Top 20 most confusing rules in English: what to remember and what to ignore - ForumDaily
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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 in the USA someone will correct you by saying: “Mike and I!” But the problem is that many people correct others too often. Although "Mike and I went to the store" is correct, in some sentences it would be quite correct to say "me". An easy way to check: remove the other person from the sentence and see if the meaning of “me” or “I” is still there. “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"

It's easy to get confused when using “its,” “there,” “your,” and “you're” (a shortened version of “you are”). 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 the form 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 a contraction of “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 a sentence, while “whom” refers to the object. But when you try to use them, it's easy to make mistakes. 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 is “You”. We recommend a hint that will 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” and “foot/feet,” the English language is full of plural forms that baffle even those who speak it from birth. 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”, if we are talking about an aircraft. It probably used to be a longer phrase, 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.

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 tricky part about this is that “good” is basically an adjective (though 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 a correct phrase, and “I'm doing good” means that you do good deeds like a superhero. But if you're not a perfectionist, don't emphasize this - people will probably understand what you mean!

“Badly” or “bad”

If you “feel bad” about something that causes you to feel regret or remorse, or “feel bad” about an illness or trouble, you should use the word “bad” rather than “badly.” The difficulty here is that “badly” is also an adverb. But simply because of the various uses of the verb “feel,” the only time “I feel badly” is completely correct is if it means that you felt something by physically touching it. If your arm 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 suggests this rule: add an apostrophe and an "s", as in the last example, where you actually make an extra "s" sound when reading the sentence out loud. 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. The confusing thing is that people think 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 US in the 1950s. The phrase “I could care less” appeared in the United States about 10 years later. Harvard professor Steven Pinker suggested that people started saying “I could care less” sarcastically, which actually meant “I couldn't care less,” meaning they didn't really care.

capital letter

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

Abbreviations with random letters

The English language is full of acronyms that simply don't make sense. Why is the abbreviation for “number” spelled “O”? And where did people even get the “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" came from 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 of "Mrs." 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 the two acronyms so similar? Let's explain. “Eg” is a short version of the Latin expression “exempli gratia,” which means “for example.” Therefore, “eg” is an 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”? There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but each of these letters can have up to seven different pronunciations. For example, you should technically pronounce “the” as “thee” when the next word begins with a vowel sound. But if you don't take this into account every time you say “the” - which, by the way, is the most common word in English, we won't blame you!

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 the word “island”? What is the meaning of the letter "k" in the word "know"? And why is there a “g” in “phlegm” at all? In many cases, unpronounceable letters remained in words because the pronunciation of words changed as the language developed, but the spelling remained the same. In other cases, the discrepancy is due to words coming from other languages, such as “tsunami” from Japanese and “rendezvous” from French.

“Lay” or “lie”?

When it comes to confusing words, what's worse than “lay” and “lie”? These words are not interchangeable, although many people use them that way. “Lay” requires an addition, but “lie” does not. Technically, it is incorrect to say “I need to lay down” because it sounds like you have to put “something” down. “Please lay that expensive book down on the table carefully” is the correct use of “lay.” But the real confusion comes from the fact that the past tense “lie” looks like… “lay”! “He wasn't feeling well, so he laid down” - correct. By the way, the past tense of “lay” is “laid.”

Is “Neither” singular or plural?

When you say “neither,” you mean more than one person or thing, so “neither” must take a plural verb form, right? Not really. Both “neither” and “either” are always singular if both things/living beings you are talking about are also singular: “Neither the dog [one dog] nor the cat [one cat] is responsible for the mess.” It's the same story with the phrase “Neither of the pets is responsible”—even though “pets” is plural, “neither” still means “neither.” The only time this works for plurals is if one or both subjects are plural: “Neither Lady Gaga nor the Backstreet Boys are performing tonight” would be a correct sentence, since the band name closest to the verb is “the Backstreet Boys” has a plural form. Phew!

Is “None” singular or plural?

If “neither” has a singular number, “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 of a sentence is an uncountable noun, a singular verb makes sense: “None of the beer is left.” But if you're talking about a specific number of people or things, you can use a plural verb - and it sounds better: “None of my cousins ​​are coming to dinner.”

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