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Why is the English Language So Odd?

 Readable English

The English language can be mastered… or can it? With the understanding of a few English idiosyncrasies, you soon learn that the language makes no sense at all.


Native English speakers seem to be able to pick up the oddities and mimic them well. But for non-English speakers trying to speak the language, it’s not long before they are scratching their heads in bewilderment.

When changing one letter changes the sound of a word, silent letters disrupt phonetics, homophones sound the same without being so, and odd phrases make literally no sense, confusion can prevail.



The English language borrows words from several different languages. Over time, English has changed and developed as it adopted these new words. This English mix, brought to Britain from German invaders, also includes traces of Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish.

There are so many oddities within the language that you just have to accept it the way it is. If you aren’t sure of the sounds or meaning of an English word, then it’s best to ask someone else or seek the dictionary.


Looking at these four letter words, you would expect that they would rhyme. 

  • Bomb, tomb, comb

Using a B, T, and C completely changes a vowel's pronunciation. Although the words are spelled similarly, they sound nothing alike. 

Additional examples of words that you would expect to rhyme based on spelling but do not include: 

  • Home, some

  • Dose, lose, nose


At the same time, we seem to have words that are spelled the same yet have two completely different meanings.

  • Tear – to rip, pull apart with force as in “I will tear this up”

  • Tear – to cry, such as “He shed a tear”


  • Pool – to bring together, e.g. “if we pool our resources we will achieve more”

  • Pool – a vessel in which you swim, e.g. “the kids are in the swimming pool”

  • Pool – the game of billiards, e.g. “let’s play a game of pool”


Homophones are words that are pronounced exactly the same, yet spelled completely different. Just to confuse you even more, homophones all have different meanings.

  • Write – to mark (with letters, words, or other symbols) on a surface, typically paper, with a pen, pencil, or similar implement; e.g. “I am going to write a book”
  • Right – true or correct as a fact, as in “I am not running the right way”
  • Rite – a social custom, practice, or ceremonial act; a religious ceremony; e.g. “the rite of communion”


The literal interpretation of some sayings is not what they do at all.

  • We ‘ship’ by truck; our noses seem to ‘run’, while our feet tend to ‘smell’

  • We fill ‘in’ a form by filling it ‘out’; and our alarm goes ‘off’ by the sound turning ‘on’


Hundreds of silent letters add to the woes of the English pronunciation and spelling. These are those fascinating letters you never seem to hear, yet they always appear in the written form of a word. Unlike other phonetic languages, English often ignores the sounds of letters in a word. Here are some examples:

  • Doubt, debt, gnarl, gnome, knit, knob, knot, and knoll. It is a wonder we aren’t all wrecked, wrinkled, wriggling, and wrung out.


Word endings may be pronounced the same yet spelled completely different. For example, words that end with the sound L are spelled with either ‘el’ or ‘le’.

  • Novel, level, cancel VS little, cable, or purple.

Isn’t it weird that the endings of travel, local, and example all sound the same yet have different spellings? 75% of words use the ‘le’ ending. So if you’re not sure which one to use, try this one and you’re most likely correct.

Learning to Read

So, when working with students who struggle with reading, show them these examples to remind them that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn to read. Understanding this important fact can empower them, and you, to have patience as they learn the English language.

Readable English unlocks this code hidden behind the rules, the exceptions, and rote memorization. We are the only reading intervention that gets students to grade-level reading using their own class curriculum, without having to be pulled out of class. Readable English quickly moves large-scale numbers of students to grade-level reading and beyond!