top of page

English, An Illogical Language? You Are Not Mad. You Are Not Alone.

If you are studying the English language, you might feel like you are loosing your marbles. (The word "marbles" is used as a substitute for "mind" here suggesting you feel like you are "loosing your mind." Yes, you may chuckle aloud and please do! It's healthy!) If you don't seem to find a logical pattern within the written or spoken intricacies of this puzzling language, you are not alone. I will give you a simple example why the English language isn't one which follows a logical and consistent pattern related to punctuation. But before I do, please allow me to state that if English doesn't make sense to you, at times, don't be hard on yourself. It doesn't to most people you will encounter, even native speakers. Try to understand why it is the the way it is. Give it your best and move on. You could end up spending weeks, months, and even years (if you are like me), on semantics. And not that focusing on semantics isn't fun because to me it sure is; however, if you don't plan to professionally write or publish then it's really not something you need to obsess over.

I arrived in the USA at the age of 16. At the time, I didn't speak or write in English. In fact, I was more knowledgeable in French most of which I lost over the past twenty plus years due to a lack of practice. The saying "use it or lose it" is valid. When I moved to this country, I had to actually learn English. However, I am primarily self-taught in the English language, a fact which most people would find difficult to wrap their minds around. My high school years in the USA were at an independent, private school which did not use traditional teaching methods. This meant, to me, that I had to use 2-4 dictionaries, on a daily basis, just to understand what I was reading. Then, I had to figure out how to properly construct sentences meanwhile deducing from the various word definitions which one was most appropriate to use within the specific context of those sentences. Furthermore, I had to understand the logical pattern of how these words come together grammatically. In addition, I had to learn verb conjugations and how these conjugations fit perfectly within the context used while taking all of the above into consideration. Finally, imagine doing all this on your own! It was incredibly challenging, to say in the least. The teachers I had were all lovely and helpful when students had questions. But this was not a setting where a teacher would be available just to one student for hours long. In a day, I would spend maybe 30-40 minutes tops with a teacher, if I asked a question. All work was independent study. The common "sit-in-a-classroom" setup was not my reality. I was not inside a classroom but at a desk, independently trying to figure it all out on my own. Eventually I was also in front a computer, doing this. But, first I had to learn how to use one. I did not see a computer until the age of 16, when I arrived in the USA. Gratefully, I love learning and I learn fast. The oral exams were actual exams not opportunities to practice. At home, the accustomed language spoken was Romanian. So, I did not get much practice at home. I wanted to get a job so I could practice with actual native speakers, which I ended up doing out of my own initiative. Thus, I did all this while working part-time at a nursing home which I loved. I was extremely ambitious. I wanted to not just be able to read and write. I wanted to become a great writer. And so, I did.

Now, let me get back to the simple example I was going to share with you. And not that I need permission; thus, "let me" is not asking for permission here. It's an expression. Don't get me started on those! I'd spend a week just on expressions alone! And unless you are a lover of languages like me, it would be exhausting. Today, I was contemplating on the possessive singular form of nouns in particular to that of people's names. Depending on which writing style guide you use, there are only at least a couple, go figure, you will learn different things. The Elements of Style, written by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, which has served me for years as a guide, suggests that names like Charles should look like this when turned into a possessive: (e.g. Charles's friend). However, the guide mentions that if the name is of an ancient historical figure like Moses, for example, it should be (e.g. Moses'). The guide states clearly that "the possessives of ancient proper names ending in -es and -is, should in fact take the apostrophe only (e.g. Moses' laws)." But, it also suggests that Jesus which ends in -us (not -es or -is) should also be (e.g. Jesus'). Realize this, when it comes to forming the possessive of a proper name that ends in "s," guides DO disagree. See below.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)"once"(not sure when, if a hundred years ago or two years ago) recommended the below. So, I highly recommend you just purchase the guide if you want because they recommended one thing and then... this happened. >>> "CMOS has changed its policy in a spirit of consistency" suggesting that all proper names ending in "s" should use "'s" at the end. That's great! Not really, not when you have to utter aloud words like "Descartes's" or "Tacitus's" or words like "Kansas's." Try it! Your tongue won't be very happy!

I do agree with the following statement below which came from an article by Maeve Maddox: "[...] the writer's goal is to convey thoughts as clearly as possible to readers." Though not all readers might have a rich vocabulary, they should get the idea behind what you are stating. If it's not clear, you should make it clear or you can confuse the living out of someone. This makes the life of an eloquent author very challenging. If you are one reading this right now, I feel your pain and send you hugs. And if English isn't your first language (English was my third and Spanish was my fourth), then you really will need to dedicate a huge amount of time to become familiar with these nuances. Please find comfort in knowing, native speakers too struggle with the same nuances at times. So, don't be hard on yourself if you are not a native speaker.

I do very much side with this style which comes from Penguin Guide to Punctuation. Why? It's logical. When you speak, try it, your tongue will literally feel like it's about to stumble on itself in words like "Ulysses's" or "Saint Seans's." Try it! This is how I derived to the decision that if it ends in "s" I will only add a simple apostrophe to the end. It's what I prefer, yes. However, whichever you decide to go with from the styles, keep it consistent throughout. This is the biggest key, in written text - keeping it consistent!

If you enjoyed this read, you might want to read the LinkedIn post "Learning English: An ‘Illogical’ Language" by Peter Shephard, at the link provided below. I loved reading his perspective, as an Englishman, on the topic. One of his concerns are with, "So what type of English will future generations speak or will children still learn to spell and write? Will we learn to speak and pronounce in one way? Or will we still spell and speak in many diverse ways?" My only reflection on this is that we will continue to struggle because there is not one uniform language for all. I also believe that there will continue to be diverse ways of speaking because geographical location has enabled throughout history the growth of authentic and unique variations, for better or worse. This is just my take on the matter. However, I do hope our differences unite us in that they make us realize how these very differences make communication so much more fun and entertaining (not just frustrating) - despite the need for structure and consistency, both which I value. In addition, they should make us aware of the complexities of language and communication.

Thank you dearly for reading this diary entry which I hope you find fun and/or useful. Also, if you do purchase one of my books and love it please submit a book review via Amazon. I didn't ask before, as I really did not realize how much this helps an author. But, since it does seem to definitely help, I would appreciate it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Written With Love For You
Carmen A. Cisnadean
Author, Artist, Poetess

@Copyright 2022 Carmen A. Cisnadean


Maeve Maddox, "Possessive of Proper Names Ending in S."

Peter Shephard, October 2016. "Learning English: An ‘Illogical’ Language."


bottom of page