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Why English Grammar is So Challenging

There are several challenges to learning English, but one of the biggest challenges by far for non-native speakers is understanding the grammar. The English language borrows from so many other languages, so grammar and construction is not based on one singular language style. Many of the grammar rules are not really rules at all, but are nuances that native language speakers pick up over time.

Placement of Pronouns in a Series

One of the most challenging grammatical aspects is understand where to place adjectives in a series. To native speakers, adjectives sound appropriate when they are placed in a particular way. Non-native speakers are not always able to hear the way that adjectives should be ordered, so a native speaker might say something like: We rented a bright red Italian sports car while we were on vacation. A non-native speaker might not know that adjectives need to go in this order: Determiner, Observation, Physical Description, Origin, Material, Qualifier, and then Noun; so non-native speakers often describe items in ways that can be confusing for native speakers to understand.

Degrees of Pronouns

Adjective order is not the only grammar structure that is challenging for non-native speakers.The English language has more challenging adjective issues, too. Degrees of adjectives are also very confusing, too. The English languages uses qualifiers like more and most, but it also has words that require endings, like -er, and -est to show degrees. In most times, English grammar dictates that syllables determine whether to add an ending or to place a word in front. However, some words completely change, like bad to worse, and worst. Non-native speakers have a lot to remember.

Articles are Adjectives, Too

As a high school English teacher, I can tell right away if an essay is written by a native or non-native English speaker. The most common errors have to do with the articles: a, an, and the. Native speakers are so used to including those in their everyday speaking and writing, but non-native speakers forget them frequently – at least at the high school level.

Irregular Verb Conjugations

Adjective grammar errors are followed very closely by errors with verbs. Since English has so many words with Latin roots, verbs are conjugated similarly to other Latin-based languages. However, we have so many exceptions to the conjugation rules that it is only natural that non-native speaker would make mistakes. There are even native speakers who frequently make verb conjugation errors, especially when they are working with indefinite pronouns. Like those irregular pronouns, irregular verbs create challenges for non-native speakers when it comes to effective communication. I wish I could say there was an easy way to tackle these challenges, but memorization is about the only way to do it (along with regular practice).

Parallel Structure Exists in English, Not Just Math

Lastly, the other common grammar error that many non-native and native English speakers make involves parallel structure. Using parallel structure is an advanced grammar skill and most people who do not do much writing or reading do not even recognize when they are making this grammar mistake. Parallel structure involves using the same verb tense and pronoun tense when writing and speaking. Since so many people use the pronoun “you” when they are referring to themselves, they make mistakes combining “you” with other nouns and pronouns that do not match. They also make mistakes with verb endings, too.

There is no doubt about it, English grammar is one of the toughest to master because it has so many exceptions.


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