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Debunking Interesting Misconceptions and Myths about the English Language

Updated on June 19, 2013

1. English is a Particularly Difficult Language for Foreigners to Learn

This one has been thrown around a lot. No, English is not the simplest language there is but it is by no means counted among the most difficult for foreign learners. Its abnormally rich vocabulary and complex verb constructions can be intimidating but its lack of grammatical gender and case inflection for nouns (the pseudo-genitive ’s affixed to nouns to express possession is the only exception), articles, adjectives (with a handful of exceptions). This myth was debunked for me as soon as I began studying in Germany this September. Many were impressed with how well I could speak German in spite of its immense difficulty and laughed at my insistence that English is more difficult by comparison.

German is a heavily inflected language. An inflection is an alteration in a word that alters its function. Conjugations are all inflections of the infinitive form of the verb, for example. Adding ’s to the end of a noun changes the static word to an active possessor.

Compare these juxtaposed lists of English and German nouns with corresponding definite articles:

Nominative Case: Subject

Masculine: The old man / Der alte Mann

Feminine: The young woman / Die junge Frau

Neuter: The happy child / Das glückliche Kind

Plural: The happy children / Die glücklichen Kinder

Accusative Case: Object

Masculine: The old man / Den alten Mann

Feminine: The young woman / Die alte Frau

Neuter: The happy child / Das glückliche Kind

Plural: The happy children / Die glücklichen Kinder

Dative Case: Indirect Object (receiver)

Masculine: (To) the old man / Dem alten Mann

Feminine: (To) the young woman / Der jungen Frau

Neuter: (To) the happy child / Dem glücklichen Kind

Plural: (To) the happy children Den glücklichen Kindern

Genitive Case: Possessor

Masculine: (Of) the old man / Des alten Mannes

Feminine: (Of) the young woman / Der jungen Frau

Neuter: (Of) the happy child / Des glücklichen Kindes

Plural: (Of) the happy child / Der glücklichen Kinder

As you can see, the Germans inflect (change) their articles, adjectives, and (sometimes) nouns based on grammatical case and gender/number to do what we achieve primarily with prepositions in English. In German, we effectively have twelve different ways of saying “the” (among many others such as “a” “this” “every” and so forth). However, German has by no means the most complicated inflection system. Russian (with six cases) and Icelandic alter the noun much more heavily than German does, and Finnish has sixteen cases! Needless to say, the lack of grammatical case and gender makes English relatively simple compared to other European languages.

English verb conjugation also demands attention. Some verbs such as “to have to” and “to be able to” conjugate from their infinitive forms into only one other form in the present tense. Respectively: must and can. In most other cases, it is only in the third person singular that the present tense verb deviates from the rest of the pronouns:

I make/do/go... etc

you make/do/go... etc.

it makes/does/goes

we make/do/go

they make/do/go

2. English has a Latin Origin

This is a major misunderstanding of language history. Some go so far as to refer to Latin as the mother of languages. This is simply not the case. The Anglo-Saxons brought an early form of English from Northern Germany to the British Isles about 1000 years ago. English is a Western Germanic language closely related to Frisian, Dutch, and German. However, as the British became more sophisticated culturally and intellectually, there arose a fascination with the Latin language. It was considered the purest of languages which all others should seek to emulate. Also, there are a wide variety of English words with Latin origin that were adopted by English, especially for the uses of scientific and technical jargon. A great many more English words were taken from French during the Norman Conquest of 1066. An interesting note on the history of English’s French vocabulary: The Normans were actually descendents of Vikings who had entirely adopted French language and culture by the time of the 1066 Conquest. The French they spoke was actual a rural dialect, rather than standard Parisian. French is in fact a language that does descend directly from Latin (along with Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and a couple dozen other smaller languages and dialects thereof). The vast volume of Romance (directly or indirectly stemming from Latin) vocabulary is one of the reasons for this misunderstanding.

3. Shakespeare Wrote Old English

This is a common sentiment shared by frustrated high school students studying Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets or the young Christian trying to make his or her way through the King James Bible. However, Old English is what developed in Britain shortly after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon tribes over 1000 years ago, which gave way to Middle English during the Middle Ages, and then to Early-Modern English during the Early Modern Period which was ushered in with the Renaissance that began in Italy and spread throughout Europe by the beginning of the 16th Century. The English of Shakespeare’s era is admittedly rich in archaic vocabulary and expression, but it is a far cry from actual Old English, which, in written form, anyway, is more similar to modern Icelandic than anything Shakespeare ever wrote. We shall not forget that Shakespeare wrote with a highly poetic style rich in metaphor and double entendre that even his contemporary audience had difficulty accessing and appreciating.


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    • Spongy0llama profile imageAUTHOR

      Jake Brannen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      It certainly isn't. When I compare English grammar to the wildly irregular grammar of other languages I have dipped into, and even with the grammar of Old English, I really come to appreciate just how simple English really is. Sure, it has its idiosyncrasies and crazy spelling system, but that doesn't seem to be as bothersome for foreign speakers as a lot of us apparently like to think so.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      6 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      When I traveled in Germany I was amazed at the number of people I met who spoke excellent English, having studied it only in high school. So, I can readily believe that English is not that tough to learn compared to German (which I didn't get very far with!). Thanks for an enjoyable hub.

    • xxtonybxx profile image


      6 years ago from wales

      I am a bit of a geek about all this sort of thing lol. I got a little too excited when I discovered the etymology of the word "the" haha.

    • Spongy0llama profile imageAUTHOR

      Jake Brannen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Yes, you are very correct. English is certainly heavily derived from Latin, but originates from the Germanic tribes. "Whom" is another good dative inflection, although it is falling out of use.

    • xxtonybxx profile image


      6 years ago from wales

      Loved this hub! Very informative. I studied German and Italian. I must say though, although I agree that English is not Latin in origin, there was certainly a large amount of Latin influence. Old Low German, the "mother" language, was heavily influenced by so-called "soldier" Latin prior to the Angles and Saxons bringing it to Britain, as it was originally located on the frontier of the Roman Empire. The catholic church obviously maintained a huge influence on English from around the 8th/9th century onwards, and this was then expounded by the arrival of the Normans in the 11th century, and the influence of French.

      It is also interesting to note that some of our old inflections are still present in the language, albeit useless grammatically, for example, the dative "him" which really speaking is no longer necessary due to the inclusion of the preposition "to" (you could just as easily say "to he" and it would mean the same thing).

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      6 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      As a native English speaker, I found German vocabulary to be easy to learn. Scientific German, however, was tough because of those extra-long sentences, seperable-prefix verbs, and other peculiarities.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      This is a very interesting hub and I agree with the three myths which you present in this hub. I especially agree with your first point regarding the difficulty of learning English. English doesn't have the declensions and conjugations that German and many Romance languages have. When you compare written English with written Chinese, learning how to recognize and write Chinese characters is a lot tougher task then putting together words with 26 letters of the English alphabet. English also has punctuation which a lot of languages like Thai don't have. Voted up as interesting and sharing with followers.


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