English is stupid…

I’m currently learning Khmer, and the vowels are difficult and the alphabet is extensive. But, I don’t think it is as ridiculous as the English language.

Here are some reasons why it’s stupid:

Spellings

This is perhaps the most obvious reason. You can blame the great vowel shift, the printing press and some scholars who decided we needed to make some words look more Latin (although those words were not originally Latin, as they had presumed), but we have some of the most arbitary spellings ever. The most often cited example is the “ough” that has an obscene amount of potential pronunciations (thought, though, bough, cough, hiccough…).

Verbs

Our verbs and sentence structures around them change for a variety of reasons. The main one being when the action is taking place (present, past and, to some extent- with the addition of ‘will’- future). Then you have whether the action is completed at the time of speaking, or when another even has taken place. So, we have twelve main tenses (or aspects, whatever the difference is…): present simple, present progressive (or present continuous), present perfect, present perfect progressive (or continuous); past simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive; and the same with the future. Surely, that makes it simple: present tenses deal with events happening now. No.

Present simple is used to discuss habitual actions or things that are always true. For instance: I go to the market every Saturday. Is today Saturday? No. Am I heading to the market? No. The event is not currently taking place. Or even better (or worse): I go to Phnom Penh next month. This is present simple being used to discuss a future action. Or take the present perfect: I have eaten. This is an event that has already happened.

I just tried to explain the difference between future perfect, progressive and perfect progressive. It’s hard enough to define to an English speaker, let alone to someone who does not have tense inflexion in their native language. Trying to explain that one describes a future event being interrupted by another future event whilst the second describes a future event that has finished before a second future event occurs and the third describes an event that will have been occuring for a set duration at somepoint in the future was pretty hard. Being Khmer, the person reassured me that he understood, but I think he was just trying to be polite (or end the tedious conversation).

Let’s not forget about the four hundred irregular verbs in our language. Of course they are the seldom used verbs like to be, to eat, to have, to make and to go.

That’s just the tenses. Then there’s the passive voice and the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive mood. Then there’s the multitude of reasons why and why not we might use the infinitive or whether we should be using…

Gerunds

Gerunds are nouns that look like verbs (or are they a verb form behaving as a noun: same same but different). They have an -ing ending, but go in the place where a noun should go. (Of course, the infinite can usually go there too.)

So where is the gerund in this question: Why are you discussing leaving to go home early?

Prepositions

These are the little words that indicate how a noun is relating to another noun, such as around, above, before, etc. However, there are quite a lot of phrases that require particular prepositions and the reasons for them seem arbitary (because there is little actual reason). Explaining the difference between on and in may seem easy. Then explain the difference between getting on a bus but getting in a car.

Subtle differences

The word swimming, for instance can be a verb (I am swimming), gerund (I like swimming) and modifier (I’m entering a swimming competition). There are some many words that look like one thing but are actually another. Also, there are words that look the same but mean different things (I am bored, I am boringraze to the groundraise from the ground).

Vocabulary

The English language has a massive vocabulary. In fact it is more than French and German combined (probably because it is just that: French and German combined).

I love teaching, I love English but sometimes it can be a pain.

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