Table 1

Key grammatical challenges for Spanish, French, Dutch and German researchers writing in English

LanguageGrammatical issueChallengeTip
SpanishSentence structureYour tendency may be to write longer sentences and use a variety of synonyms to avoid monotonyTry shorter sentences and word consistency as a strategy to improve clarity
PrepositionsYou may get confused trying to figure out, for instance, when to use ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘at’. In Spanish, you would only use the word ‘de’ for all those threeSpanish has significantly fewer prepositions. You may need to memorise the common English prepositions or use a search engine
FrenchSentence structureEven when you try to write simple and short sentences, it may seem to require more words to do so in French than in EnglishAvoid long convoluted sentences in English by seeking parsimony: check that all words are essential when critiquing your own writing
Adjective positioningYou may be used to putting the adjective/qualifier after the noun/subject in French (eg, blue sky/ciel bleu), so your English writing sometimes does thisRevise each sentence by identifying the noun/subject and adjective/qualifier and verifying that the qualifier precedes the noun as per English word order convention
DutchSentence structureYou may struggle with the position of adjuncts, what a sentence can ‘carry’ in subject position, and the limited freedom in ordering the elements of an English sentenceAvoid ‘heavy’ subject clauses (lots of information in subject position) and make sure the subject position houses the most important information in the sentence. Don’t fling around the parts of the sentence—that can create chaos, rather than cleverness
Parallel structureYou may tend to use synonyms and variety in sentence structures to ‘polish’ your text. However, variety can compromise clarity and dilute parallelismPut clarity before variety: avoid synonyms when possible. Try using parallel structure to strengthen your key messages
GermanSentence structureYou may be accustomed to writing longer, more complex sentences that try to build up tensionAim for short sentences, put the main information first and avoid too many conjunctions
ParagraphingYour German paragraphs are supposed to combine several strands of thought, so the principle of paragraph unity can feel foreignFocus on unity—one idea per paragraph. Start with a topic sentence that clearly signals that idea