English, the third most spoken language in the world, is used in 118 countries. Around the world, 378,250,540 people speak it as a first language while 743,555,740 speak English as a second language for a total of 1,121,806,280 speakers according to Ethnologue. Moreover, it is widely taught around the world.
Given that, you'd think that English is one of the easiest languages to learn and that it is a language that is easy to understand.
English has been used for several centuries. It is the language of business and is the official language in aeronautical and maritime communications.
But most people, speakers and non-speakers, alike find learning English difficult and confusing as well. Some words in English are funny, too.
Origin of English
English came from the West Germanic branch of the Indo European language family. It was a mixture of several dialects introduced to Scotland and England by the Anglo-Saxons (Germanic settlers) developed in the 5th century from Scotland and England. The Norman French exerted a major influence on English in the 11th century, together with the language of the Church, which is Latin.
This is why there are many oddities in the English language. Due to the different rules of the languages that had influenced it, the conflicts were retained by its grammar.
Various items make learning English difficult and perplexing, particularly those who are learning it as a second language, and even those who already speak the language.
If you're not familiar with the term, homonyms are words that are pronounced and spelled similarly although their meanings are different. By context, it is easier for native English speakers to know the meaning but it's a source of confusion for learners, particularly the beginners.
Examples of homonyms:
- Tire. It could be rubber covering the wheels of your car or it could be the feeling of exhaustion after a long day.
- Bat. It could be the stick used to hit a baseball or a nocturnal flying mammal.
- Change. It could be the balance of the money you paid for a purchase. It could also mean alter, among other things.
- Deck. It could be a platform or porch. It could be a pack of playing cards.
- Groom. It can mean to tend to a horse to keep the animal healthy. It can also be the term for the man who intends to marry the bride.
- Hail. It could be to call for a taxi or the chunks of ice coming from the sky.
- Fall. It is the season after summer and before winter. It could also mean a decrease, rapid descent due to gravity, surrender, downward drop and more.
- Bark. It is the sound a dog makes when there is a stranger. It is also a tree's protective cover.
- Well. It is a source of water or the feeling after recovering from sickness.
- Light. It could be the source of illumination, something that is not heavy, or a device to start a fire.
Adding to the confusion are the homophones. They are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Their meanings are not similar as well. Some examples:
- to, too, two
- their, there, they’re
- teem team
- horse, hoarse
- barren, baron
- cruise, crews
- morning, mourning
- see, sea
- coward, cowered
More confusing words include the homographs. They are spelled in the same way but the meaning and the sound are different. Examples of homonyms include:
|Lead||The first; in charge of others||A type of soft, toxic heavy metal|
|Wind||Act of coiling a spring by turning a stem||Moving air|
|Bass||A fish||A musical instrument|
|Sow||Planting seeds||A mother pig|
|Wound||An injury||Coiled or arranged around|
|Close||Near||Shut an opening|
|Dove||Past tense of dive||A bird|
|Tear||Liquid falling from the eyes when someone is sad||A rip|
|Minute||Tiny||Equivalent of 60 seconds|
Negative words without positives
Generally, you can use the prefixes un- or in- to indicate the opposite of a word, like sane to insane or satisfactory to unsatisfactory. But in English, there are words where this rule does not apply.
For example, you say inert when you mean that something does not show any chemical reactions. Inhibit is another word. This means to discourage or prevent someone from showing impulses, desires or emotions. When a thing is upside down, you say it is inverted, but when it is right side up, you cannot say that the thing is verted. There is no such word as gruntled but you can use disgruntled when someone feels sulky or dissatisfied.
Flammable means that something ignites easily. You can also use inflammable to mean the same thing.
Odd spelling rules
English spelling can be tough. There are silent letters, such as in the words knee, reign, doubt, write, hour, psychosis, psychology, psychotic. Here are more words with silent letters:
- stoically, musically, artistically, romantically (silent A)
- tomb, thumb, subtle, numb, debt, crumb, comb, climb (silent B)
- scissors, muscle, acquire (silent C)
- bridge, edge, handsome, sandwich, Wednesday (silent D)
- breathe, like, name, hate (silent E)
- through, though, light, high, gnaw, champagne, sigh (silent G)
- whether, what, heir, ghost, honest (silent H)
Aside from these, the rule in making words plural can also be a source of confusion. The general rule is to add S or ES after the base word. But sometimes, this does not apply.
Regular plural: book – books, box – boxes, pencil – pencils, heart – hearts, arch – arches, bias – biases, wish - wishes
Irregular plural: lady – ladies, baby – babies
But these words are different:
- ox – oxen, but the plural of fox is foxes
- child – children (you cannot say childs)
- foot – feet
- tooth – teeth
- wife – wives
- goose – geese
- knife – knives (not knifes)
- mouse – mice (but the plural of house is houses)
Other words are singular and plural depending on how it is used, such as sheep, deer, moose and species. If you use specie, you mean coins or coinage and not a taxonomic group or category.
Many words, in different languages, not only English, are compound words or a combination of two or three words. However, there are also English words that can confound learners. In a way they are funny, if you analyze them. Look at these two examples:
- Hamburger. There is no ham in this type of sandwich
- Pineapple. There is no pine or apple in this fruit
While we're on the subject, here are some words that will make your eyes open wide:
- Bumfuzzle. This is a feeling of confusion, maybe when you are learning the English language.
- Cattywampus. It is generally used around the U.S. midland and southern areas. This means a state of disarray.
- Taradiddle. It refers to a lie or ostentatious nonsense.
- Widdershins. Something or someone that is moving in the opposite direction
- Collywobbles. When you have a bellyache, upset stomach or more likely ''butterflies in your stomach''.
- Gubbins. It is a device, gadget or object with small or absolutely no value.
- Bumbershoot. It is an umbrella.
- Lollygag. It is a person who does something useless.
- Flibbertigibbet. This is a person who does silly things and talks continuously.Malarkey. Foolish and insincere talk.
In English grammar, there are so many exceptions to the rule. For example, some verbs have different forms when they are in the past tense such as ''eat'' becomes ''ate,'' while ''fight'' becomes ''fought.'' ''Light'' becomes ''lit'' and ''bring'' becomes ''brought,'' while the past tense of ''buy'' is ''bought.''
The order of words for native speakers is instinctive. While grammatically correct, a native English speaker would prefer to use, ''an interesting little book'' instead of saying ''a little interesting book.'' In the first phrase, it means that the book is small and interesting while the second phrase means the book is slightly interesting.
Pronunciation of words in English takes on many forms as well. In Spanish, the words are generally pronounced as they are written. In English, some words with –ough are pronounced differently, so it could be ''-off,'' ''-uff,'' –''ow,'' or ''-oo.''
Synonyms in English are also difficult to comprehend, as some of them cannot be interchanged. You can ''see'' or ''watch'' a movie or film, but you can only ''watch TV.'' You can say that the swan has an elegant neck, but you cannot use ''chic'' or ''classic'' to refer to the neck of the swan.
There are many more rules and contradictions in the English language that can confuse both speakers and non-speakers. Several idioms can be icebreakers in conversations when you want to know more about the English language. English may be tough to understand at first when you are trying to learn it but sticking to it and supplementing your class lessons with watching videos, movies and news in English can help. Listen to music, too, as there are many beautiful songs that are available.
If you are a non-English speaker and you need accurate document translation from your language into English, Day Translations can help. We have a team of native English speakers who can help you professionally translate your document in the shortest time possible. You can send us an email at email@example.com or give us a call at 1-800-969-6853.
Image Copyright: inarik / 123RF Stock Photo