February 18

“We are like that only” – 10 common mistakes we Indians make when we speak English


We, Indians, are well known for using rather archaic sentence constructions and bombastic language and are often quite oblivious of the many errors we make in usage and pronunciation. Many argue that we have a right to our own version of English, considering the numbers of Indians that speak the language. However, I feel, that at least for those of us who consider English our first language, the language of our thoughts and dreams, must be more conscious of our usage and I have, over time, become somewhat of a Grammarazi. I have made a list of the 10 usages that get my goat.

Please don’t get offended if you have found yourself guilty of using these – they are so commonly used that most of us don’t even realise that we are not using these words and phrases incorrectly. However, I just thought if there are any fellow Grammar police persons out there to whom this would be of interest, I could send this by way of a “Hello, how lovely to meet a kindred soul!” And nor is the content of this entirely original. There have been other bravehearts who have also tried to reform English usage in India (and failed, I might add). I realise that this quest is somewhat quixotic but what the heck!! Even if all this article elicits is a few embarrassed giggles, it is worth it.

1. Index vs Table of contents

An index is typically found at the end of a document and is, most often, an alphabetical listing of all the important terms which appear in the document with the number(s) of the page(s) in which it appears.

The table of contents, on the other hand, appears in the first few pages and lists the chapters and sub-chapters of a document or book in chronological order along with the page number these begin on.

2. Alphabet vs Letter

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, while the Hindi alphabet (known as “aksharmala”) consists of 13 vowels and 33 consonants, or 46 letters (“akshar”). The English language has only ONE alphabet. “a”, “b”, “c”, “d”, etc. are not alphabets; they are letters. The entire string of letters from a-z make up the English alphabet.

3. Revert vs get back and, worse still, revert back

Folks, even if we believe in reincarnation, we cannot “revert” to a letter or an email. To revert is to go back to a previous state or reverse something. So you can revert to type (go back to being your true self and stop pretending to be someone else). This usage is widely used in India in letters and emails, “I will revert to you”, or worse still, “Kindly revert back.”

What you actually mean to say is, you will “get back to” or “reply to” someone.

4. Improvise vs improve

To improvise means to make up something on the spot, on the fly, as it were. Correct usage: “I haven’t yet prepared my speech for tomorrow. I think I will just improvise” (what the speaker means is that s/he will talk extempore). Don’t use improvise when you mean improve.

5. Do the needful

A very quaint expression used only in India. “I will do whatever is necessary” is far less archaic.

6. Prepone

This one is debatable because the Oxford dictionary has finally accepted the word. Prior to this it was used only in India. Very few people outside of India use this word.

7. Using “passed out” instead of “graduated”

You will often hear us tell you about how we passed out from an educational institution in year X instead of saying we finished or graduated. While it may be true that you passed out after you graduated at the after party, perhaps these details are better left out of polite conversation with strangers.

8. Repeating adjectives and adverbs for emphasis

“Why don’t you have a hot hot samosa?” or “He went slowly slowly up the hill.” This is a direct translation from our regional languages in which it is common to to repeat adjectives and adverbs instead of using “very” or “a lot” as qualifiers.

9. “What is your good name?”

Another direct translation from Bengali which became popular as many Bongs were the original “babu-log” or bureaucrats in colonial India. All Bengalis have a nick name and an official name called the “bhalo naam” which translates literally to “good name”. In Hindi polite conversation as well, it is customary to ask ,”Aapka shubh naam kya hai? ” meaning “what is your auspicious name”.

10. “We are like that only”

In Hindi one often uses the word “hee” for emphasis in certain sentences. This word does not have a direct translation at times but is often used the way one uses “just” in constructions like “Just now” or “Just like that”. For some reason, the word “only” is used instead and we say “Now only” and “like that only”.


Posted February 18, 2017 by knitarow in category Uncategorized

2 thoughts on ““We are like that only” – 10 common mistakes we Indians make when we speak English

    1. knitarow (Post author)

      To the best of my knowledge, these mistakes are made only in the Indian sub-continent, so that would include Pakistan and perhaps, Bangladesh. Having said that, I did not mean to suggest that native English speakers don’t make any mistakes at all. And then there are regional peculiarities, slang and dialects. That’s true for any language. Just as Hindi would vary from region to region. A case in point is the peculiar brand of Hindi we use in Bombay. But even as far as Hindi is concerned, once I learned that “peru” and “kaanda” were not Hindi words, I stopped using them when I was speaking in Hindi.


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