Three Weird Grammar Rules English Learners Have Trouble With

English is not an easy language to learn and that is largely due to all of the subtle grammar rules you have to learn. Native English speakers, of course, learn these rules from daily use, from reading and listening.  Those trying to learn Institut Linguistique Provincial English as a second language, however, come to encounter some stunning grammar and punctuation rules that complicate comprehension, at least early on.

Here are three odd English grammar rules (that you probably didn’t even know existed)

lesson

COMPOUND POSSESSION

This term refers to multiple entities who share subjective versus respective ownership of an object.  For example:

  • Tom’s and Jerry’s houses are brown
  • Tom and Jerry’s houses are brown

In the first example, Tom and Jerry each have their own respective houses, both of which happen to be brown.

In the second example, Tom and Jerry, together (as one subject) own several brown houses.

Obviously, this distinction has yet further subtleties to explore, but those are far more complex (and we have more lists to discuss).

ALTERNATIVE SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT

Subject and verb agreement is the key to sentence structure.  The subject is a noun (or a plural noun like “Tom and Jerry”) and the verb conjugation must obey it. For example:

  • Tom needs to go the store

vs

  • Tom and Jerry need to go to the store

This rule, of course, has exceptions.  For example, when there is a compound subject as a single unit:

  • Biscuits and gravy is my favorite breakfast

vs

  • Biscuits and gravy are two things on my shopping list

The oddity of this rule, though, is when you use specific conjunctions. This changes the value of the verb (singular or plural) depending upon which of the subjects is closest to the verb:

  • Either the father or his sons want to sell the house
  • Neither the father nor his sons want to sell the house
  • The apples are fine but the pear is spoiled
  • The pear is fine but the apples are spoiled

ADJECTIVE ORDER

In English, there is a grammar rule that every fluent speaker inherently understands; and they use this rule whether we are aware of it or not.  The rule, essentially, is that you must list adjectives in a specific order.  This order is:

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

Here is an example: “best little old circular red brick pizza” oven.

Of course, you do not have to use every adjective classification in every sentence but the adjectives you do choose to use must fall into this sequence.

Another example:  “big black dog” vs “black big dog”.