11 reasons the English language is impossible to learn

Thomas Lohnes/Getty ImagesThe English language is full of anomalies.
  • The English language has a lot of weird spelling,grammar, and pronunciation rules.
  • Words that sound and are spelled the same can have two different or even opposite meanings.
  • Tricks like “I before E except after C” don’t always work.

Even if you grew up speaking English, chances are you haven’t mastered all of its spelling, grammar, and pronunciation rules. Oftentimes, English breaks its own “rules” anyway.

Words that look the same can be pronounced differently, and words that sounds the same can be spelled differently. Some letters are silent altogether. And tricks like “I before E except after C” don’t always apply.

Here are 11 weird anomalies of the English language that make it difficult to learn.


English is full of contronyms — words that have two opposite meanings.

ShutterstockContronyms are confusing.

If you clip something, are you cutting it or attaching it together? If something is transparent, is it invisible or obvious? The answer, confusingly, could be either one.

A “contronym” is a word that has two contradictory meanings, and the English language is full of them.


It is also full of homographs — words that are spelled the same, and even often pronounced the same, but mean different things.

There’s tear (to rip) and tear (as in crying), bass (a type of fish) and bass (a low sound), bat (a piece of sports equipment and bat (an animal) bow (a type of knot) and bow (to incline) to name a few.

The English language is full of homographs.


Idioms often make no sense.

ShutterstockIdioms are no piece of cake to learn.

Why does “it’s raining cats and dogs” mean that it’s raining hard? Why is an easy thing considered “a piece of cake?” The English language is full of phrases that confuse foreigners.


“I before E except after C” is a lie.

travellight/Shutterstock‘Glaciers’ break the rule.

You may have heard the little ditty of “I before E except after C, or when sounded as ‘a’ as in ‘neighbour’ and ‘weigh,'” but it has too many exceptions to be considered a good rule of thumb.

Merriam Webster debunked this myth with satirical jingle of its own:

“I before e, except after c Or when sounded as ‘a’ as in ‘neighbour’ and ‘weigh’ Unless the ‘c’ is part of a ‘sh’ sound as in ‘glacier’ Or it appears in comparatives and superlatives like ‘fancier’ And also except when the vowels are sounded as ‘e’ as in ‘seize’ Or ‘i’ as in ‘height’ Or also in ‘-ing’ inflections ending in ‘-e’ as in ‘cueing’ Or in compound words as in ‘albeit’ Or occasionally in technical words with strong etymological links to their parent languages as in ‘cuneiform’ Or in other numerous and random exceptions such as ‘science’, ‘forfeit’, and ‘weird.'”


“Though,” “through,” “thorough,” “thought,” “tough,” and “trough” all mean different things and are pronounced differently.

Video Break/YoutubeWalking through a tunnel. Not ‘thorough.’

Six letters, apparently infinite combinations.


The meaning of words can change depending on which syllable is stressed.

ShutterstockYou can address someone to give them your address.

According to linguist Jakub Marian, if the stress is on the second syllable, it usually becomes a verb. For example, an ADDress is the place where someone lives. To addRESS someone is to talk to them.


Irregular plural words don’t have an S at the end.

Andrew Theodorakis/Getty Images‘People,’ not ‘persons.’

“Child” becomes “children.” “Person” becomes “people.” “Tooth” becomes “teeth.” “Foot” becomes “feet.” The list goes on.


Homophones — different words that sound the same — are hard.

Thunya.88/Shutterstock‘Worn’ jeans, no need to ‘warn’ anyone about them.

Homophones are words that have different meanings but sound the same. For example, “worn” can mean that something is worn out and weathered, and “warn,” pronounced the same way, is to caution someone.

One artist even created 300 homophone illustrations to help people visualise this phenomenon.


Words are spelled in counter intuitive ways with silent letters.

Courtesy of SourcebooksWhy does ‘pterodactyl’ start with P?

Some words begin with silent letters, like “knight,” others have them in the middle, like “Wednesday,” and some have them towards the end, like “reign.”

A new children’s book called “P is for Pterodactyl” pokes fun at English words with silent letters and bizarre spellings.


Even if you can spell a word correctly, you might be saying it wrong.

PixabaySome dogs can be mischievous.

Widely-used pronunciations can be completely wrong. For example, “mischievous” is often pronounced “miss-chee-vee-us,” but the correct way is“miss-chiv-us.”


Even native English speakers mess up “who” and “whom.”

iStockWho wants to go to the park with whom?

Here’s a trick: if you can replace the word with “he,” “she,” or “they,” use “who.” (Who wants to go to the park?He/she/they want to go to the park.)

If you can replace the word with “him,” “her,” or “them,” use “whom.” (Whom did you see at the park? You saw him/her/them.)

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