Rules of the English Language: Right Writing!

Pronunciation, Spelling, Grammar, Vocabulary

They’re all crazy; pronunciation is crazy, spelling is crazy, grammar is at times crazy, and vocabulary is crazy. English is truly a very complex language. Part of the reason is that it is an eclectic language, borrowing words from many other languages.

English Actually Does Have Rules

What Are They?

Having been an English teacher for 17 years, I get a lot of questions, like: “Why do you do that in English?” or “Why is it pronounced that way?” Even many native English speakers are clueless about the rules, despite the fact that there are rules. Yes, sometimes there are exceptions to the rules, but most of them come from foreign words that have been “borrowed” from other languages. I won’t be discussing those in this article.

Spelling/Pronunciation Issues

Firstly, one needs to understand that English was not originally a written language. There was no English writing until the Romans conquered England and introduced the Latin alphabet. The Latin language had only 25 letters and 25 sounds, composed of 5 letters for 5 vowel sounds and 21 letters for 21 consonant sounds. The letter ‘y’ was borrowed from the Greek language and was called the “Greek y”. In English, it primarily functions as a consonant at the beginning of words and a vowel in the middle or ending of words.

According to an article entitled, “The Sounds of English and the International Phonetic Alphabet”, on antimoon.com, English has 20 vowel sounds (if you include diphthongs), and 24 consonant sounds, for a total of 44 sounds. Contrast that with the 25 sounds of the Latin language. In my opinion, the logical thing to do would have been to do as the Mongolians have done by adding letters to the adopted Cyrillic alphabet. Instead, the authors of the English written language invented a very, very complex system of rules with combinations of letters. Let us explore some of these rules.

It is important to teach that the Latin alphabet has only five vowels, plus one adopted from the Greeks. They are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes the Greek y. English has 12 single vowel sounds and 8 diphthongs (which are vowel combinations). So, those who were charged with putting Lain letters to English words had a tough job. They decided to give each Latin vowel 2 sounds: a long sound and a short sound. Honestly, it was not necessary to do so, because the long sounds could be spelled by creating dipthongs. For instance, long ‘a’ sound could have been spelled with “ei” or “ey. The long ‘i’ sound could have been spelled with “ai” or “ay”. The long ‘o’ sound could have been spelled with “ou” or “ow”. And, the long ‘u’ sound could have been spelled with “yu” or “yoo”.

The CVC Rule & CVC + Silent ‘e’ Rule

The CVC rule states that Consonant-Vowel-Consonant combinations are pronounced with the short vowel sound. Conversely, the CVC + silent ‘e’ rule states that if you add an e to the Consonant-Vowel-Consonant combination, the vowel sound changes to a long sound. (Again, completely unnecessary and moronic).

Examples

  • CVC : CVC + e
  • hat : hate
  • fed : feed
  • bit : bite
  • con : cone
  • cut : cute

Exceptions

To make matters even more outrageously insane, the silent ‘e’ is added to words where the vowel is protected by a double consonant, for no apparent reason at all. Examples are: battle, kettle, little, bottle, and muddle.

Double Consonant Rule

However, the double consonant rule (to protect the short vowel) is useful (but only because the idiots created the long vowel system to begin with). Examples are demonstrated below:

Single consonant : Double consonant

  • caning : canning
  • biter : bitter
  • hoping : hopping
  • super : supper
  • ‘E’ is a bit different:
  • weeding : wedding

Exceptions

elephant, elevator, elegantThe “C” Pronunciation Rule
There is one rule and ONLY one rule that I have NEVER found an exception to. It is the “C” pronunciation rule (and it comes from the Latin language).
SOFT “C” RULE: When c is followed by e, i, or y, the c has the /s/ or occasionally /sh/ sound.
HARD “C” RULE: When c is followed by a, o, or u, the c has the /k/ sound.

Examples:

(with short vowels) /s/ center, city, bicycle; /k/ camel, comic, and cut
(with long vowels) /s/ secede, cite, cycle; /k/ came, coma, and cute.

Exceptions

None.The “G” Pronunciation Rule
Incidentally also from Latin, we have the “g” pronunciation rule, which is similar to the “c” rule. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
SOFT “G” RULE: When g is followed by e, i, or y, the g has the /j/ sound.
HARD “G RULE: When g is followed by a, o, or u, the g has the /g/ sound.
Examples:
(with short vowels) /j/ gel, gin, gypsy; /g/ gag, got, gun
(with long vowels) /j/ gene, giant, gyrate; /g/ game, go, guru
Exceptions to the rule:
margarine, get, give, etc.Grammar
With regards to English grammar, I have only one qualm: native speakers don’t follow the rules. They have made their own rules, called ‘descriptive grammar’, which is basically the way that most people talk, because they are uneducated about the rules. The original rules are called ‘prescriptive grammar’, which is basically the way that people who are educated about the rules talk.

Examples:

Prescriptive (THE RIGHT WAY) / Descriptive (THE WRONG WAY)
(1) It is I. (Subject, verb, subject compliment). / It is me.
(2) I, also (Subject, not object) / me too.
(3) Neither do I. (Subject, not object) / me neither.
(4) She likes Ted and me. (object). / She likes Ted and I.

Explanation:

(1) “It is me,” is incorrect because the subject compliment is another subject.
(2) “Me too,” is usually incorrect because the response is usually in reference to a subject (rather than an object). Example: I like pizza. Correct response: I, also like pizza. (no “me”!).
(3) “Me neither” is usually incorrect for the same reason that #2 is incorrect.
(4) “She likes Ted and I,” is incorrect for the same reason that, “She likes I,” is incorrect. The verb “Like” requires an object, not a subject compliment.

Vocabulary

The problem with vocabulary is that people sometime make up words that don’t exist or use words incorrectly.
By way of example of words commonly used, which don’t exist, people sometimes say, “Irregardless” That’s not a word. “Regardless” is a word. Also, people like to say, “Anyways,” but that’s not a word either. People should say, “Anyway”.

By way of improper usage of words, one of my biggest gripes is the incorrect usage of effective and efficient. Effective is the adjective form of the verb “effect” (to cause to something to happen). Example: “I effected great results by my plan.” If the plan worked, then it is appropriate to say that it was effective. I might have taken a long time, but it worked. On the other hand, efficient comes from the verb “efface” (to eradicate or eliminate). Example: My plan effaced time. If my plan used up less time than another person’s plan, we can say that it was an efficient plan. It might not work as well as another person’s plan, but it saved time. In a nutshell: effective works, and efficient saves time.

Another common mistake is the use of the word decimate. Decimate means to destroy one tenth of something. Obliterate means to completely destroy something.
When it comes to abbreviations, people get confused. “i.e.” means id est (that is). “e.g.” means exempli gratis (for example). “etc” means et cetera (and so on). Other abbreviations should not be used at all without first explaining what they mean.

One funny thing is when people say, “I could care less.” That means you do care. What people usually mean is “I couldn’t care less.” That means you don’t care.
Irony is a word often misused. Some people think it means “strange”. Rather, it means that the result is in fact opposite of what it is supposed to be, or what it is commonly expected to be. E.g., “It is ironic that most young children don’t know why they behaved the way that they did. For them it was mostly impulse.” Most adults know exactly why they do things. Children, on the other hand, don’t adhere to the so-called ‘norm’, because their metacognitive skills are lacking. Therefore, to us adults, it is ironic. Children act the opposite way that is expected by adults. But, to say something like, “Ironically, she gave birth to quadruplets.” That’s not ironic. That’s unusual.

I won’t even go into all the usage problems that non-native English speakers make, because there isn’t room here. If you are an English Second Language learner, I suggest buying a usage book.

Conclusion

In my humble opinion, professional writers ought to adhere to rules of proper spelling, grammar, and vocabulary usage, unless quoting. By the way, quote is a verb, not a noun. Personally, I love to break rules, and I frequently do so when writing; However, the rules I break are more like writing conventions, such as Never use “I” in an article. I think that is a stupid rule. I also, use the word “you” when I’m talking to my audience. However, the rules of spelling, grammar, and vocabulary usage ought to be held sacred, possibly cardinal.

Photo by BiljaST (Pixabay)

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