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The Crazy English Language

Updated on December 1, 2011

why the English language is so hard to learn

I love the English language, but I certainly am glad that I grew up speaking it! It must be terribly difficult to learn for non-native speakers. One thing that makes the English language so difficult to learn is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pronunciation. A simple word like “bass” can be pronounced two different ways and have two completely different meanings. And just think of the different meanings of the word “check,” even though they’re all pronounced exactly the same way. Another problem is that the English language includes so many synonyms. For example, just how many words do we include that mean “small”? Just off the top of my head, I recall little, tiny, diminutive, miniature, wee, and teeny. Join me in a stroll through this crazy English language!

Should more than one fox be "foxen"?
Should more than one fox be "foxen"?

Homonyms and heteronyms and heterographs - oh my!


What are homonyms?

Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but they have different meanings. Examples of homonyms:

I left the papers on the left side of the desk

I watched the lean man lean into the blow.

I need to check on the check I sent to the power company.

His desire to punch someone was the result of drinking too much punch.

I’ll need a bat to get rid of the bat flying around in my bedroom.

Masked balls used to feature jesters juggling balls.

Did the vet send you a bill for mending your duck’s bill?

Catching the fluke at the beach last year was just a fluke.

I’m going to steep some tea over the fire before we begin our steep climb.

I think I’ll have a glass of tea before changing into my tee.

I long to have long hair.


What are heteronyms?

Heteronyms are words that are spelled the same, but they’re pronounced differently and have different meanings. Examples of heteronyms:

Do you ever wind your watch when the wind is blowing?

The invalid in the nursing home had an invalid account.

If a largemouth bass could sing, would it have a bass voice?

I’ll have a real contest on my hands when I go to court to contest the will.

The boys had a row about which ones were going to row the boat.

Are you going to desert me here in the middle of the desert?

I need to digest my lunch before I read the digest.

The moderate politician is going to moderate the debate.


What are heterographs?

Heterographs are words that sound the same, but they’re spelled differently, and they have different meanings. Examples of heterographs:

There’s no room in the inn.

I know of no other books like this.

She’s the one who won the 50-yard dash.

Their house is over there.

I took my son outdoors to enjoy the sun.

I can’t hear you from here.

My horse is hoarse from neighing too much.

Of course, sandpaper is coarse.

What have you done with the dun pony?

Be sure to close the lid to the clothes hamper.

Does a hare have fur or hair?


More English language points to ponder

If you can have two beers, why can’t you have two deers?

Why is the plural of mouse mice and the plural of louse lice, but the plural of house is houses?

The plural of ox is oxen, but the plural of fox isn’t foxen.

Is an asset a small donkey?

It two times is twice, and three times is thrice, why isn’t four times fice?

How can a house burn up and burn down at the same time?

If the prefix “in” means “not,” why is something invaluable worth so much?

If the suffix “less” means “without,” how come something priceless is so expensive?

Why don’t we pronounce the “th” in “clothes” when we pronounce it in “clothing”?

Why is feeling “under par” bad, but shooting under par is good?

Why do we say “sick as a dog”? My dogs are seldom ill. And why do we say “work like a dog” when the overwhelming majority of canines are unemployed?

Why is “everyone” singular?

Why is “pants” plural, but “shirt” is singular?

Why do some of us “cheese it up” or become “hams” in front of a camera, even though photography has nothing to do with dairy products or pork?


That ubiquitous four-letter word

I just had to include my thoughts on a very popular four-letter word in the English language. For TOS purposes, I’ll use the word “spit.” The actual word includes the letter “h.” It’s the only curse word my mom would ever utter. I asked her about that one day, and she explained that there are times when no other word would do. She added that the word is also very versatile and can be used in a variety of situations and entail a number of meanings. Check these out:

Extreme joy: Oh, spit! I just won the lottery!

Anger: Spit! I left my keys in the car.

Location: Where in the spit did I put my glasses?

Discovery: What in the spit are you doing?

Disbelief: I don’t believe that spit.

Incredulity: Are you spitting me?

Shock/surprise: Spit! You scared me!

Value: That’s not worth spit.

Culinary: Eat spit!

Descriptive: You look like spit.

Medical: I feel like spit.

Frustration: Spit. I keep getting the wrong answer.

Confrontational: I’m going to beat the spit out of you.

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    • mjfarns profile image

      mjfarns 5 years ago from Bloomington, Illinois USA

      Great hub! I agree that it's a lot to ask of a non-English speaker to speak and write our language with any kind of consistency.

    • chicagoguy profile image

      Raj Lally Batala 5 years ago from Chicago ,USA

      love reading these kind of lovely articles !!thx

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      "I need to check on the check I sent to the power company". Now let's confuse non-English speaking people even more ...

      "I need to check on the cheque I sent to the power company"

      In some English speaking countries there are two ways of spelling the word "check" as in the monetary kind.

      Great hub Habee, love your use of the word "spit" too.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      One reason you don't want to depend on spell check.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 5 years ago from London, UK

      Totally agree with you. It is crazy.

      American English confuses my students learning English here in UK. Organise/Organize - humor/humour. Even the way we say certain words.

      UK - Send the money via Cheque.

      US - Send the money via Check.

      I could go on and on.

      Lovely Hub.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      They're not going to like their stuff going over there. You missed one of the they're words. Try pluralizing some words. I get so confused and I majored in English. I was also born in the US. I can't keep all of the rules straight, how can they?

    • profile image

      jenubouka 5 years ago

      This is so true, I have a hard time with configuring what is what.

      I love your part on the four letter word, though mine begins with f and let me tell you I can think of a hundred ways to use this, I have.

    • wixor profile image

      wixor 5 years ago

      Very interesting hub.

      The four letter word was so on the mark. The "f" 4 letter word is even more versatile of course!

      I suspect some of the sayings like "work like a dog" have a very interesting history. I do know something like "raining cats and dogs" had something to do with the plague.

      I often hear or read things and although I know what they mean, WHY do they mean what they do!

    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      Loved this hub. Right up my alley. :) I have always been fascinated by the many nuances of the english language—and there are many as you pointed out. Gallagher used to do a bit about the english language that was brilliant and hilarious at the same time. Great stuff. Great hub Holle.

      BTW, happened to notice a typo. "Homonyms are words that have the same meaning and the same pronunciation, but they have different meanings." Just thought I'd pass that along.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      MJ, thanks a bunch for reading!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Chicago, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      MPG, American English and Brit English certainly have their differences, which add to the confusion that is the English language. lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Daho, that's what I try to tell people. Spellcheck won't identify a usage error, either.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Lady E, so great to see you! Hope you've been well!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Becky - too true. That's why I'm so glad I was born into an English language family! lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      jenu, I think both of those words are very useful and versatile! lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Wixor, I've been wanting to write a hub about the history of common expressions. Thanks for reading!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Jim, I had no idea you were still here on HP! Wonderful to see you!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very inspiring hub, habee. I love English language though I am not good enough (fluently). I know that my hub wasn't perfect and less with grammar or spelling. But I hope my existence in hubpages make me confident in sharing useful information. Thank you very much. Rated up!

      Prasetio

    • carol3san profile image

      Carolyn Sands 5 years ago from Hollywood Florida

      Nice hub Habee, and very interesting. There are so many different ways to use the language, and so many of our words sound alike. I'm sure it is very difficult for someone to learn it asa second language.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub.. I think English would have to be so difficult to learn. I bet the concept of "so" is a hard one to grasp.. Very interesting. Enjoyed it!

    • profile image

      Mohammad Wasim 5 years ago from To become a good human being need love.

      One thing is very important to encourage people ,just to write ,what you think. English is not the mother language of lot off hub's writer.

      The definition of language is, " understanding between two person is called language"

      So, no one need to hesitate to write. It is a great honour to write in foreign languages. Practice makes a man perfect. My best wishes such a wroters.

    • pennyofheaven profile image

      pennyofheaven 5 years ago from New Zealand

      I learn something new everyday. Thanks for being an excellent teacher!

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 5 years ago from USA

      Well, I wish you had been my English teacher, it would surely have been more enjoyable! Thanks for giving me another word to express my intense emotions besides "fish sticks". Spit just sounds better!! Voted up and shared:)

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Very interesting!

      I love language, too.

      As for the 'four-letter-word', well, that is a definite no-no, for me. They all are, really. I don't like them at all. Milder versions are fine, but not those considered 'obscenities' or 'bad language'. Their development and history are interesting, though, as are the apparently different attitudes to the same words in Britain and the USA.

      As for 'clothes', I always pronounce the 'th' ~ I thought that everyone did ??? :)

    • wixor profile image

      wixor 5 years ago

      I find it amusing when people claim we have moved on and should accept bad language; "everyone is saying the f-word." My reply is that if I hear newsreaders using the f-word, then fine.

    • brandasaur profile image

      brandasaur 5 years ago from Planet X

      Really English language is very hard to learn, most especially those persons that aren't native in speaking in English. But we all have to learn it because that's the universal language.

      Some of my confusions is really the pronunciation of the word because english words do have letters even that are not pronounced in a word. So even spelling, we all do have confusions with it most especially when we think that this word is similar to the other word.

      So I thank you habee for this article. I learned a lot from it.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Prasetio, your hubs are always fascinating!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Carol, thanks for stopping by!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Tammy - good point! So, you think the English language is so hard to learn - or do you think it's just so-so? lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Mohammad, thanks for visiting!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      No, Penny - thank YOU for reading!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Donna, I do think I was a good teacher. I was certainly a fun teacher!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Trish, I don't know anyone who pronounces the "th" in clothes. Maybe it's a southern thing?? lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Wix, I rarely drop the f-bomb. lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Brandasaur, don't feel bad. Many folks who grew up speaking the English language can't spell for spit!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Habee :)

      Interesting re 'Clothes'.

      Maybe it's an American pronunciation.

      I'm in England. I've been asking people about this and everyone, so far, has pronounced the 'th'.

      This reminds me of a thing I heard a few years ago about people pronouncing 'handbag' as 'hambag'.

      It seems that many people do pronounce it this way ~ but I never have and neither has anyone in my family.

      Allowing for language evolution, I wonder whether these are acceptable variations or whether one is actually considered more 'correct'?

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 5 years ago from Western Australia

      Very useful for me, my dear fellow hubber...I believe 'nearly everything is acceptable in English', it is very flexible language and that is one of the reasons of its well spread popularity all over the world:)

    • ahostagesituation profile image

      SJR 5 years ago

      As much as I LOVE the English language, and I definitely do, I am so with you on the fact that I'm happy it's my first language. I'd have to learn this as a second language! Other languages follow rules!! English does what it wants, and then the SPEAKER is the nitwit if he/she doesn't just know that they're being thrown a homonym/heteronym curve ball...

    • purp-drag913 profile image

      purp-drag913 5 years ago from West Michigan, USA.

      Excellent hub, habee! What drives me nuts is words like, "scisors, Dashound," and "sure." I'm from the US, and get most of the words like what you wrote about, but the spelling of this crazy language...

      Looking forward to reading many more hubs from you. :o)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

      Hello, Holle, thank you for your sympathy. I am licking my wounds at the moment because somebody wrote that some of my sentence are bad and some are so bad that he doesn't understand what I am saying. It wasn't on Hub. I know I do some wrong grammar but surely not that bad. Oh well, to hell with him. Now that is a good English saying, isn't it lol.

    • wixor profile image

      wixor 5 years ago

      @Hello, hello.

      Please don't be discouraged that someone would be critical of your writing. I think it's terrible that someone would say your writing is "bad," without any encouragement or reason why.

      But, absolutely, we should be told about errors we are making, how else can we learn?

      Personally, I think hub responders should be encouraged to point out grammar and spelling issues, but, it is a challenge to do so in a positive way, and I am guessing HP is not really the forum for that. I found that out myself, when I was flamed for pointing out some grammar issues on a hub.

      Perhaps HP should have a feature to message the author any grammar or spelling issues, a distinct type of fan mail, which should be treasured above all else!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Trish, the dictionaries I checked list the first pronunciation as "kloze." It must be a regional thing. lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Beata, great to see you here!

      hostage, I think we're very lucky to have learned the English language as kids!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      purp, I couldn't agree more, and thanks!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      HH, there are mean people everywhere. You know that your writing is good! I love your hubs. I know the English language isn't your first language, but your small mistakes have never made your writing difficult for me to read and understand.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Wixor, that's not a bad idea. We all make mistakes when writing, and it's hard to proof your own writing. Our brain often makes the necessary changes automatically, especially when the writing is recent.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 5 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi again Habee:)

      Dictionary pronunciation "kloze" ~ how very interesting! Thanks for that.

      I checked the Oxford dictionary and it definitely included the 'th' sound, but in brackets ~ so only indistinctly, I'm guessing. It must be regional.

      Language is indeed fascinating! :)

      A very interesting subject for a hub!

    • Specialist5 profile image

      Specialist5 5 years ago from Norwich, CT USA

      Very nice hub. Most of all I love the pix. The examples are great. I noticed a few that have even more than the two listed. The English language is like a vortex--it draws you in with its power but rarely spits you out unharmed. I've known the types of examples you listed above, but I never knew the name for them. Thanks. You've increased my word power by three. Thoroughly enjoyed.

    • Specialist5 profile image

      Specialist5 5 years ago from Norwich, CT USA

      Me again. I posted faster than I thought. How about mixing English and American? You could do examples like: If I could lift this box, I'd be able to take in on the lift with me to the third floor mailroom.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Trish!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Specialist, that's a great idea, but I'm not sure I know enough British English to pull it off. lol

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