



30)  Reservation/ appointment/ plan(s).  These words are often confused.  A reservation is for a restaurant, hotel, plane, or train.  An appointment is with a doctor, lawyer, business associate, or teacher.  When you have to meet a friend or friends, just say “I made plans with my friend(s)” or “I have plans for tonight”.



31)  Don’t ask “How different are A and B?”  Instead ask “What is the difference between A and B?”



32)  I cut my hair / I had my hair cut.  The first sentence means that you cut it yourself.  The second sentence (causative form) means that you made someone cut it for you.  People have their hair cut, they have their cars repaired (unless they themselves are mechanics), they have their clothes dry-cleaned.  Causative form can also use the verb “get” instead of “have” ("I got my hair cut") – the meaning is the same.



33)  Airplane/ airline/ flight.  An airplane is a vehicle with two wings which is made of metal.  An airline is a company (for example, Japan Airlines or Air Canada).  A flight is not an airplane or airline, but an event (Examples: “There are two flights per day to Houston”, “What time is your flight?”, “Did you have a good flight?”).



34)  For /since.  “For” is used for a period of time; “since” is used for a point in time.  Example: “I have been an English teacher for five years; I have been an English teacher since 1989.”



35)  First / first of all / firstly /at first/the first time.  They are usually confused by students.  “At first” is for time only and means “in the beginning”.  (Example: “When I came to Canada, at first I didn’t have any friends.”)  “First”, “first of all” and “firstly” are for reasons or instructions – they are usually followed by  “Second…” or “Secondly…” or  “Also…”.  “The first time” is used for things that happen(ed) repeatedly.  (Example: “The first time I went to Korea was in 1995; the second time was in 1997.”)



36)  Countable and uncountable nouns.  This is a difficult part of English, and not always logical.  Rice is uncountable, and money is uncountable (even though you can count it), and hundreds of other things are uncountable.  To make things more confusing, many nouns are sometimes countable and sometimes uncountable.  Examples are “time” and “change”:  When I say that I spend much time on homework, “time” is uncountable.  But when I say that I have been to Chicago five times, “times” is countable (meaning five separate events in time).  When I say that there are many changes in my life, “change” is countable.  But when I say I need change for a dollar, “change” is uncountable (meaning small money).



37)  All / each.  “All” is followed by a plural noun and verb, “each” by a singular noun and verb.



38)  Me too / me neither.  The first is used to agree with a positive statement; the second is used to agree with a negative statement.  So when I say “I hate pizza” you should say “Me too” (or “So do I”).  But when I say “I don’t like pizza” you should say “Me neither” (or “Neither do I”).



39)  While / during.  “While” is followed by a sentence (S/V) usually.  “During” is followed by a noun or noun phrase.  Example:  “I met him during the summer”, “I met him while I was in Los Angeles.”  



40)  Until / by.  "Until" is used for things that are already happening and will continue to some later time.  "By" is used for things that are not happening yet, but will happen later.  Examples:  "I am at home now, and I will be here until 3 o'clock."  "I am not at school now; I'll be there by 4 o'clock."   ("by 4 o'clock" means no later than 4 o'clock.)



41)  Completely/absolutely/totally/definitely/exactly/obviously.  These are adverbs, but sometimes they are also used in conversation to mean “Yes, you are right.”  When used to modify adjectives, the meanings are roughly as follows:


Completely/totally/absolutely:  to the greatest degree  (Examples:  “The cup is absolutely empty” or “I am completely finished”).  Note that not all adjectives are possible – only those for which there is a limit.  If a cup is empty, it has reached a sort of limit, and when I am finished I cannot be more finished than I am.  So it makes sense to use completely/absolutely/totally.  But it makes no sense to say that Bill Gates is absolutely rich, because there is no limit to richness.


Exactly:  no more and no less  (Examples:  “My height is exactly 189.5cm”, “It is exactly 12:06 pm”).


Obviously: as everyone knows  (Examples:  “A triangle obviously has three sides”, “She obviously doesn’t like me”).


Definitely:  surely, with certainty  (Example:  “I’ll definitely call you – I won’t forget.)



42)  People.  This word is always plural; there is no singular.  So you cannot say “one people”.  Instead say “one person”. 



43)  Poor.  The word "poor" can be used in an exclamation ("Poor David!") if you feel sorry for someone.  But you cannot say "David is so poor" if you feel sorry for David.  "David is so poor" means he has little money.  (That is a completely different meaning, even though it's also true.)



44)  Fun/funny.  "Fun", used as an adjective, means enjoyable.  "Funny" means humorous.



45)  Senior.  In English “senior” means someone over sixty-five years of age (often called “senior citizen”).  The word “senior” is also used for an undergraduate university student in his fourth year.  But Koreans often use the word incorrectly – I often hear them say “my senior at work” or “my senior in university”.  This sounds odd.  In English we would probably just say “my co-worker” or “another student”.  The fact that the co-worker or student may be in a higher position is not so important – thus there is no commonly used vocabulary in English to express what Koreans want to say.



46)  Do you speak Konglish or Japanese English?  Here is a list of common Konglish expressions.  Many students think that these words are actually English, but they are not (or they have different meanings in English).



Konglish or Japanese English:

English Translation:

handle (in a car)

steering wheel

rental fee



-no exact translation available-



cooking hoil/alumi foil

aluminum foil

set menu /(meal) set





electrical outlet




bald person, or person with a Mohawk hairstyle (Careful:  “skinhead” has a special meaning – neo-Nazi)


poster of a star






woman with big breasts



pocket bell/beepy



sewing machine

ball pen

ballpoint pen

after service


air con, cooler

air conditioning

remote con

remote control


cellular phone






section/department (in a store)


department store

blue worker

blue collar worker

white worker

white collar worker

vineel bag

plastic bag

sharp pen

mechanical pencil

fry pan

frying pan


flat tire


turn signal



don't mind

never mind

room salon

expensive club with female escorts  




container ("basket" is used only for a particular kind of container)


marker (pen)


armchair (for one person)/ sofa (for several people)

back mirror

rearview mirror

window brush

windshield wiper


TV commercial








flight + hotel package



Key holder

Key chain




Jean jacket


nail polish


One size fits all





Televi game

Video game

Family computer



Apartment building

Cheer girl



Sprite / 7-Up




Department store

Pair look/ couple look

His and hers



Thema song

Theme song

Two shot

Picture of two people

Engage ring

Engagement ring

Front glass


Gasoline stand

Gas station

High teen

Late teens



Magik ink



Small apartment building

Office lady

Office worker


Direct number






big store (“Mart” is not a word, although it is part of names such as “Walmart” and “K-Mart”)


small grocery store

This is funny:  In English, “supermarket” means big store, not a small store!^^





hehind story

secret story

pocket ball


running machine


camping car

camper, RV




Shirt (A T-shirt, in English, is only a certain type of short-sleeve shirt!)

Go Dutch / Dutch pay

Although these expressions exist in English, we usually say “split the bill” or “pay separately”





47)  Common pronunciation problems: 

- A common problem is the /ou/ sound found in “go”, “home”, “phone”, “won’t”, and thousands of other words.  The sound is not /o/, but /ou/.  This means the sound begins with /o/ and ends with /u/. 

- Another common problem (for Japanese) is /r/ and /l/.  Practice with your teacher or friend.  

- Another common problem (for Koreans) is distinguishing between /p/ and /f/, and between /b/ and /v/.

- Another common problem is the difference between /i/ and /i: /.  The sound in “live” is short and soft, but the sound in “leave” is long and strong.  The same is true for “ship”/”sheep”, “this”/”these”, etc.

- Another common problem is the difference between “walk” and “work”.  The first word sounds like “saw”; the second word sounds like “bird”.  Ask for some pronunciation materials.



48)  Look/look like, sound/sound like, feel/feel like, seem/seem like, smell/smell like, taste/taste like.   “Look” (“seem”, “feel”, “sound”, etc.) needs an adjective.  (Correct: I feel tired.  Incorrect: I feel like tired.)  “Look like” ("seem like”, "feel like", "sound like", etc.) needs a noun or noun phrase, or a sentence, but not simply an adjective.  (Correct: He looks like a teacher.  Also correct: He looks like he is a teacher.  Incorrect: He looks like hungry.)


[Special case:  “Feel like” (but only “feel like”) can be an idiom if followed by a gerund.  “I feel like eating pizza” means I’d like to eat pizza now.  This meaning is different from “feel like”+ noun phrase or “feel like”+ sentence.]



49)  Don't say "My feeling is...".  Some students say "My feeling is good" or "Her feeling is tired".  It is better to say "I feel good", "She feels tired", etc.


50) Don’t say “next next” or “last last”.  Often students say “next next week” or “last last month”.  Instead you should say “the week after next week” (or “in two weeks”), and you should say “the month before last month” (or “two months ago).


51)  Most/almost.  “Most” describes a noun.  Examples:  "Most students are smart."  (plural noun)    "Most rice comes from China." (uncountable noun)   "Most of the city is ugly."  (singular noun – note the words “of the”)  In all cases, “most” means more than 50%.


“Almost” cannot describe a noun.  It can describe a quantifier ("all", "no", "every", "always") followed by a noun.  But “almost all” means “nearly 100%” – so “almost all” is stronger than “most”.  


The word “almost” can also be used before some adjectives and some verbs.  These adjectives and verbs are only those for which there is a logical limit or maximum.  Example:  “The glass is almost empty.”  When a glass is empty, it has reached a limit – it cannot become more empty.  So it makes sense to say a glass is empty, but it makes no sense to say “David is almost tall” because there is no limit to tallness.



52)  Not really wrong, but possibly awkward… The following ways of talking are common among students.  Here are some other and often better ways to say the same:





Sometimes awkward:



come to my house

drop by, come over, come to my place

go to my home

go home

had better

should (“had better” can be a little impolite)

would you like to drink something?

would you like something to drink?

return to school

go back to school

go upstairs again

go back upstairs

sleep again

go back to sleep

another person

someone else

another thing

something else

another place

somewhere else  


53)  Try to...  Sometimes students say, "I tried to do X", when they want to say, "I did X" or  "I decided to do X".  When you say "I tried to do X", it sounds like maybe you did not succeed, so it can be confusing.


54) Even if/ even though.  Surprisingly, many Korean students have told that they were taught these were the same.  They are not!  “Even if” introduces a possibility, whereas “even though” introduces a known fact. 


Even if I win the lottery (small possibility), I will still teach my students.

Even though a Canada is a large country (known fact), it has a only small population.



55)  Lastly, something difficult... the order of adjectives before a noun.  Students have often asked me "Why should we say, for example, 'Two cute black Persian cats' and not 'Persian black two cute cats'?  Why should we say 'a beautiful red car' and not 'a red beautiful car'?"  My answer to these questions was usually, "I do it by feeling or instinct" - but now it is time to tell you the rule:


The order should be as follows:


Possessive adjective > number > opinion > size > age > color > nationality > material    > NOUN


Examples (Note that, of course, we do not always have all these types of adjectives, but just some of them):


- two nice large old blue American metal boxes

- three new Korean computers

- my cute little dog

- your rare Japanese silver jewelry

- etc.



Email David if you have questions!