English is Weird

This post is all about things I didn’t realize about my mother tongue until I started teaching it as a second language.

English is actually really weird. Sometimes I feel like I need to apologize to my students for how strange English is, almost like she is a crazy old great aunt.
‘I am sorry, I don’t know why she does that. You’ll just have to get used to it, because she isn’t changing!’

1. -ED Magic

When you add ed to make a verb past tense it can make three different sounds:
Looked and laughed sound like they end with a t.
Peeled and honored sound like they end with a d, but the e isn’t pronounced.
Added and exited actually sound like they end in ed.
Many of my students want to say ‘I look-ed at her!’

2. Prepositions

Prepositions are basically assigned randomly. They may make sense to you when you read them but that is because you are brainwashed:)

On a bus
In a car
At school
On the playground
On the weekend (at the weekend if you are British-weirdos!)
In an hour
On Friday
In the afternoon
At night
Travel to
Arrive at the restaurant
Arrive in France

cartoon

3. To do or to make, that is the question! 

Make vs do is not not easy!

In French they only have one word which encompasses make and do: faire. So even asking them to split up faire into two different concepts in their minds is difficult. My students always mess this up.

Normally make is for producing, constructing, creating or building something new.

Do is for tasks and jobs.

But there are so many expressions that don’t follow these simple rules, especially with make

you do the dishes but you make the bed
make money
make friends
do exercises
make up your mind
make a face
make a bet
make an escape
make a decision

If you want to check it out on this grammar website it is actually uber confusing: http://www.vocabulary.cl/Intermediate/Do_Make.htm

do-vs-make-01-2

makevsdo

4. Conditionals

When making one type of conditional sentence, you use simple past tense for the if clause.

If I won a million dollars, I would buy a house.
If I was president, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
If all the zoo animals escaped, there would be chaos.

This is hard for English learners to wrap their heads around because why would you use the past tense to talk about something that has not happened and probably never will?

4. Spelling

Some words have random silent letters that I never noticed before. I only realize they are silent when my students mess up the words as they are reading aloud.

Answer
Receipt
Listen
Sword
Hour

Ocean… Why is it spelled like that and pronounced like oshun?

The gh combo can make the f sound, as in tough, or it can be silent as in through.

There are the double oo’s and the craziness that is ou.

Blood and flood
Food and mood

None of these ou’s makes the same sounds

thought, through, thorough, tough
My students generally stumble when reading those words. Sometimes it isn’t even close at all!

practical-english-2

5. Infinitives and gerunds

Infinitives and gerunds after other verbs- really confusing.

Just a review, (hang with me here) infinitives are to +verb as in to go, to play, to work, to live.

Gerunds are verb +ing as in going, playing, working, living.

-For some verbs you can follow with both a gerund or infinitive but it changes the meaning of the sentence.

Ann remembered bringing her wallet to the beach
Ann remembered to bring her wallet to the beach.

He stopped smoking.
He stopped to smoke. (As in he stopped what he was doing and took a smoke break)

Not the same thing!!

-For some verbs you can follow with both a gerund or infinitive and it doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence.

I like to play basketball.
I like playing basketball.

-There are many verbs that can only be followed by a gerund or infinitive and they are mostly assigned randomly.

Gerunds:

Avoid: He avoided going to school. (He avoided to go to school)
Imagine: Helen imagines working there one day. (Helen imagines to work there one day)

Infinitives:

Agree: James agreed to lower the price (James agreed lowering the price)
Decide: We decided to stay home during the holidays. (We decided staying home during the holidays)

Imagine learning English as a second language and coming across this fun brain twister. The right answer for the gerund vs infinitive rule seems obvious to us but it is actually super hard!

6. Live and read
Then there are read and live which can be pronounced two different ways depending on the context.
I live in boulogne-Billancourt
This broadcast is being brought to you live from New York!
Have you read this book?
Read this book!

7. The THE enigma

There are some many different rules!! This little tidbit is just talking about proper names.

You wouldn’t say, ‘At the Panama beach on Pacific coast in the California, we could dip our toes in Pacific ocean while looking at sun.’ *Cringe!*

Rather you would say, ‘At Panama beach on the Pacific Coast in California, we could dip our toes into the Pacific ocean while looking at the sun.’

Use THE with the names of:

oceans
seas
coasts
rivers
swamps
archipelagos
collections of lakes (such as the Great Lakes)
mountain chains
deserts
references on the globe (such as the Equator, the North Pole)
geographic regions (such as the Northwest, the Middle East)
bridges (except Tower Bridge)
pagodas
hotels
theaters
museums
institutes
skyscrapers
the Sun, the Moon
extraordinary works of art or architecture (such as the Mona Lisa, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal)

But do not use THE with:

individual lakes
individual islands
beaches
waterfalls
individual mountains (except the Matterhorn)
canyons (except the Grand Canyon)
people’s first names
streets (except the High Street)
public squares
hospitals
stadiums
malls
parks
churches
temples
universities
colleges
languages
religions
days
months
holidays
HOWEVER: There are additional exceptions to some of the above categories. For example, THE is often used in the pattern “the … of …”.

Examples:

The University of Colorado
The Temple of Ranakpur
The Cathedral of Siena

This is just a small exert taken from a large article on when and when not to use the/a/an (http://www.englishpage.com/articles/advanced-articles.htm)

8. Adjective order

And finally, there is this!

adjectives

The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth

funny

And we can read this sign the wrong way because of this rule:)

At the end of the day, it is amazing to think about how we native speakers internalize all of these rules and use them effortlessly and without thinking.

Let us observe a moment of silence for the poor souls who are trying to learn our language…

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2 thoughts on “English is Weird

  1. Pingback: English is Weird Reprise – Erin in Paris

  2. Pingback: Goodbye France! – Erin in Paris

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