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Let's say a pupil has written a story (subject is English). There is a word written incorrectly. I know it's called mistake. But could you also call this an error?

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    Have you looked at the words "mistake" and "error" in a good dictionary? If so what did it say? And is there anything you still don't understand?
    – WS2
    Dec 2, 2022 at 20:27
  • @WS2 I forgot to say that both words have the same translation in German. Both are translated as "Fehler".
    – zomega
    Dec 2, 2022 at 20:38

1 Answer 1

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Whether "error" is correct depends on the situation, and why the student wrote that word incorrectly.

ESL teachers are commonly taught there's a difference between the words "mistake" and "error" as part of our certification training.

An error is doing something incorrect in English due to a lack of knowledge. Most of the things beginners get wrong are errors.

A mistake is doing something incorrect in English despite knowing the correct way. A learner can self-correct a mistake.

The distinction is made to help ESL teachers respond appropriately to incorrect language use. A "mistake" should be corrected with a simple reminder, or even just a nudge, and not a full explanation of that aspect of English. An "error" requires teaching that aspect of English from scratch, not merely naming it or pointing out that it's incorrect.

THAT SAID, most ESL teachers I know either can't remember which is which, or forget they ever learned this. Only the most pedantic teachers correct "incorrect" use of these terms.

In everyday life, outside the world of English teachers, the words "error" and "mistake" are mostly used interchangeably, with the word "error" feeling more serious and formal, and "mistake" more casual and informal.

So, if it's an ESL teacher talking, and the student wrote that word incorrectly even though they'd already learned the right way, then "error" is technically incorrect, but excusable. Otherwise, "error" is correct.

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