20 of the most complicated rules in the English language: what to remember and what to ignore

The English language can seriously be puzzling. Reader’s Digest offers to deal with 20 intricate rules and learn which ones you use wrongly and which can be ignored in modern English.

20 самых запутанных правил в английском языке: что стоит запомнить, а что игнорировать

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“Me” vs. “I”

If you say: “Me and Mike went to the store”, most likely, in the US someone will correct me, saying: “Mike and I!” But the problem is that many people correct others too often. Although the phrase “Mike and I went to the store” is correct in some sentences is quite correct to say “me”. A simple way to check: remove from the offer the other person, and note whether the sense of “me” or “I”. “Me went to the store” is incorrect to say, but “My mom met me at the store” is absolutely correct. Why 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” (a shortened version of “you are”), it is easy to get confused. Precisely this in respect “it’s” and “its”. In almost any other situation, the 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” — an example of proper use. In the case of “it’s” with the apostrophe means that the word is a contraction of “it is”. It performs the same function as the apostrophe in “won’t” or “shouldn’t”.

Who vs. whom

It’s a simple rule, but only at first glance. “Who” refers to the subject in the sentence, whereas “whom” — to Supplement. But when you try to use them, it is 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 is “You”. We recommend the hint to help to understand this issue. Replace the pronoun “who/whom” with “he/him” or “she/her”, if necessary, rebuilding the sentence: “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 multiple forms that make you wonder even those who speak it from birth. And for some words the plural sounds and looks exactly the same as the singular: e.g., “deer”, “sheep” and even “aircraft”. In the case of the latter this may be because the word “craft”, if we are talking about aircraft. Probably earlier it was a longer phrase, but time has removed some of the words. The Oxford English dictionary suggests that the old expression might have been some kind of “vessels of small craft”. “Deer”, however, confuses a lot stronger.

British and American spelling

Even in the same English language is not guaranteed standardized spelling. The fact that there are British and American spelling different words, caused consternation linguists and students in English-speaking countries. The different spellings we can thank the American revolutionaries. In 1789 the famous Noah Webster of Webster’s dictionary was the impetus for “American” variations of some words. For the most part, changing words included removing the “extra” characters, such as “U” in “colour” and the final “-me” in “programme”.

Ending sentences with preposition

This rule, which like to debate professionals (See how it is? This is one rule that grammar sticklers love to argue about.) Because the word “preposition” comes from the Latin word meaning “to put before,” some insist that prepositions must always precede their associated prepositional objects. However, while this is true for Latin grammar, dictionary.com claims that “English grammar is different from Latin grammar, and a rule does not correspond to the English”. However, the debate continues.

“Good” or “well”

The hardest thing 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” — the correct phrase, and “I’m doing good” means you do good deeds as a superhero. But if you are a perfectionist, don’t stress — people will probably understand what you mean!

“Badly” or “bad”

If you “feel bad” about something that causes a feeling of regret or remorse, or “feel bad” because of illness or trouble, you need to use the word “bad” not “badly”. The difficulty here is that “badly” is also an adverb. But just because of the different uses of the verb “feel”, the only time “I feel badly” is completely correct to say, if we are talking about the fact that you feel something by touching it physically. If your hand is numb because you slept on it, you can “feel badly”. However, in this case, as a rule, too, you understand.

Apostrophes in words ending in “s”

How: “I went to Lucas’ for dinner” or “I went to Lucas”s for dinner”? Living Oxford Dictionaries offer such a rule: add an apostrophe and “s” as in the last example, when you actually pronounce the additional sound of “s” by reading the sentence out loud. Everything becomes more confusing if the word ending in “s” is plural. In this case, add “-es” and an apostrophe at the end: “The Joneses’ car was blocking my driveway”.

20 самых запутанных правил в английском языке: что стоит запомнить, а что игнорировать

Photo: Depositphotos

“Could care less”

“I couldn’t care less” means just that. You care so little that you don’t care. Mind the fact that people think the phrase “could care less” means quite the opposite! According to Grammar Girl, the phrase “I couldn’t care less” originated in Britain and spread to America in the 1950-ies. The phrase “I could care less” appeared in the U.S. about 10 years later. Harvard Professor Steven Pinker has suggested that people began to say “I could care less” sarcastically, which meant in fact “I couldn’t care less”, that is, they don’t really care.

Capital letter

You know that you should always use capital letters in names, but things are more complicated with the names and places. When you talk about the Eastern part of the United States whether to use the uppercase letter E in the word “eastern”? Actually, no, because you use this word as an adjective. On the contrary, in the case of “the East Coast” you need to write both words with a capital letter, since the word “east” is part of the phrase.

Reduction with random letters

English abounds with abbreviations that just don’t make sense. Why the abbreviation for “number” in writing “O”? And where do people even get “lbs” in “pounds”? But in most cases there is a linguistic explanation, as a rule, associated with the 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 equivalent to “master” and not “the missus”. Over time, the connotation of the word “mistress” has changed, but the spelling of “Mrs.” remained unchanged.

“E. g” vs. “i.e.”

Why do they cut and why these two acronyms are so similar? Explain. “E. g.” is a short version of the Latin expression “exempli gratia” which means “for example”. Therefore, “e.g.” is an expression that you must use before providing an example or examples: “I like all of the common Thanksgiving foods, e.g., stuffing, turkey, and cranberry sauce”. Many people use “i.e.” in this context, although “i.e.” means something completely different: “id est” which means “that is”. Use “i.e.”, when you are trying to explain or clarify something I just said: “I’ll get back to you soon, i.e., before the end of the week.”

Oxford comma

Some textbooks insist on this punctuation mark; some are not. In fact it is a comma used before the Union, before the last item in the 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 is important to preserve the meaning of a sentence. Try to write like this: “I love my friends, chocolate and rock music”. What is wrong here? Most likely, chocolate and rock music not those friends you mentioned, so the comma after “chocolate” is required. But in the example of fruit it doesn’t change the meaning, so the word “and” has the same function as the Oxford comma, and it is not required.

“Which” vs. “that”

“Which” and “that” are both relative pronouns: they begin a main clause and connect it with the subordinate. In fact, they serve the same grammatical purpose, so people use them interchangeably. Is it right? In accordance with the rules, “which” should only be used with a comma, while “that” should be reserved for sentences without a comma, 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 made Isabel, in less than five minutes”. But the truth is, this kind of deep grammatical pedantry, and people don’t tend to adhere strictly to this rule.

Depressing pronunciation

Seriously, why don’t rhyme “though” and “through”?! Why “about” is pronounced differently in the words “comb” and “bomb”? Or “plow” and “slow”? The English alphabet has only 26 letters, but each letter can have up to seven different pronunciations. For example, you technically should say “the” as “thee” when the next word starts with a vowel sound. But if you don’t take this into consideration every time you say “the” by the way, this is the most common word in English, we won’t blame you for that!

Unpronounceable letters

The confusion stems from the fact that sometimes letters are present, but you do not say! Why in the word “island” is “s”? What is the meaning of the letter “k” in “know”? And why “g” in “phlegm”? In many cases, unpronounceable letter left in words because the pronunciation of words change as language development, and writing remained the same. In other cases, the discrepancy is due to the fact that the words came from other languages, such as “tsunami” from Japanese, and “rendezvous” from the French.

“Lay” or “lie”?

When it comes to intricate phrases that could be worse than “lay” and “lie”? These words are not interchangeable, although many people use them that way. “Lay” requires a complement, and “lie” — no. Technically, to say “I need to lay down” is incorrect, because you seem to have to put “something”. “Please lay that expensive book down on the table carefully” — that’s the correct use of “lay.” But the real confusion stems from the fact that the past tense “lie” looks like… “lay”! “He wasn’t feeling well, so he lay down” is right. By the way, the past tense “lay” — “laid.”

“Neither” — singular or plural?

When you say “neither,” you mean more than one person or thing, so “neither” should take the form of the verb in the plural, right? Actually no. As “neither” and “either” is always singular, if the two things/living beings you are talking about, also in the singular: “Neither the dog [a dog] nor the cat [a cat] is responsible for the mess”. Same story with the phrase “Neither of the pets is responsible” — though “pets” is plural, “neither” still means “no”. The only time it works for the plural, that is, if one or both of the subject — plural: “Neither Lady Gaga nor the Backstreet Boys are performing tonight” would be the correct sentence, as near to the verb the name of the band “the Backstreet Boys” is plural. Phew!

“None” singular or plural?

If “neither” is singular, “none” must also, Yes? To be honest, in this case, even experts in grammar roll their eyes and say: “Decide for yourself”. As a rule, if the subject in the sentence is uncountable noun, has the meaning of a verb in the singular: “None of the beer is left.” But if we are talking about a specific number of people or things, you can use the verb in plural, and it sounds better: “None of my cousins are coming to dinner”.