The English language can be weak. Put together the weird spelling, arbitrary rules, and confusing vocabulary; things can get pretty ugly. I mean, where did a word like “wack” even come from? And how can something be both pretty and ugly at the same time?
After hearing this list, you’ll question many things about English. So here are 25 Reasons the English Language Makes No Sense.
Some nouns you can count; others you cannot.
Remember our discussion about making words plural in English? We almost forgot that there are some words you can’t make plural. Why? Because English has something called non-count nouns.
These words represent abstract concepts that can be measured but not counted.
Here are a few common ones: equipment, homework, traffic, advice, education, water, coffee
So you cannot say, “I have lots of homeworks,” or “My mother gave me lots of advices.”
How do you know which nouns are non-count? Unfortunately, it’s a lot of memorization and repetition.
Commas can also change the meaning of sentences.
A comma rule in English says if the person you are talking to is named at the end of the sentence, you use a comma before the name.
For example: Let’s go to the store, Cindy.
While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, it can mean figurative life or death.
Let’s eat, grandma. (You’re suggesting lunch to grandma.)
Let’s eat grandma. (Grandma is on the menu. Poor grandma.)
The "only" has flexible placement but changes meaning.
This is similar to our pronunciation emphasis because adding this word to various places in the sentence changes the meaning.
Let’s add “only” to this sentence: She told him she only loved him.
Only she told him that she loved him. (No one else told him.)
She only told him that she loved him. (What’s the big deal?)
She told only him that she loved him. (She didn’t tell anyone else.)
She told him only that she loved him. (She didn’t say anything else.)
She told him that she only loved him. (It’s only love. Nothing else.)
She told him that she loved only him. / She said to him that she loved him only. (She didn’t love anyone else.)
Figurative language is as pretty confusing.
Figurative language uses words differently from their strict definitions. There are a few different types of figurative language.
There are similes – She’s as busy as a bee. He’s blind as a bat.
Metaphors – Life is a highway. He has a heart of stone.
Hyperbole – I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. My feet are killing me.
oxymoron – awfully good; bittersweet; pretty ugly
Homographs are spelled the same but might be pronounced differently and have different meanings.
For instance, you can say, “She’s very content with her life,” or “The website has a lot of new content.” Other examples would be, “Be careful not to tear the pages in the book,” and “He cut the onion and didn’t shed a tear.”
Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Examples would be new and knew, seen and scene, board and bored.
Homonyms are words that have the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings. Typical examples are the words to, two, too, and their, there, and they’re.
There are many ways to make words plural.
Books, boxes, babies, oxen, geese, mice, women. While a good majority of plural words end with -s, -es, or -ies, several others differ.
There's a specific order of adjectives.
Why is it okay to say, “the big purple house” and not “the purple big house”? Because there is an order of adjectives in English, and as a native speaker, you probably don’t even realize you follow it.
However, if you are just learning English, it’s more memorization than intuition at first.
The order goes opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, purpose, qualifier, and noun. In case you were curious.
Some letters change their minds.
Is it C as in Cake or C as in City?
Some words are just evil - even for native speakers.
Some words feel like your mouth is full of food when you say them, like rural and horror.
Slang can be nonsensical and confusing.
Each generation has its own words that the older generation thinks are wack. However, you only want to use dope words when you are young because that’s so groovy—also, yolo.
Yeah, I know. It was hard to write, too.
Verbs can be used as nouns, and nouns can be used as verbs.
English is very flexible with how you can use words within sentences. For example, the term “dance” is typically a verb, but in English, you can use it as a noun. Dancing is her favorite activity.
You can also use a word that’s usually a noun, but you can use it as a verb. For example, she friended me on social media.”
Some words have spellings that make absolutely no sense.
Much of this has to do with English borrowing many words from other languages. Here are a few examples: colonel, pronounced kernel; conscious, pronounced con-chense; and indict, pronounced indite.
Two words: Phrasal Verbs
You might be asking yourself what a phrasal verb is, but we use them ALL THE TIME.
Phrasal verbs are two or three-part verbs that include a verb with an adverb or preposition. Here are some examples:
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Put these verbs into a translator, and you’ll get confusing results.
Levels of formality are expressed more through vocabulary than formal/informal pronouns.
In many languages, you can express respect and formality by changing the pronoun and its corresponding verb conjugation.
For example, in Spanish, you address your grandparents and boss using usted, but for your friends – you address them using the pronoun tú.
In English, both usted and tú are expressed as “you,” so we express formality more in the vocabulary used. Slang and curse words are reserved for close peers and friends, but they are used much less with elders or business superiors.
Prepositions are beastly.
Why do you sit IN a car but ON an airplane?
When do you say you’re going TO the store, and when do you say you’re going IN the store?
Why do you hang out ON the beach but AT the park?
Good questions. YAY, prepositions!!
There are more to comma rules than you might realize.
No, it’s not just “put one where you hear a pause,” as some people may tell you. English has a lot of specific punctuation rules regarding commas, and it’s an area where many native speakers also make mistakes.
The WAY you pronounce the words in a sentence can change the meaning.
Take the sentence, “Jim didn’t steal the purse.” Depending on which word is emphasized, it can impact the meaning.
JIM didn’t steal the purse. (Someone did, but it wasn’t Jim.)
Jim DIDN’T steal the purse. (Stop saying he did. In case we weren’t clear, he did not do it.)
Jim didn’t STEAL the purse. (He was just borrowing it for a moment. Honest.)
Jim didn’t steal the PURSE. (He stole the backpack, not the purse.)
Not to mention random silent Letters...
There are many languages out there that are phonetic, meaning that if the letter is there, you pronounce it.
English is one language that has a LOT of silent letters. Think about these words -lamb and numb have silent Bs; scissors and muscles have silent Cs; and wrestle and wrinkle have silent Ws.
Let’s not forget to mention the word Queue – not one silent letter; not 2, but FOUR silent letters.
And so many vowel sounds!
There are technically only five vowels in the English alphabet – A, E, I, O, U.
However, there are about 20 vowel sounds in English, making it very difficult to know when to pronounce each vowel the way it’s supposed to be. Of course, there are rules and exceptions, too.
For those whose native language does not have five vowel sounds, English can be maddening.
There are so many tenses!
When I was in 6th grade, my grammar teacher made us conjugate the sentence, “She likes to dance,” in ALL the tenses in English, for all points of view. *shudder*
There are 12 – yes, 12 tenses in English, and some are difficult to translate the meaning in other languages.
Here they are:
You have tenses in the present:
Simple Present, Present Progressive, Present Perfect, Present Perfect Progressive
She dances, She is dancing, She has danced, She has been dancing
You have tenses in the past:
Simple Past, Past Progressive, Past Perfect, Past Perfect Progressive
She danced, She was dancing, She had danced, She had been dancing
You have tenses in the future:
Simple Future, Future progressive, Future Perfect, Future Perfect Progressive
She will dance, She will be dancing, She will have danced, She will have been dancing
*phew – my grammar teacher would be proud!
English has a lot of short idiomatic expressions.
While English may be a “piece of cake” to you, it’s tough for people who are “hitting the books” and studying every day.
Expressions like “piece of cake” and “hitting the books” are bizarre expressions if taken literally. They can really “throw people off” or confuse them, and we use them often!
Why do your fridge and dishwasher run, but your stove and oven are just on or off?
How can you “be into” a hobby when sitting at your desk?
Why would you hit the sack to fall asleep?
The world may never know.
The word ending "-ough" has several pronunciations.
There are some things that you have to practice and memorize. Unfortunately, the “-ough” ending is one of those things.
-ough can sound like “off,” as in cough and trough.
-gh can be silent while the ou sounds like the alphabet name “O” in the dough, although, and thorough.
-gh can be silent while the ou sounds like you just saw a cute puppy or baby, as in brought, sought, and thought.
-ough is like “uhh-ff” in rough, tough, and enough.
-ough is like “ow” with a silent gh in plough, drought, and bough, and it’s like “oo” with a silent gh in through.
Rules are more like guidelines.
The thing that stands out in your memory the most in English or grammar class is that “every rule has an exception.”
‘This’ sounds quite true, although other grammar or spelling rules usually override that other rule. Hence, the “exception,” Not to mention that each discipline/area seems to have a slightly different rulebook.
Here is a common one:
I before e except after c – did you know there’s another part to the mnemonic? Or when it sounded as A as in neighbor or weighed.
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So what do you think? Were any of these reasons surprising to you? Why do you think English makes no sense?