The Confusable English Language


I often wonder are words as tricky and confusing in other languages as they are in the English language.

Take then and than.  Is it just me that finds them confusing.  I still have to stop and think of the rule in order to make sure that I have it correct.  For those who are equally confused by those two tricksters remember:

Than is a conjunction in clauses of comparison: “He worked better today than he did yesterday.”  Then is an adverb of time: “We then went to a restaurant.”

Two other words that are often used incorrectly are bring and take.  They can mean the same thing – transport or escort – but they have different points of view.  Bring implies motion toward; take implies motion way from.  I congratulate myself in that I know how to use them correctly, without a moment’s hesitation.  Why, oh, why do they seem to confound everybody else?

Don’t get me started on effect and affect.  Do you know when an affect is effective or an effect affected?  I warned you!

. . .

You constantly hear it said that “languages are alive”, and because they are alive they change.  Throughout its history English has not only borrowed words extravagantly from other languages but has re-combined and recycled them to create new meanings, ( i.e. stupendous, input, output, feedback) whilst losing some old words (flosh, squiddle, porknell).

When I was in elementary school, if I said to my parents or teacher, “I ain’t going to do it.”  I would get hit; once for the defiance and again for saying “ain’t’.

I had it drilled into my head that there ain’t no such word as ain’t.  Now I wonder, as a result of this alive-English-language, has ain’t finally become a word.

. . .

Don’t forget the confusion of:

Homonyms  — Words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings:  altar/alter; load/lode; way/weigh


Idioms – A combination of words that seems perfectly natural to the native speaker of a language but seems odd or peculiar to other people: catch a cold; strike a bargain; make the fur fly; run short of.

. . .

Have you heard of Daffynitions?  No.  Well here are a few.

Afford                A car some people drive.

Arrest                What to take when you’re tired.

Mummy              An Egyptian pressed for time.

. . .

Let’s face it — English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England nor French fries in France .

Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital, ship by truck and send cargo by ship, have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill-in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

Why, oh why doesn’t Buick rhyme with quick?

. . .

Last but not least here is a bit of English language trivia:

  • In conversation ‘I’ is the most frequently used word.
  • In written English these  10 are the most often used:  the, and, a, that, I, of, to, in, is, it
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14 комментариев на «The Confusable English Language»

  1. Regina_BC говорит:

    Bring implies motion toward; take implies motion way from.
    Really? Then 🙂 it is even more confusing than 🙂 I thought.
    For example: Take me to the store for shopping, please.
    I ask to take me TO the store, not FROM the store.

    As I understand, in similar situations «to bring» is used in British English, to take- in American English.

  2. Валера говорит:

    I think the phrase «take me to the store» means «take me FROM here (the point where a conversation took place) to the store (far FROM here)». 🙂

  3. Eduard говорит:

    Hi Sheila,
    Thank you for interesting topic. I interested to learn of some phrasal verbs. Could you writing sometimes common phrasal verbs with their meaning ? It could be very cognitive for people who learning English. Thank you.


  4. Due-West говорит:

    Sheila, hello. I would like to thank you for raising this topic which goes a bit further than just learning the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect. This topic which you have touched upon is of vital importance if one has a determination to speak it naturally, fluently and beautifully. It seems to me now ,after many years of observation, that people tend to simplify their speech, by using long and vague explanation instead of precise words, not to mention the idioms. Although, I think that the English language is very idiomatic. Sometimes one can guess the meaning from the words an idiom is compiled, in other cases the resulting meanig comes like a bolt from the blue…

  5. Serg говорит:

    I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too. 🙂

  6. Serg говорит:

    I couldn’t believe that I could actually understand what I was reading. Using the incredible power of the human brain, according to research at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place. The rest can be a total, mess and you can read it without a problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole. Amazing, huh? Yeah and I always thought spelling was important! See if your friends can read this too!

  7. Sheila говорит:

    Hi Regina, I haven’t heard, in speaking to citizens from Britain and American, a noted difference in how they use ‘bring’ and take’. I find that in general the usage of those two words seem to be changing over time. As I noted in my article, languages are constantly changing and evolving. Take ‘gay’ for example. One hundred years ago it meant, ‘to be ‘happy’. Now ‘gay’ refers to homosexuality.
    Thank you for your comment.

  8. Sheila говорит:

    I agree. But you will now commonly hear, «bring me to the store». In my ears that is jarring.
    I guess that is the teacher in me speaking,

  9. Sheila говорит:

    Hi Eduard,
    I will gladly do an article on phrasal verbs and their meanings. Watch for it in the New Year.
    I have just returned from a cruise and am now engulfed in the Christmas madness.
    Merry Christmas to you,

  10. Sheila говорит:

    Hi Due-West, It is unfortunate that far to many English speakers do not make the effort to speak their one language naturally, fluently and beautifully. I find that too many are lazy and sloppy communicators. I wonder is it the over-use of texting and not enough face-to-face conversation. The overuse of «f*** is particularly irritating. It is thrown into any sentence, in any place (verb, adverb, adjective, etc.) so that overall it now means nothing at all.
    When I hear a converstion where every second word is f*** I have to resist the urge to suggest that the speaker invest in a good dictionary and/or synonym finder.
    Just one of my pet-peeves.

  11. Sheila говорит:

    Hi Serg, It is amazing that the human brain can make sense of that jumbled up paragraph but it can. That is, for those who can read. For those who can’t, well, all written language must look like that.
    I worked as a Special Education elementary teacher. I worked with a lot of children who, for whatever reason, were incapable of learning to read. Why, no one can say for sure. I no longer teach but I work part-time for the Apprenticeship Board where I read exams for non-reading adults.
    Just another one of life’s mysteries.

  12. Due-West говорит:

    Hello, Sheila, I absolutely agree! It is the same thing for those who speak Russian as well, and seems to be a sort of a «natural» phenomenon. Of course, should one be willing to express oneself by means of a more complex, lively and precise choice of words which may not only convey the general idea but also be indicative of the other subtle meaning or peculiarity, one has to make good use of dictionaries or thesauri. This means work, sometimes a lot of work.
    I have been watching a good TV series which was made with the participation of both Canadian and American moviemakers. It is called Due South — probably one of the best shows I have ever seen. The best part of the conversations is the speech of Benton Fraser, a member of the RCMP. His ability to communicate has always fascinated me, and from the viewpoint of the language learning it can serve as an example of a natural, fluentland beautiful English. This is what every English learner should strive for, I suppose.

  13. Artur говорит:

    George Bernard Shaw (GBS) was a famous Irish writer. He wanted to reform English spelling so that it was more logical. He asked the following question as an example:

    How do we pronounce the word «ghoti»?

    His answer was «fish».

    How can «ghoti» and «fish» sound the same? GBS explained it like this:

    the gh = f as in rouGH
    the o = i as in wOmen
    the ti = sh as in naTIon
    Of course, this was a joke. The word «ghoti» is not even a real word. But it showed the inconsistency of English spelling.

    It is very important to understand that English spelling and English pronunciation are not always the same.

  14. Sheila говорит:

    Hi Artur, Your comment about GBS’s frustration with the English language demonstrates that the inconsistencies were identified long ago. All you have to do to understand where the inconsistencies stem from is to read old-English writings. The spelling is all over the place. Even in one document the same words will be spelled differently.
    I do admire people who master English as a second language (or third, fourth, and so on). Especially those whose home language has a completely different alphabet. Goes to show the power of the human brain to make sense of the world it is plopped down in.
    Thanks for the observation,

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