English usage, including grammar, spelling, and punctuation conventions, is full of contradictions, exceptions, and rules that we probably know implicitly but have probably never really thought about.
For those who grew up speaking English, many seemingly inexplicable rules are second nature. For those learning it as a second language, remembering a long list of irregular plurals (like mice or children) or inconsistent pronunciations (rough, though, bough) can be a daunting task. (Even native speakers have problems, of course. Here are 50 words people get wrong all the time.)
24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of 21 reasons why English is a difficult language by consulting several online language journals, style guides, and dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster.
The upshot is that some of the simplified “rules” we learned in elementary school weren’t actually rules, but rather rough guidelines and generalizations that have long lists of exceptions and contradictions. For example, the often quoted “i before e, except after c” rhyme may work for some words, but needs extensive clarification based on the sound that the “ie” combo makes.
For the purposes of academic and scientific writing, the rules may be more stringent; however acceptable usage changes over time, as style guides move toward accepting phrasing that was previously considered too informal. (Languages do evolve. Here are 36 old words we use today but with completely new meanings.)
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