4 Grammar Rules That Make Reading and Writing Tougher

Dictionaries have thousands of entries, but only about 171,000 are currently in use, according to a report issued by the BBC in 2018. As a wordsmith, you probably know more of these words than most of your friends, but do you know all the tricky grammar rules that govern how you use the language on a daily basis? Read on to learn more about the rules that govern how we spell and pronounce common words.

1. Confusing Plural Rules

The English language has a few confusing rules when it comes to plural words. These rules are based on the last letter in the noun. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Regular nouns: This is the easiest rule to follow. Just take your regular noun and add an “s” to the end. Examples: dog(s), human(s), book(s)
  • Nouns ending in “s” or “z”: Things get a little trickier when you have a noun that ends in “s” or “z.” Sometimes you add “es” to the end, like when you’re working with bus(es) or blitz(es). On other occasions, you need to add another “s” or “z” before adding “es.” For example, if you want to make quiz plural, you need to double the “z” before adding “es,” making the plural “quizzes.”
  • Words ending in “ss,” “sh,” “ch” or “x”: Singular nouns ending in these letters follow the same rule as some nouns ending in “s” or “z.” Simply add “es” to the end to make the word plural. Examples: fuss(es), crutch(es), box(es)
  • Words ending in “y”: For singular nouns ending in “y,” you need to know two rules. The first governs what to do if the letter before the “y” is a consonant. If it is, remove the “y” and add “ies” to make it plural. Fairy becomes fairies, carry becomes carries and puppy becomes puppies. The second covers what to do if the letter before the “y” is a vowel. In this case, you’d just add an “s” to turn the singular noun into a plural. Tray becomes trays, play becomes plays and ray becomes rays.
  • Words ending in “on”: This is a tricky one. If the singular noun ends in “on,” you make it plural by removing the “on” and adding an “a.” For example, criterion turns into criteria.
  • Words ending in “o”: This is another situation with more than one rule to follow. In some cases, you need to add “es” to a singular noun ending in “o” to make it plural. Tomatoes and potatoes are two of the most common examples. If you’re a taco lover, you know that this rule doesn’t apply to every noun ending in “o.” After all, you eat tacos, take photos and memorize mottos.

2. Sounds Like…Confusion

Silent letters are the bane of every student’s existence. They hang out in words like receipt and debt, but they don’t make any distinct sounds of their own. Does this make them useless? Not at all. Joe Devney, a linguistic consultant, explains that some silent letters are used to tell readers how to pronounce other syllables. Refine is a great example. The “e” on the end is silent, but its presence isn’t superfluous. It tells the reader that the “i” takes on a long vowel sound.

Some words have silent letters because they originated in other languages. For example, the word knight is related to the German word “gnecht.” The “k” and “gh” in knight are silent, but a speaker would have pronounced every letter in the word gnecht, explaining the “extra” letters in the English word.

3. Homophones, Homonyms and Homographs, Oh My!

Homophones are words that have different meanings even though they have the same sounds. For students, they’re the source of a lot of red ink on essays. To/two/too is probably one of the best examples. The three words sound exactly the same, but they mean different things. Here/hear is another example.

Homonyms are even trickier than homophones. Not only do they have different meanings, but they’re also spelled the same, making it difficult for some students to understand the differences. “Band” is a good example. You can join the marching band or buy a wedding band; they’re spelled the same way and sound the same way, but they mean different things. Bark is another good example. Maybe your dog barks when it picks up a piece of tree bark with its teeth. See how confusing that can be for a budding writer or English learner?

Homographs are words with the same spellings that have different meanings and may even have different pronunciations — a triple whammy! Without context clues, it would be extremely difficult to determine if someone meant to record their favourite television show or put something on the record. Wind is another example of a homograph; you can wind up a toy or have your hair blown around by the wind.

4. Variable Vowel Sounds

Writing would be much easier if vowels always made the same sounds. Alas, they don’t. For example, the combination “ea” can be used in several ways. A doctor can listen to the beat of your heart and then record what they heard in your medical chart. Beat, heart and heard all have the same vowel combo, but they have three different pronunciations. Hose/lose is another example.

The Importance of Grammar Rules

These grammar rules make the English language more complicated, but they have a purpose. Rules make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding books, magazine articles, brochures and other written materials.

As a writer, it’s up to you to apply these rules correctly and ensure your prose is as easy to read as possible. If following a grammar rule makes your writing more complex, consider rewriting the sentence to make it easier for readers of all education levels to understand. At Crowd Content, our project managers are here to support you every step of the way, whether you have a question about grammar rules or need clarification on an assignment brief.

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Erin is the Community Manager at Crowd Content, and before that was a project manager here for 3 years. She lives in Massachusetts, is a baseball/Red Sox fanatic and loves spending time with her family.

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