Off topic: English: The queerest language
Thread poster: Eleni Makantani

Eleni Makantani
Local time: 22:15
English to Greek
+ ...
May 5, 2009

A friend forwarded this poem to my inbox, and I thought I should share this:

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
Then one fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of mouse should never be meese,
You may find a lone mouse or a whole nest of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in the plural may be cows or kine,
But a bow if repeated is never called bine,
And the plural of vow is vows, never vine.

If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth, and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

If the singular's this and the plural is these,
Should the plural of kiss ever be nicknamed keese?
Then one may be that and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren,
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim,

So the English, I think, you all will agree,
Is the queerest language you ever did see.
(Anne Umphrey)

[Edited at 2009-05-05 08:39 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-05-05 08:44 GMT]


English to Turkish
+ ...
i loved the rhyme May 5, 2009

One would say after hearing that all, English is Greek after all!icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2009-05-05 06:56 GMT]


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:15
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Here's another one May 5, 2009

Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners


I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through?
Well done! And now you wish perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird;
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -
For goodness sake don't call it 'deed'.
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and choose.

And cord and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart -
Come come, I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five!


Ivette Camargo López  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:15
English to Spanish
+ ...
And yet another one... May 5, 2009

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,
Say — said, pay — paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
From “desire”: desirable — admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.

The poem was created by the Dutch writer and schoolteacher Gerard Nolst Trenité and first appeared, under the title of De Chaos, in his English textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent in 1920.

All 3 poems so far can be found at the English-learning website



Phillippa May Bennett
Local time: 20:15
Portuguese to English
Yesterday... May 5, 2009

One of my students brought this last poem in to show us all. I'd never seen it before, but had great fun with it. I'm currenly trying to help them out as these students are responsible for teaching English pronunciation to small children.... "ship and sheep" still continue to baffle them!!!

Thanks for the website link!


Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:15
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
The only thing to be said in defense of English ... May 5, 2009

... is that it's SO much easier to understand than any other language.



Kathryn Sanderson  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:15
French to English
English May 5, 2009

Susan Welsh wrote:

... is that it's SO much easier to understand than any other language.

icon_razz.gif long as you're not reading out loud!


Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:15
Portuguese to English
+ ...
OUGH May 5, 2009

Ona of the most unusual aspects of English pronunciation is that the letter combination OUGH can be pronounced in eight different ways.

For those of you who had never given this a thought, here goes:

Bough and Plough are pronounced "OW" (as in "NOW").

Cough and Trough are pronounced "OFF" (as in "OFF").

Dough and Though are pronounced "O" (as in "NO").

Fought and Thought are pronounced "OR" (as in "FORT").

Rough and Tough are pronounced "UF" (as in "CUFF").

Hiccough is pronounced "UP" (as in "HICCUP").

Through is pronounced "OO" (as in "TOO").

Thorough is pronounced sort of like "AH" (somewhere between "ERA" and "HORROR").


Paul Dixon  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:15
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Extended version of Trenité's poem May 5, 2009

Regarding ICL's contribution of Trenité's poem, I have discovered that this is actually a shortened version. The full version reads:

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough?
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is - give it up!

Gerard Nolst Trenité


Kathryn Sanderson  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:15
French to English
More weirdness.... May 5, 2009

I read somewhere that English is the only language where words spelled as differently as does, was, and fuzz rhyme.

Now that I think about it, it's a minor miracle that any child in an English-speaking country learns to read or spell with any degree of proficiency! Good thing English is the easiest language to understand!icon_biggrin.gif


Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 21:15
German to Serbian
+ ...
... May 5, 2009

Susan Welsh wrote:

... is that it's SO much easier to understand than any other language.


English is actually fairly simple when it comes to Number, Gender and Case. Explore Serbian/ French in these three aspects, and you will see what I mean.icon_biggrin.gif

On the other hand, English is complicated when it comes to phrasing, and some other features. For example, no case suffixes in English, however, the cases are indicated with prepositions instead and they tend to become intricate for a foreign speaker.


Mykhailo Voloshko  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:15
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
Thanks May 7, 2009

Thank you for the poems!

[Edited at 2009-05-07 11:15 GMT]


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