Rules of English You've Probably Never Heard Of


Unspoken Rules of the English Language

Have you ever wondered why we do things the way we do them? Why is Black Friday a Thanksgiving thing? Why is the number 13 unlucky? Well, there are some things you probably weren’t taught about the English language. Below are some unwritten English rules. How many of them do you already know?

  1. Ending in -ed versus ending in -nt

    For some English speakers, ending a verb in -ed or -nt signifies the same thing—the past tense. However, that’s not actually the case. This might be news for some English speakers, but -nt actually signifies the adjectival form of a verb. Here are some examples to further illustrate this “rule”:

    • Verb — Laila burned the lasagna she prepared for tonight.

    • Adjective — The guests did not appreciate burnt pasta.


  1. Date formats

    The argument over the day/month/year format versus the month/day/year format is already confusing enough as it is, so we’re not going near that subject. When we write historical dates, we know that we’re supposed to add BC (“before Christ”) or AD (“anno Domini”), signifying whether the event occurred before or after 0 (the year Christ was born). What a lot of people don’t know is that BC goes after the date (as in 600 BC) while AD (as in AD 400) goes before it.


  1. That versus which

    English speakers, whether native or new, tend to interchange that and which. Speakers often opt for the latter when trying to sound more formal, the same way one would use shall instead of will. However, there’s more to it than that. We use that to define, and we use which to add information. Below are some examples on how to use the two words properly.

    • Ella made the props that they used in the photoshoot.

    • The props, which were all made of rubber, were lightweight and easy to handle.

    In the first sentence, that is used because the props are defined as something used in the photoshoot. In the second sentence, which is used because the props were initially defined as lightweight and easy to handle but were also said to be made of rubber.


  1. Capitalization

There are several well-known capitalization rules in the English language: at the beginning of a sentence and the first letters of proper nouns and formal titles. However, even some native English speakers find when else to capitalize words confusing. In headlines and titles, often all the words are capitalized, unless they’re articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. Moreover, journalism often dictates that only the first and proper words are to be capitalized.


  1. Adjective order

Now this is one rule that plenty use but don’t think about. Look at the sentences below. Which one sounds more correct?

    Natalie packed six white silk kimonos.
    Julius packed blue satin three pants.

If you picked the first, then you’ve probably been speaking English for a while now. For many native English speakers, adjective order is something that comes naturally. For others, it’s something that’s learned. Below is the order that adjectives should be put in.

Opinion — Size — Age — Shape — Color — Origin — Material — Purpose — Noun

We put the noun in there because in certain languages, such as French and Spanish, adjectives come after the noun.

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