I wrote this for Cracked and they never did anything with it, so I'm posting it here because it's worth a giggle or two.
4 Reasons English Grammar Sucks
Quick, what’s the difference between “You’re a twat” and “your twat”? What about “There be mermaids,” “They’re being mermaids” and “their mermaids”? If you said “Shut up, you god damn grammar Nazi, no one cares,” get off the internet. I hate you so much. If you said something about the grammar rules that dictate when we use these identical sounding words, you can stay. But did you know that’s really only the tip of the grammar dildo non-native speakers are constantly getting fucked by? Because that’s nothing compared to...
Articles make no sense to half the world
What’s the difference between Queen, the Queen, and a queen? All three would probably be bitching company over tea, but the dress code would vary wildly. That’s because the only difference is the article each one takes. And if you speak a language that doesn’t use articles, like every single language of Slavic origin (Russian, Slovak, Czech, Polish, shall I continue?), these are a fucking nightmare.
Here’s another one – what’s the difference between shouting
A) That’s shit!
B) That the shit!
C) That’s a shit!
The dumb ass rule
There’s three types of articles in English – the zero article, the definite article, and the indefinite article. And just like the panties you put on in the morning, they’re pretty crucial to identifying what exactly you’re getting into.
The indefinite article, a or an, is like the everyday, Hanes six pack granny panties you put on when it doesn’t really matter. “I had tea with a queen” means I sipped hot leaf juice with either any fabulous elderly gentleman, perhaps in a line up of your choosing, or a specific Chardonnay-loving, earring-sporting AARP member who has not yet been introduced to the listener or to the conversation. “That’s a shit,” means that the subject of the sentence is literally a piece o’shit, just your run of the mill fecal matter.
The definite article, the, is the nice silk panties you slip on when you’re anticipating slipping them back off, you dirty, dirty noun. “I had tea with the queen,” means my lunch date was none other than Her Majesty, the Queen of England. It’s a specific person everyone involved in the conversation knows, or at least knows about. “That’s the shit” means that whatever I’m talking about is the specific shit, the shit to end all shit, the greatest of shits. It also means “Well, that’s cool.”
The zero article, not putting anything in front of your noun, is just going straight up commando – especially if you’re a non-native speaker, cause it probably means you’re going to get screwed. This we usually use for proper nouns, like “I had tea with Queen (and it was the shit).” We can also use it in front of certain abstract nouns, like “I had tea with Queen, and we had a rousing conversation about truth, justice, and rocking your balls off.” It’s also how we distinguish certain words that can be both nouns and adjectives – “That’s shit” could read “that’s awful” without changing either the meaning or the grammatical construction.
Some proper nouns get the definite article – The United Kingdom, The Pacific Ocean - because (and I cannot stress this enough) screw you.
Our pronunciation hates you
Quick, read the following list out loud (bonus points if you’re at work and you just start spewing random nonsense out of your cubicle to the utter confusion of your coworkers):
Send the Maid
An Ice Man
Fantastic, you schitzo. If you’re a native speaker, and especially if you’re American (fuck yeah, America, being better at English than the actual English) that list should sound identical to this one:
Send them aid
A Nice Man
Still not hearing it? Here’s both lists side by side
Great Apes - Gray Tapes
Carpet - Car Pit
Send the Maid - Send them aid
Gray Day - Grade A
Ice Cream - I Scream
I May - I'm a
Plum Pie - Plump Eye
Scar Face - Scarf Ace
An Ice Man - A Nice Man
The dumb-ass rule
Cracked has already talked about all the stupid spelling rules English has. Spoiler alert – they’re stupid. But there’s another reason why, even independent of spelling, English is so easy to misunderstand when you’re listening to it.
English is a stressed language, in that pronunciation is dependent on the stress of a syllable. It’s the difference between pronouncing “epitome” as “eh-pit-OH-me” (which is correct) and “eh-pah-TOME” (which is idiotic). This isn’t so bad if your native language is from the same linguistic families as English – as much as we mock their accents, German and French speakers have an easier time figuring out where to put the stress on a word the first time than, say, someone who grew up in Turkey. But if you grew up speaking a language where the first syllable of the word is stressed no matter what, then you are going to have a very bad time pronouncing English words. Don’t believe me? Try learning Czech.
The rules about where stress goes in a word are the inbred bastard children of ancient German, French, Latin, and some Greek. So rather than acknowledge them, we basically say they don’t exist because that’s easier for everyone.
Three sentences, pick the most fun one:
I would do coke with Charlie Sheen.
I could do coke with Charlie Sheen.
I should do coke with Charlie Sheen.
If you picked the third one, maybe seek help. Anyway, what’s the difference? The first, would do coke, is the typical start of a conditional statement – I would do coke with Charlie Sheen if he were here right now. The second, could do coke, talks about my ability to do a rail off a hooker’s ass. The third, should do coke, is an obligation – I should stop writing grammar articles and go find my soul mate so we can ride off into a coke-fuel sunset and/or bonfire. I can’t tell which it is because of all the drugs I do.
The dumb-ass rule
Modal verbs are funky, cause they don’t behave like regular verbs. Instead of conjugating (I masturbate, he masturbates, they are masturbating, she masturbated, we have masturbated), they’re paired up – can/could, may/might, will/would, shall/should, have to/must, and so on. They (generally, because fuck solid rules) function as helper verbs in a sentence to “change the mood.” Not like light a scented candle and turn on some Celine Dion, but change the grammatical mood.
Depending on which modal we use, we can talk about the probability of something (He might go kick children in the park today, or he may go fishing instead), our ability to do something (He could go kid-kicking, just like I can go fishing for hobos), talk about obligation (You really must stop hobo-fishing) or advice (You should stop kicking kids – it’s bad for your feet), ask for or give permission (May I go hobo-fishing? No, but you may go kick Timmy in the park), and even talk about habits (Grandpa would hobo-fish every Tuesday before he was killed by a mob of children in the park).
Each modal can have several different uses, because seriously, fuck you.
We’ve got a minimum of 12 god-damn tenses
What? No, that doesn’t sound right. Everyone knows there’s only three – past, present, and future. You’re out of your mind, there’s no way there’s twelve.
You sure? A tense is just when the verb changes, the difference between I did your mom last night, I do your mom every Tuesday, and I will do your mom tonight. There, past, present, and future - simple. But wait! What about these? I was doing your mom last night when you called, I’m doing your mom right now, and I will be doing you mom all night long. Past, present, and future continuous. So that’s six, where are the other six?
The dumb-ass rule
We have three time periods, sure. But in each of those time periods there are four tenses. The simple (do/did) and the continuous (doing) are pretty easy to nail down. Past simple is a completed action, present simple is a permanent state of being, and future simple is an action likely to happen in the future. The continuous forms just mean that instead of the action being a one time thing, they were, they are, or they will be happening at the time we’re describing.
In English, we also have these nasty fuckers called perfect tenses, and they’re unpleasant. “I had done your mom already by the time you showed up” (past perfect) and “I had been doing your mom before your piano recital” (past perfect continuous) describe the past before the past, or past events further back on the timeline than whatever we’re talking about. “I have done your mom” (present perfect) is basically a past event with no specific time connected, either because it’s recent or because it was a big deal. “I have been doing your mom” (present perfect continuous) is an action started in the past and that hasn’t concluded yet.
And oh Jesus, the future perfect makes non-native speakers want to cry. “I will have done your mom twice for every member of the London Philharmonic by tonight” (future perfect) talks about an action that will be finished by a deadline. “I will have been doing your mom for six straight hours by the time you read this” (future perfect continuous) describes an action that will have started before a point in the future and will likely continue past that same point.
So, four types of tenses: simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous. Multiplied by three because seriously…
These are the easy rules. Each tense has at least two specific uses – some have six or seven. Also, see how this section is labeled “minimum”? Yeah, some people think that’s not enough and teach more than that. Gendered nouns don’t seem so scary now, do they high school Spanish?