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6 Peculiarities of the English Language That Are Mind-Boggling for English Learners

6 Peculiarities of the English Language That Are Mind-Boggling for English Learners | ITTT | TEFL Blog

From the days of Chaucer and Shakespeare to the present the English language has been filled with some amazingly peculiar and bizarre examples of speech and grammar. As the English sailed around the globe colonizing it to the extent the “sun never set on the British empire” the number of words that were adopted by the language could not help but grow. Along with this vocabulary growth so to did the number of expressions and grammatical rules that seem to make no sense when actually examined. One could say that English has been beating up other languages in dark alleys, then going through their pockets for loose grammar and spare vocabulary for centuries.

This post was written by our ITTT graduate Jon C.

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Chop down or chop up?

English can be a confusing method of communication even for native speakers. One chops “down” a tree, but then chops “up” firewood. Trying to explain the different uses of “up” and “down” to a non native speaker of English can be one of the more daunting exercises one can subject themselves to.

Ough words

Then imagine why a new learner might be confused when being confronted with words that have “ough” in them. The fact that “ough” can be pronounced many different ways; cough, rough, bough, through, thorough, thought, . While other words are spelled differently but pronounced the same way, such as cell and sell, wheel and weal, gnu and knew. Then there is the classic there, their and they’re.

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Red or reed?

Further confusion arises from words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently. Route being pronounced either “root” or “rout”, read being pronounced “reed” or “red”. Other words that also fall into this special class of confusion are either, content, tear, dove, invalid, desert and sewer.

Silent Letters

Then we find ourselves in a special little minefield, the world of words that have a silent letter in them. Some examples from this world of pain are gnat, knife, aisle, debt, soften and dumb.

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“oo” words

Our next stop on this train ride into the absurd are words that contain “oo” but sound different. Blood and flood sound like cud or mud. Good, hood, stood, wood, shook, brook, crook, look all sound alike. Food, boot, mood, scoot, roof and hoof all have a long “u” sound. Floor and door have long “o” sounds.

Buffalo what?

We are now possibly at the deepest pit of grammatical hell with the following sentence:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

This sentence is grammatically correct because buffalo is a noun, a hooved animal that is sometimes incorrectly called a bison, it is a city in New York State and it is also a verb that means to intimidate or overawe someone. So to paraphrase this sentence so that it does not hurt your brain, here goes. Bison from Buffalo, New York, that are intimidated by other bison in the community also intimidate other bison in Buffalo.

What are you favorite English peculiarities?

How these peculiarities came about are as organic and ever evolving as the English language continues to adapt to our ever changing world. Native speakers take these types of expressions in stride generally not even thinking about the actual word structure being used. These peculiarities can be maddening for someone trying to learn English however.

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