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The 20 most confusing rules in English: what to remember and what to ignore

English can be very confusing. Reader's Digest offers to deal with 20 confusing rules and find out which ones you use incorrectly and which ones you can completely ignore in modern English.

Фото: Depositphotos

“Me” vs. “I”

If you say, “Me and Mike went to the store,” most likely someone in the US will correct you by saying, “Mike and I!” But the problem is that many people correct others too often. Although the expression “Mike and I went to the store” is correct, in some sentences it would be quite correct to say “me”. A simple way to check: remove the other person from the sentence and note whether the meaning of “me” or “I” is preserved. “Me went to the store” is incorrect to say, but “My mom met me at the store” is absolutely correct. Therefore, it is grammatically correct to say: “My mom met me and my dad at the store”, and not “my dad and I”.

“It's” vs. “Its"

Using “its,” “there”, “your” and “you're” (an abbreviated version of “you are”) is easy to get confused. This is especially true in relation to “it's” and “its”. In almost any other situation, an apostrophe indicates possession of something: Bob's car, Lisa's house, Reader's Digest. But when it comes to “it,” the possessive form is a form without an apostrophe. “The rabbit crawled into its burrow” is an example of good use. In the case of “it's”, the apostrophe means that the word is an abbreviation of “it is”. It performs the same function as the apostrophe in “won't” or “shouldn't”.

Who vs. whom

This is a simple rule, but only at first glance. “Who” refers to the subject in the sentence, while “whom” refers to the appendix. But when you try to use them, it’s easy to make a mistake. You ask: “Who went shopping with you?” Because “Who” is the subject. But you may also ask: “With whom did you go shopping?”, Where “You” will be the subject. We recommend a hint to help you figure this out. Replace the pronoun “who / whom” with “he / him” or “she / her”, changing the sentence if necessary: ​​“She went shopping with you” (“who”), but “You went shopping with her” (“whom” )


From “goose / geese” to “mouse / mice” and “foot / feet,” the English language is full of multiple forms that make even those who speak it bewildered. And for some words, the plural sounds and looks exactly like the singular: for example, “deer”, “sheep” and even “aircraft”. In the case of the latter, this may be due to the word “craft” in the case of an aircraft. It used to be a longer sentence, but time has removed some of the words. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the old expression may have been something like “vessels of small craft”. Deer, however, is much more confusing.

On the subject: 14 rules in English that you can safely ignore

British and American spelling

Even in the same English language, standardized spelling is not guaranteed. The fact that there is a British and American spelling of different words is terrifying for linguists and applicants in English-speaking countries. For different spellings, we can thank the American revolutionaries. In 1789, the fame of Noah Webster from the Webster dictionary was the impetus for the "American" variations of some words. For the most part, word changes included the removal of “extra” letters, such as “U” in “color” and the final “-me” in “program”.

End of sentence preposition

This is one rule that grammar sticklers love to argue about.) Since the word “preposition” comes from the Latin word meaning “to put before”, some insist that prepositions should always go before the prepositional objects associated with them. However, although this is true for Latin grammar, claims that "English grammar is different from Latin grammar, and the rule is not in English." However, the discussion continues.

“Good” or “well”

The hardest part of this is that “good” is basically an adjective (although it can be a noun), and “well” is an adverb. When people say: “I'm doing good,” they use “good” as an adverb with the verb “doing”. Technically, “I'm doing well” is the correct phrase, and “I'm doing good” means that you are doing good deeds like a superhero. But if you are not a perfectionist, you should not emphasize this - people will probably understand what you mean!

“Badly” or “bad”

If you “feel bad” about something that causes a feeling of regret or remorse, or “feel bad” due to illness or trouble, you need to use the word “bad” rather than “badly”. The difficulty here is that “badly” is also an adverb. But simply because of the different uses of the verb “feel,” the only time “I feel badly” is completely correct to say if it is that you felt something by touching it physically. If your hand is numb because you slept on it, you can “feel badly”. True, in this case, people, as a rule, will also understand you.

Apostrophes in words ending in "s"

How to: “I went to Lucas' for dinner” or “I went to Lucas's for dinner”? Oxford Living Dictionaries offer this rule: add an apostrophe and “s”, as in the last example, when you actually pronounce the additional sound “s” while reading the sentence aloud. Everything becomes more confused if the word ending in “s” also appears in the plural. In this case, add “-es” and an apostrophe at the end: “The Joneses' car was blocking my driveway”.

Фото: Depositphotos

“Could care less”

“I couldn't care less” means exactly that. You care so little that you don't care. It is embarrassing for people to think that the phrase “could care less” means the exact opposite! According to Grammar Girl, the phrase “I couldn't care less” originated in the UK and reached the United States in the 1950s. The phrase “I could care less” appeared in the United States about 10 years later. Harvard professor Stephen Pinker suggested that people began to say “I could care less” with sarcasm, which actually meant “I couldn't care less,” that is, they really don't care.

capital letter

You know that you always need to use capital letters in names, but it’s more and more complicated with names and places. When you talk about the eastern United States, do you need to use the capital letter E in the word “eastern”? Actually, no, because you use this word as an adjective. In contrast, in the case of “the East Coast”, you need to capitalize both words, as the word “east” is part of the phrase.

Abbreviations with random letters

English is replete with abbreviations that simply do not make sense. Why does the abbreviation for “number” spell “O”? And where did people get “lbs” in the word “pounds”? But in most cases there is a linguistic explanation, usually related to an earlier use or meaning of the word. For example, in the case of “Mrs.,” the seemingly random letter “R” appeared due to the original word “mistress”, as the equivalent of the word “master” rather than “missus”. Over time, the connotation of the word “mistress” has changed, but the spelling “Mrs.” has remained the same.

On the subject: 13 English abbreviations you may not have known

“Eg” vs. “Ie”

Why is it abbreviated at all and why are these two abbreviations so similar? We explain. “Eg” is a short version of the Latin expression “exempli gratia”, which means “for example”. Therefore, “eg” is an expression that you should use before providing an example or examples: “I like all of the common Thanksgiving foods, eg, stuffing, turkey, and cranberry sauce”. Many people use “ie” in this context, although “ie” means something completely different: “id est,” which means “that is.” Use “ie” when you are trying to explain or clarify something just said: “I'll get back to you soon, ie, before the end of the week.”

Oxford comma

Some textbooks insist on this punctuation mark; some are not. This is actually a comma used before a union, before the last item in a list of three or more elements. For example: “At the store, I bought apples, pears, bananas, and blueberries.” Should there be a comma after the word “bananas” or not? Sometimes it’s important to keep the meaning of the sentence. Try writing like this: “I love my friends, chocolate and rock music”. What is wrong here? Most likely, chocolate and rock music are not the friends you talked about, so the comma after “chocolate” is required. But in the example with fruits, this does not change the meaning, therefore the word “and” has the same function as the Oxford comma, and it is optional here.

“Which” vs. “That”

“Which” and “that” are both relative pronouns: they start the main sentence and associate it with the subjunctive. In fact, they serve the same grammatical purpose, so people use them interchangeably. Is it correct? According to the rules, “which” should be used only with a comma, while “that” should be left unchanged for sentences, when it matters to preserve the meaning of the phrase. For example: “I liked the cookies that Isabel made better than the store-bought ones” or “We ate the cookies, which Isabel made, in less than five minutes”. But, in truth, this is some kind of deep grammatical pedantry, and people are not inclined to strictly adhere to this rule.

Depressing pronunciation

Seriously, why don't rhymes “though” and “through” ?! Why is “o” pronounced differently in the words “comb” and “bomb”? Or “plow” and “slow”? There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but each of these letters can have up to seven different pronunciations. For example, you technically have to pronounce “the” as “thee” when the next word begins with a vowel. But if you do not take this into account every time you say “the” - by the way, this is the most common word in English, we won’t blame you for that!

silent letters

The confusion is connected with the fact that sometimes letters are present, but you don’t pronounce them at all! Why is there “s” in the word “island”? What is the meaning of the letter “k” in the word “know”? And why bother with the “g” in “phlegm”? In many cases, unpronounceable letters remained in the words because the pronunciation of words changed as the language developed, and the spelling remained the same. In other cases, the discrepancy is due to the fact that the words came from other languages, such as “tsunami” from Japanese and “rendezvous” from French.

“Lay” or “lie”?

When it comes to confusing words, what could be worse than “lay” and “lie”? These words are not interchangeable, although many people use them in this way. “Lay” needs to be complemented, but “lie” does not. Technically, saying “I need to lay down” is incorrect, because you are supposed to put something. “Please lay that expensive book down on the table carefully” is the correct use of “lay.” But the real confusion is that the past tense of “lie” looks like ... “lay”! “He wasn't feeling well, so he lay down” - right. By the way, the past tense is “lay” - “laid.”

“Neither” - singular or plural?

When you say “neither,” you mean more than one person or thing, so “neither” should take the form of the verb in the plural, right? Not really. Both “neither” and “either” are always singular, if both things / living creatures that you are talking about are also singular: “Neither the dog [one dog] nor the cat [one cat] is responsible for the mess ”. The same story with the phrase “Neither of the pets is responsible” - although “pets” is plural, “neither” still means “none”. The only time this works for the plural is if one or both of the subjects are in the plural: “Neither Lady Gaga nor the Backstreet Boys are performing tonight” would be the right sentence, since the group’s closest verb name is “the Backstreet Boys”, has a plural. Fuh!

“None” - singular or plural?

If “neither” has a singular, “none” should, too, right? To be honest, in this case, even grammar experts roll their eyes and say: "Decide for yourself." As a rule, if the subject in the sentence is an uncountable noun, the singular verb makes sense: “None of the beer is left.” But if it is a specific number of people or things, you can use the verb in the plural - and it sounds better : “None of my cousins ​​are coming to dinner”.

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