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Top 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.

Photo: Shutterstock

“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 a lot of people fix others too often. Although the expression “Mike and I went to the store” is correct, in some sentences it is quite correct to say “me”. A simple way to check: remove the other person from the sentence and notice whether the meaning of “me” or “I” is preserved. “Me went to the store” is not correct, but “My mom met me at the store” is completely 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” (short for “you are”) is easy to get confused. This is especially true in relation to “it's” and “its”. In almost any other situation, the apostrophe indicates the possession of something: Bob's car, Lisa's house, Reader's Digest. But when it comes to “it,” the possessive is the one without the apostrophe. “The rabbit crawled into its burrow” is an example of correct usage. In the case of “it's”, the apostrophe means that the word is short for “it is”. It serves 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 of the sentence, while “whom” refers to the object. 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 can also ask, “With whom did you go shopping?” Where the subject would be “You”. We recommend a hint to help you understand this issue. Replace the pronoun “who / whom” with “he / him” or “she / her”, rearranging the sentence if necessary: ​​“She went shopping with you” (“who”), but “You went shopping with her” (“whom” ).


From “goose / geese” to “mouse / mice” to “foot / feet,” English is full of plural forms that confuse even native speakers. And for some words, the plural sounds and looks exactly the same as the singular: for example, “deer”, “sheep” and even “aircraft”. In the case of the latter, this may be due to the word “craft” when it comes to an aircraft. It was probably a longer phrase earlier, but time has taken away some 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 about this is that “good” is mostly 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 shouldn't emphasize it - people will surely understand what you mean!

“Badly” or “bad”

If you “feel bad” about something that causes feelings of regret or remorse, or “feel bad” because of illness or trouble, you should use the word “bad”, not “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 is that you felt something by touching it physically. If your hand is numb because you slept on it, you may “feel badly”. True, in this case, people, as a rule, will also understand you.

Apostrophes in words ending in "s"

Which is correct: “I went to Lucas' for dinner” or “I went to Lucas's for dinner”? Oxford Living Dictionaries suggest this rule: add an apostrophe and an “s” as in the last example, when you actually say the additional “s” sound while reading the sentence aloud. Things get more confusing if the word ending in "s" is also plural. In this case, add “-es” and an apostrophe at the end: “The Joneses' car was blocking my driveway”.

"Could care less"

“I couldn't care less” means exactly that. You care so little that you don't care. It's embarrassing that people think that the phrase “could care less” means exactly the opposite! According to the Grammar Girl, the phrase “I couldn't care less” originated in the UK and made its way to the US 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 started to say “I could care less” sarcastically, which actually meant “I couldn't care less,” which means they really don't care.

capital letter

You know that you always have to use capital letters in names, but it gets more complicated with names and places. When talking about the eastern United States, should you use an uppercase E in eastern? Actually, no, because you are using this word as an adjective. In contrast, in the case of “the East Coast,” you need to capitalize both words, since the word “east” is part of a phrase.

Abbreviations with random letters

English abounds in acronyms that just don't make sense. Why does the abbreviation for “number” have an “O” in the spelling? And where did people get the “lbs” in “pounds” at all? But in most cases there is a linguistic explanation, usually related to the earlier use or meaning of the word. For example, in the case of "Mrs." the seemingly random letter "R" comes from the original word "mistress" as the equivalent of "master" rather than "missus". Over time, the connotation of the word "mistress" has changed, but the spelling of "Mrs." remained the same.

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

“Eg” vs. “Ie”

Why is this even abbreviated and why are the two abbreviations so similar? We explain. “Eg” is a short version of the Latin expression “exempli gratia”, which means “for example”. Therefore, “eg” is the expression 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 “though” and “through” rhyme ?! Why is “o” pronounced differently in “comb” and “bomb”? Or “plow” and “slow”? The English alphabet has a total of 26 letters, 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 starts with a vowel sound. But if you don't take that into account every time you say “the” - by the way, it's the most common word in English - we won't blame you for that!

silent letters

The confusion stems from the fact that sometimes the letters are present, but you don't pronounce them at all! Why is there an “s” in “island”? What is the meaning of the letter “k” in “know”? And why bother with “g” in “phlegm”? In many cases, unpronounceable letters remained in words because the pronunciation of words changed as the language developed, and the spelling remained the same. In other cases, the inconsistency occurs because 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 this way. “Lay” requires padding, but “lie” does not. Technically, saying “I need to lay down” is not correct, because it’s like you have 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 "lie" looks like ... "lay"! “He wasn't feeling well, so he lay down” - right. By the way, the past tense “lay” is “laid.”

"Neither" - singular or plural?

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

Is “None” singular or plural?

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

Read also on ForumDaily:

'Sweet tooth' and 'running nose': 10 English idioms you shouldn't translate verbatim

Why do Russians seem rude in dealing with Americans: personal experience

10 easy ways to pull up your English for the winter weekend

Personal experience: can they not be hired in the USA due to the Russian accent?

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