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Oddities of the English Language

I love the English language, it's so expressive and colourful, with its nuances of meaning, metaphors, puns, proverbs, and regional slang

Common Errors in Spoken English

English Language Is constantly changing so perhaps some modes of expression which seem to one generation to be incorrect are not in fact errors, but merely updates or modernisms.

The English language is very complex and people do sometimes appear to have difficulty finding the right phrase to express themselves even if English is spoken as their home language.

This is exacerbated by the fact that styles of speech are changing with the times, and new or developing communities bring their own vernacular to vary and enrich (or distort) the language. This is not a new phenomenon of course - the influx of Vikings, Romans, Normans and French Huguenots, to mention just a few obvious nationalities, has varied and added to our language since time immemorial.

Call It Prejudice If You Will

I am probably a lot older than many of my readers, and I do appreciate that language has moved on since I was at school. This would be particularly relevant to vcabulary relating to the technological evolution, as things like moon landings, robotics, radiation, fracking, the internet, social networking and spending hours on smart phones and computers would have been completely outside our education, knowledge and experience seventy years ago.

Nonetheless there are some words and phrases used by English speakers which, to my mind, are used incorrectly, and it annoys me every time I see or hear them.

Here's a List of Some Questionable English Words and Phrases

Below this list I have given a more detailed commentary

  • Unique or very unique
  • Return or return again
  • He or she or they
  • Different from, different to or different than
  • Could have or could of
  • Was sitting or was sat

"Unique" or "Very Unique"?

Some people say "very unique" but this cannot be right unless there are fairly rare exceptional circumstances. The word "unique" means there's only one of a kind. It comes from the Latin word unus, meaning one and therefore if you say very unique you're really saying it's very one - but of course it's either one or it's something other than one and logically it can't be very one or very unique - it's just not appropriate.

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, the history and etymology for unique states:

French, from Latin unicus, from unus one

(They add that the word was used in French from the 17th Century and was not used much in English until the 18th Century.)

A Unique Portrait by Me - It's Not Very Unique

"Return" or "Return Again"?

Some people say "return again" when really they mean "return".

If you return again it means you're returning for the second time because return simply means come back, so if you come back again (as in return again) that doesn't make sense unless you mean that the person has come back twice.

Of course there are occasions when the words "return again" make sense, for instance "Summer will return again next year", so I'm not denouncing the expression "return again" completely, just suggesting people should consider what they mean before using it, and make sure that what they are saying is accurate.

"Dracula Returns" - Not "Dracula Returns Again" (This is a full length film, by the Way)

"He or She" or "They"?

In these days of LGBT (an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender), I can accept that people would want to choose a different pronoun rather than "he" or "she", but it seems silly to me to choose the plural word "they", as this particular pronoun does not allow for "they" to be more than one person or less than two people. I do understand that a new word needs to be developed which is asexual but it seems daft to have a plural word rather than a completely new one.

Please someone think about it and develop something appropriate, although I have heard from my grandson that "zi"or "zhe" is the new pronoun. It sounds awful, but I suppose one gets used to it. I wonder if it will make the Oxford Dictionary whilst I'm still around.

More About Gender Neutral Pronouns - the Key Issue is Respect

"Different From" or "Different To" or Even "Different Than"?

I was taught to say "different from", but I notice that even journalists and other professional writers, as well as the general public, nowadays frequently say "different to" and even "different than".

How did that come about, when nobody would say something "differs to" something else? The word "from" conjures up some kind of separation, whereas "to" suggests moving towards something. And you would certainly never say "differs than" something.

It Also Seems to Make a Difference Depending on Whether You Are Speaking British or American English

"I Was Sat" Instead of "I Sat" Or "I Was Sitting"?

In more formal English, one would say "I sat down", or "I was sitting down" whereas "I was sat down" is normally an informal or colloquial expression, with the exception that "I was sat down" infers that someone compelled me to sit down. For example, a teacher, employer or adviser might have sat me down.

It is now quite commonplace to say "I was sat down" when speaking, but this expression should not be used in formal conversation or writing.

"Could Have" or "Could Of"?

People sometimes now say "could of" instead of "could have" as in "I could of been a princess if I had married right". No, no, no!

On the other hand, it's easy to see how this particular mutation came about - because people say "could've" which could've caused confusion in the minds of less literate speakers, leading them to think you mean "of" rather than "have".

Below Is a Video of I Should Have Known Better - Sung by The Beatles:

Note they sing "I should have known better", not "I should of known better" or even "I should've known better".

A Great Video For Musicians as it Even Shows the Music Notes as Well as the Lyrics

Here's a Poll to See What You Think

Are There Any More Expressions That Get on Your Nerves?

Maybe things like "Innit?" instead of "isn't it?" or "that's sick, man" instead of "I like that". Come on or "C'mon", tell us your pet peeves below.

Am I a perfectionist, or just old-fashioned in my views about English language?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Do Leave Your Comments or Questions Here

Juliette Kando FI Chor from Andalusia on November 26, 2019:

Sorry, by your standards in my last paragraph I should have said "If you are going to ..." instead of "If you're gonna..." but it is a fact of life that these days we often tend to write like we speak.

Juliette Kando FI Chor from Andalusia on November 26, 2019:

Here is another one for you Diana,

When the phrase "Bon appetit" is used in the English language they insist on pronouncing the final "t". The last "t" in "Bon appetit" in French is silent. Its English pronunciation would read in French as "Bon Appetite". Same as in "petit" (masculine for "small") and "petite" (feminine).

If you're gonna steal a phrase from another language, at least make sure you pronounce it correctly!

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on September 30, 2019:

I am also still not used to the informality of business operatives calling me by my first name - it's not how I was taught to address people, but I quite like it.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on September 30, 2019:

Being English and having grown up in an era when the "Queen's English" or "BBC English" was the norm on television and on the radio, I REALLY frown at misuse of the English language.

You can imagine my horror when I moved to the Midwest USA and found all sorts of weird corruptions of "our" language, including as you mentioned "could of", which incidentally is now quite common here in the UK as well.

I think in my 15 years of living in the USA, my two worst pet hates have to be "Don't Got To" and "You Betcha". Not to mention of course those weird made up words like "winningest" and sentences that include "more gooder".

Now excuse me while I disappear into my soundproof padded room for a few minutes to vent my frustration ;)

RoadMonkey on September 29, 2019:

I groan whenever I hear different than or different to. I also find people making mistakes with "fewer than" and "less than", as in I have less money / bread/cake than him but I have fewer coins/slices of toast / pieces of cake than him.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on September 28, 2019:

I'm American and live with a Brit. According to my husband, I don't speak 'proper' English.

Not only are many of the words different but many of the sounds, as well. One word, is Hawk. I would pronounce this as 'HOCK'. There are too many to list.

One that bothers me is the word, 'hey' instead of 'hi' or 'hello'. I also find being called by my first name in a bank, for example, rude.

As you say, language isn't static.