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Interesting Exceptions in The English Language

Interesting Exceptions in The English Language

English is a language of exceptions. 

Its various patterns and structures add a layer of complexity and nuance to the language. From irregular verbs to homographs, English speakers and learners are constantly surprised by the quirks of the language. However, these exceptions make English such a richly expressive and enjoyable language. 

These exceptions hide around every corner, waiting to be discovered. Learning English can be perplexing. So the next time you feel frustrated by an English exception, remember that these exceptions make the language beautiful and challenging.

Picture of a scrabble board.

Examine this list of interesting English language exceptions. See which items you recognise and which you are unfamiliar with.

Spelling Exceptions:

  • Weird: The word “weird” is spelled with the letter combination “ei” instead of the expected “ie.”
  • Colonel: The word “colonel” is pronounced as “kernel,” which is quite different from its spelling.
  • Bologna: The word “bologna” is pronounced as “baloney.” The silent ‘g’ in the spelling is misleading.
  • Wednesday: The word “Wednesday” is pronounced as “Wenz-day,” completely omitting the ‘d’ sound.
  • Yacht: The word “yacht” is spelled with a ‘ch’ at the end, even though it is pronounced with a ‘t’ sound.
  • Hors d’oeuvre is a French phrase commonly used in English. It refers to appetisers. However, its spelling is quite different from how it is pronounced. It is pronounced as “or-derv” or “or-durv.”
  • February: The second month of the year is spelled “February,” but the first ‘r’ is silent in its pronunciation.
  • Rhythm: The word “rhythm” is spelled with a ‘y’ in place of the expected ‘i’ or ‘e’ and is pronounced as “rith-uhm.”
  • Pseudonym: The word “pseudonym” is spelled with a silent ‘p’ at the beginning, but it is pronounced as “soo-duh-nim.”
  • Queue: The word “queue” is spelled with a ‘ue’ at the end but is pronounced as “kyoo.”
  • “I before E except after C”: This commonly taught rule has many exceptions, such as “weird,” “caffeine,” and “seizeā€.

Grammatical Exceptions:

  • Plural forms of some words: While most English words become plural by adding “s” or “es,” there are exceptions like “ox” (oxen), “child” (children), and “mouse” (mice).
  • Irregular verb forms: English has numerous verbs with irregular past tense forms, like “go” (went), “have” (had), and “be” (was/were).
  • The rule of “an” versus “a”: While “an” is used before words starting with a vowel sound, there are exceptions like “an hour” and “an honest person,” where “an” is used even though the word starts with a consonant.
  • Adjective order: Although there is a general order for adjectives (opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose), native speakers often break this order, creating sentences like “the big, red ball.”
  • Verb agreement with collective nouns: While collective nouns are singular, they can take either a singular or plural verb form, leading to confusion. For example, “The team is” and “The team are” are both accepted.
  • Irregular plural forms: Words like “man” (men), “woman” (women), and “tooth” (teeth) have irregular plural forms that deviate from the usual “-s” or “-es” endings.
  • Exceptions in comparative and superlative forms: Most adjectives form their comparatives and superlatives by adding “-er” and “-est,” but there are exceptions like “good” (better, best) and “bad” (worse, worst).
  • Silent “w” in words: Words like “wreck,” “wrestle,” and “write” have a silent “w” at the beginning.
  • Exceptions in plural possessives: While most plural nouns add an apostrophe after the “s,” words like “children” and “men” add an apostrophe before the “s” (children’s, men’s).
  • Adverbs with irregular forms: While most adverbs are formed by adding “-ly” to adjectives, words like “fast” (fast), “hard” (hard), and “well” (well) have irregular adverb forms.
  • Stress patterns: English has irregular stress patterns, where stress can fall on different syllables in different forms of the same word. For example, “record” (noun) has stress on the first syllable, while “record” (verb) has stress on the second syllable.
A woman reading a book.

Pronunciation Exceptions:

  • “Gh” can be pronounced as an “f” sound: In words like “enough,” “tough,” and “laugh,” the “gh” is silent, creating an unexpected pronunciation.
  • Silent letters: Many English words have silent letters, such as “knife,” “wrist,” and “debt,” where the letters are written but not pronounced.
  • “C” can sound like an “s”: In words like “cent,” “city,” and “cycle,” the letter “c” is pronounced as an “s.”
  • “Ph” is pronounced as an “f”: In words like “phone,” “elephant,” and “graph,” the “ph” is pronounced as an “f” sound.
  • “Qu” followed by a vowel: In words like “quick,” “quack,” and “question,” the “qu” is pronounced as a “kw” sound.
  • Homographs with different pronunciations: Words like “lead” (to guide) and “lead” (a metal) or “wind” (a gust of air) and “wind” (to turn) have the same spelling but different pronunciations.

English is a fascinating language full of interesting exceptions that challenge learners and native speakers alike. The languageā€™s rich history boasts an incredible evolution into the globally adopted mode of communication it is today. Enhancing your English language skills can be a rewarding yet demanding experience. Our range of English language courses are available to support your learning.

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