Three Confusing English Grammar Rules

Education

If you grew up speaking English, you probably don’t realize how difficult it is to learn it.  Indeed, people who come to America find that this language is not just difficult in its mechanics but in its many variations and dialects that complicate the learning process.  Here is an example of just three of the many Robotel English grammar rules that you probably did not know existed, but make the language a bit difficult to pick up by a non-native speaker:

COMPOUND POSSESSION

Compound possession is the term which refers to multiple entities (nouns) who share a subjective relations to an object (as opposed to a respective relationship).  An example of this is:

  • Harry’s and Larry’s cars are red
  • Harry and Larry’s cars are red

The first is an example of “respective” possession.  Both Harry and Larry have cars and both of their cars are red.
The second is an example of “subjective” possession.  Harry and Larry, together, own cars that are red.

Of course, this is a base rule; there are always more nuances to observe.

ALTERNATIVE SUBJECT-PREDICATE AGREEMENT

In the English language, subject and verb agreement is very important.  The subject, of course, is the what the sentence is about: it is always a noun, and typically comes first in a simple sentence.  The predicate is the what happens in the sentence: it is always a verb.  In English, the conjugation of the verb in the predicate needs to agree with the noun in the subject.

OK, even just explaining that is confusing; so here are some examples:

  • Harry buys a car
  • Harry and Larry buy a car

The conjugation of the verb “to buy” changes when we the subject (Harry) changes (to a plural; in this case “Harry and Larry”)

As with all grammar rules, there are many exceptions to this one.  Most of the time, these exceptions come when you start to add certain conjunctions to the sentence. A “conjunction” joins together two ideas.  Here are some examples:

  • I order linguine but she orders spaghetti
  • Either the mother or her sisters are attending the party
  • Neither the mother nor her sisters are attending the party

ADJECTIVE ORDER

Perhaps the most subtle and surreptitious of all English grammar rules is adjective order.  Every English speaker obeys this rule and most don’t even realize they are doing it.  Adjectives must be listed in this very specific order:

  • opinion
  • size
  • age
  • shape
  • color
  • origin
  • material
  • purpose

So you might say something like:  “That is my favorite, long, early 1900s, square, blue, French, silk, scarf.”

Try to rearrange the adjectives; the sentence starts to get confusing.