Community Tutor
Some Things That Indicate That You Are Not a Native Speaker of American English

Here are a few things which will make you not sound like a native speaker of American English. I would suggest that you work on these so your English sounds more natural.


1. Using Must: Most Americans use "to have to" instead. Using "must" is technically grammatically correct but really sounds outdated in everyday conversational English. So instead of saying, "I must go to Walmart later to buy some cough drops.", say "I have to go to Walmart later to buy some cough drops."


2. Getting Articles Correct: Knowing when to use an article and which one is the correct one to use is probably by far the most essential skill to have in order to sound natural. Hearing "I bought new car yesterday, and I love it." instead of "I bought a new car yesterday, and I love it." is so painful to hear and will absolutely give you away as being a foreigner.


3. Knowing the Correct Vocabulary: It is essential to know the correct vocabulary for describing something or you are going to sound foreign. An example of this would be saying a file is "too heavy" to send through Skype or email. In American English, we simply say the file is "too big" to send. A Spanish friend recently explained to me that "pesado" is the word they use to describe this. Unfortunately, it literally translates to "heavy" in English. I am guessing that some of these Spanish-English dictionaries do not cover computer related terms, hence the mistranslation. A Japanese friend once told me that his computer was too heavy to mean that his computer was being slow and was hanging. I imagine the same thing is going on here with their language.


4. Getting Adverbs of Time Correct: I have noticed that a lot of my Russian friends say stuff like "After three weeks, I am going to Boston." instead of "In three weeks, I am going to Boston." If your language uses a preposition that doesn't translate to the correct one in American English, then you will not sound nature.

May 17, 2014 2:08 AM
Comments · 34

It's more common for Americans to use "have to" instead of "must" for taks you need to do, although honestly, "I must go to Walmart to buy some cough drops" sounds completely natural to me.  In your example Ahmed, "must" would sound completely natural.

May 17, 2014

In my experience, for expressing obligations, "have to" is more common than "must" in American English, but both are natural and acceptable. I think "must" is more common in British English than it is in American English, particularly in question form. Americans are more likely to ask "Do you have to....?" rather than "Must you....?".


Just to make things more confusing, in American English we also frequently use "have got to" to express obligation or certainty. In speech , "got to" often sounds like "gotta."

Examples: I've got to finish this assignment by noon. He's got to be tired after that race.

May 17, 2014

Haha xarmanla. Honestly, I don't use either "must" or "shall" very much, unless I'm being ironic to get a laugh. Like, for example, I say to one of my friends "I shall see you tomorrow" instead of "I will see you tomorrow". It's amusing to me to use this vernacular, however, if I am in a serious situation, I would not word my sentence as such. Phrasing the first into a question is uncommon to me, and quite funny. "Shall I see you tomorrow?" xD.

May 18, 2014

Sooorry?! What for?

May 17, 2014

Must is also very rarely ever used in the past tense, whereas "have to" is used in the past tense all the time. For instance, a grammar discussion online mentions the following two examples of "must" in the past tense:


1. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "What he did, he did because he must."


2. We went because we must.


I can't think of any examples where you would use "must" in the past tense outside of a clause involving "because" though or in which you use it along with another verb (as in "must read", "must buy", "must cook", etc.). There are of course, sentences like...


1. He must had left work before you arrived.

2. He must have gone to the beach today.


...but these are stating that something is a logical reason for someone not being present at a particular point in time. They aren't stating that someone was required to do something as in "I had to read three books for my Spanish class last semester." :)


I guess the same can be said of the future tense with must. For instance, "He will do it because he must." Can anyone think of any examples? Maybe I am just drawing a mental blank right now and overlooking something.

May 19, 2014
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