5 Common English Verbs You’re (Probably) Saying Wrong

5 Common English Verbs You're (Probably) Saying Wrong
You’re about to find out if you’re using some common English verbs (insist, mention, suggest, reply and discuss) correctly. You might also like 3 Classic Mistakes That English Learners Make.

It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your first language is (unless it’s English, of course), there are some verbs that I bet you’re getting wrong.

How do I know that?

Because I see it all the time!

In all my (almost) 14 years’ experience teaching English, there are five verbs that I hear almost everyone get wrong … almost all the time.

They are:

  • Insist
  • Mention
  • Suggest
  • Reply
  • Discuss

But are you getting these wrong?

Let’s find out!

Then we can have coffee — or something.

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1. Use “insist” correctly

What you might be saying:

  • “I insisted my sister-in-law to meet me by the Freddie Mercury statue.”

What you should say:

Before we look at this, let’s just make sure we all know what an object is:

What’s an object? Here’s a 1-minute grammar lesson:

Most full English sentences have at least three parts — a subject, verb and an object (SVO).

Harry (subject) met (verb) Sally (object).

This is very, very simple, but also — especially for English — very important.

Most English sentences follow this SVO structure.

OK. So what’s wrong with “I insisted my sister-in-law to meet me”?

Well, this is completely wrong!

That’s because with “insist” (and all the other verbs we’re looking at today), the person we’re talking to isn’t the object.

That means that we don’t “insist someone to do something” It just doesn’t work.

insist + someone to do something

So what do we say instead?

There are two ways you can use “insist.”

Here’s one way:

insist + that + SVO

How to use insist: I insisted that she met me by the Freddie Mercury statue.

There are two subjects here: “I” (the subject of “I insisted …”) and “she” (the subject of “she met me …”).

That’s when we use “that + SVO.”

But what if both of these subjects are the same?

For example, you want to take a nice, quiet walk by the lake.

Then your annoying friend says he wants to come with you and talk about Leonardo Di Caprio’s troubled childhood the whole time.

And you say, “No — it’s OK. I’d rather be by myself.”

And he says, “Nonsense! I’m coming along — it’ll be fun!”

And you say, “Really? I think you’d rather do something else …”

And he says, “No — I don’t mind. I’m definitely coming!”

That’s when we go for this structure:

insist on + -ing

How to use insist: He insisted on coming with me.
That guy is so annoying.

There’s one more way we can use “insist + that + SVO” when both subjects are the same person — but with a slightly different meaning.

Imagine you’re walking home one night and you see this:

Alien silhouette in tunnel

He (She? It?) walks up to you and starts talking, in impressive detail, about the motorway system in eastern Finland.

You’re impressed — he knows all the terminology and geography and everything.

Then all of a sudden, he’s gone — vanished into thin air!

Amazing, right? You’ve got to tell someone.

So you call your best mate, tell her, and she just laughs; of course she doesn’t believe you.

You want her to believe, though. So you keep trying to convince her that what you saw was real and that — no thanks — you don’t need to see the doctor.

In other words, you “insist that you saw an alien.

Here are some more examples:

I insisted that I’d finished the crossword in 5 minutes — but he wasn’t having it (didn’t believe me).

He keeps insisting that he saw Jerry in the bookshop, but Jerry’s been out of town for weeks.

2. Use “mention” correctly

What you might be saying:

  • “I don’t think Zara knows the water’s off — it sounds like she’s trying to take a shower. Are you sure you mentioned her?”

What you should say:

You need to say what you mentioned BEFORE who you mentioned it to.

“But how can I do that correctly?” I can hear you ask.

Well, again there are two ways of using this verb.

You can just use a noun:

mention + something + (to someone)

How to use mention: Are you sure you mentioned it to her?


mention + that + SVO

How to use mention: Are you sure you mentioned that the water's off?
Come to think of it, I don’t think Zara’s even in town. So who’s in the bathroom?

3. Use “suggest” correctly

What you might be saying:

  • “The elevator wasn’t working, so I suggested them to use parachutes and jump out of the window, but they just took the stairs instead.”

What you should say:

Once again, there are two ways you can use this verb.

You can do this:

suggest + -ing

How to use suggest: I suggested using parachutes and jumping out of the window.

Or … you guessed it:

suggest + that + SVO

How to use suggest: I suggested that we all use parachutes and jump out of the window.

4. Use “reply” correctly

What you might be saying:

  • “I emailed him asking when the internet would be working again, but he never replied me.”

What you should say:

And again, there are two ways we can fix this.

In the example sentence above (the one about the emails), we just don’t need an object:

How to use reply: I emailed him but he never replied.
Confused Felipe by FelipeIbazeta | CC BY 2.0

But sometimes, we use “reply” to describe exactly what he said.

So we use our good old friend, “that.”

reply + that + SVO

Then he came to my office, and I asked him again. He replied that he couldn’t respond to my email because the internet wasn’t working.

How to use reply: He replied that he couldn't respond to me email.
Confused Felipe by FelipeIbazeta | CC BY 2.0

5. Use discuss correctly

What you might be saying:

  • “It was terrible. My boss wanted to discuss me her marriage problems. I had nowhere to run!”

(Well, you might be saying that if you have a weird boss.)

What you should say:

Here’s how to use discuss correctly:

discuss + something + (with me)

How to use discuss: My boss wanted to discuss her marriage problems with me.

OK. So “discuss” only works with a noun.

But what if your boss wanted to discuss some sort of action — like how her husband sings in his sleep?

Well, that’s when this very, very useful phrase comes in handy: “the fact that.”

This phrase is super useful.

That’s because it can link any verb that can only take an noun as an object — like “discuss.”

discuss + the fact that + SVO

How to use discuss: She wanted to discuss the fact that her husband sings in his sleep.

We can use “the fact that” after other verbs:

She highlighted the fact that I couldn’t sing properly.

We need to consider the fact that it costs over $1,000 dollars, don’t we?

He may be annoying, but you can’t ignore the fact that he’s almost always right!

That’s it!

Now you can (hopefully) use these 5 common English verbs … like a pro!

Remember that “that + SVO” is a very, very useful formula and very, very common in English.

It’s amazing how far you can go with “that + SVO.”

Here are all the verbs in a nice little table:

insistHe keeps insisting that he saw Jerry.insist + that + SVO
He insisted on coming with me.insist on + -ing
mentionAre you sure you mentioned it to her?mention + something + (to someone)
Are you sure you mentioned that the water's off?mention + that + SVO
suggestI suggested using parachutes.suggest + -ing
I suggested that we use parachutes.suggest + that + SVO
replyHe never replied.reply
He replied that he could't respond to my email.reply + that + SVO
discussShe wanted to discuss her marriage problems with me.discuss + something + (with someone)
She wanted to discuss the fact that her husband sings in his sleep.discuss + the fact that + SVO

Let’s practice them!

Think about your answers to these questions:

  1. What was the last thing you had to insist on? Did you get your way in the end?
  2. Has your name ever been mentioned in a newspaper?
  3. When was the last time you suggested something to a lot of people? Did you end up doing it?
  4. Have you ever written to anyone famous? Did you get a reply? What did they say?
  5. When was the last time you had a long discussion with someone? What did you discuss?

Answers in the comments!

Did you find this useful? Do you know any people (or seagulls) that might also benefit from this? Then BE AWESOME AND SHARE! Spread the knowledge!

10 thoughts on “5 Common English Verbs You’re (Probably) Saying Wrong

  1. A fairly frequent pattern is when there is a different subject for the gerund in the form of either the genitive case( e.g. Peter’s, my friend’s, ) or a possessive adjective( e.g. my, your, their). Compare: I insist on going there( the same subject) vs. I insist on Mary’s going there.(different subjects)./ I suggest doing it later vs. I suggest your doing it now.

    1. Oh, absolutely.

      Though I wouldn’t call this pattern particularly frequent. It’s considered a little old fashioned and has largely been replaced by “I suggest (that) you do it now.”

      But good point and a great addition to the knowledge. Thanks!

  2. May I suggest swapping second and third columns in the table? It would have gained the logical structure «verb – phrase – example» and become more memorable.

    And of course my answers:
    1. Last time my wife was opposing visiting my parents but I insisted on it.
    2. Yeah. Just once. Our local newspaper mentioned that I look like some hollywood star :) I don’t even remember his name because I didn’t see the issue and I knew about that fact from my parents and collegues.
    3. Not long ago I suggested spending together our May holidays somewhere outdoors to my teammates, but our department is not so big and the other departments are too far away. And I’m still waiting for their reply.
    4. Nope. I’ve never written to any famous persons, because I know they are busy and I dislike to annoy people with some trifles.
    5. My last long discussion was virtual over the Internet. We discussed smoking, it’s a really big problem in my country. Unfortunately, smokers won, because they were the majority :(

    1. It’s funny you suggested that, Eugene. At the last minute I thought that those columns should be this way round. Here’s my reasoning: it’s better to see the language in action before seeing the structure: assimilation before analysis. Of course, at the end of the day, everyone’s different and what works for some doesn’t work for others.

      Meanwhile — your answers.
      1. A familiar situation! The classic “in-laws” scenario!
      2. Any idea which star it might be?
      3. Ha ha — what kind of outdoors thing were you thinking of? Hiking? Paintballing?
      4. Good answer.
      5. Interesting. What exactly was the discussion topic? Was it about smoking in public places? I’m interested as an ex-smoker…

      Thanks for contributing! Really interesting answers.

      1. 2. Definetely neither Bruce Willis nor Brad Pitt
        3. Barbeque
        5. In our country smoking inside and near apartment houses is prohibited, but people may smoke in their flats. So the question: are they allowed to smoke on their balconies while the smoke spreads into the other flats?

        1. Wow — that’s an interesting one (about the smoking).

          I’m not sure where I stand on that. Personally I don’t mind the smell of smoke, but a lot of people do — so I guess it’s invading their private space.

          I suppose you could argue that the smokers can always just go outside, right?

          What did the smokers argue?

          1. They say “It’s my place and I’ll be doing everything I want here. If the smoke bothers you — close your windows, don’t disturb me while I’m smoking”. These people often confuse “liberty” with “permissiveness” and doesn’t respect rights of citizens who don’t have such a bad habit.

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