5 Things You Thought You Knew About English

English is complicated. It’s not the most complicated language out there, but it’s complex and difficult.

Making it even more difficult is the fact that many of the things we’ve been told about the language are only partly true, or just plain wrong. Here are some of them.

I before E, except after C

Ok, how about neighbor, weird, leisure? As is, there are far too many exceptions to this rule to actually consider it a rule.

There’s a couple of long forms people use. One is “i before e except after c, or when sounded as a, as in neighbor and weigh”. Meaning if the sound produced is ‘ay’, it can become ei. Except this only very slightly narrows our list of exceptions to this rule. Exceptions include weird, height, either, forfeit, etc.

Another long form is “when the sound is e, i before e except after c”.  Ok, this again narrows down the exceptions, but far too many still exist, seize and caffeine being notable examples.

This rule is so bad that one linguist even stated that “i before e, always” would get you better results.

Wikipedia article
Hilarious examination of spelling rules by comedian Brian Regan

NEVER end a sentence with a preposition

This is a rule that someone just made up. Seriously. Someone just made it up. A long time ago, believing that Latin was superior to other languages, someone (Robert Lowth) assigned this rule of Latin grammar to English, which is a Germanic language. As you may imagine, it doesn’t work so well.

A preposition is a word that indicates a relationship between two things – in, on, under, about, of, at, and with are all great examples. And many times, their natural and proper place is at the end of the phrase. To put them elsewhere requires linguistic gymnastics generally unencountered in normal speech.

Consider:
What are you thinking about? Normal, with a preposition at the end.
About what are you thinking? Yuck. Just yuck.
I’m going to throw up. Normal, with a preposition at the end.
Up I’m going to throw. Now you’re just doing your Yoda impersonation.

Keep in mind though, UNNECESSARY prepositions are still a no-no, at the end or anywhere else. Not “where are you at?”, but instead “Where are you?”.
Good discussion

Don’t you mean Suzy and I?

This is what’s called hyper-correction. People take a rule that covers many cases, and they extend it to all cases. But:

I is a subject. It is the thing doing the verb. I went to the movies.
Me is an object. It is the thing the verb is happening to. He gave me some cake.
It’s not because we’ve added another person to the sentence that an object suddenly becomes a subject. So the correct forms would be Suzy and I went to the movies and He gave Suzy and me some cake.

Simply remove the other person, and use the word that comes naturally.

More info here

Don’t start your sentence with And or But

There’s not much to discuss about this one; it’s simply not true. All of the modern style-guides, dictionaries, and linguists agree this is a myth, so feel free to do so. But be careful not to do it too often.

More info 

Irregardless is not a word

Irregardless should not be a word. It really shouldn’t – it’s incredibly painful to hear someone speak it, worse to see it written – and if you correct someone on this by telling them it’s either ‘regardless’ or ‘irrespective’, you are technically correct. But this ‘word’ has been so frequently tossed around that the dictionaries finally said “Ok, we surrender; we’ll put it in, if you insist”.

This abomination of a word has been included in American English dictionaries since at least the ’60’s.

Irregardless in Merriam-Webster

Now I want to hear from you – what myths have you heard about ‘correct’ English?

More language-related posts on this blog

Tevye’s Guide To English Language Conditionals
What Is Hack Value? (Or Unnecessarily Complex English)
5 Ways English Frustrates The French

Image provided by user Surachai at freedigitalphotos.net

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2 thoughts on “5 Things You Thought You Knew About English

  1. Cool post. I had a linguistics professor that made us memorize a sentence (which I’ve forgotten) which included all (9 or so) exceptions to the “i before e” rule. Another word is “weir.” Dam, weir’s a weird word.

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