Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Some common grammatical confusions in English language (part 2)

I am going to shed some light on a few more common grammatical confusions we face in English language. English is the funniest and most flexible language in the world enabling us to blend it with any other language without any sense of discomfort or oddness. However, there are well-defined grammatical frameworks which dictate the way we speak and write in English language. So, I would like to highlight some of the most common errors we make in English language, at least in British context.

Bread and butter: a singular noun

When we say “Bread and butter”, we see them as two separate food items. But in British context, these two items are always taken together and hence, it is considered a singular noun. So, we should say “Bread and butter is good for breakfast”. It’s believed that in British context, nobody takes bread and butter in isolation. Hence, it’s a single item.

Marry vs. Get married to

The word “marry” is an active verb and is therefore associated only with men since it’s they who first propose marriage in many societies including Britain. So, we say, “He married her” or “Dorji married Choden”. On the other end, the phrase “get/got married to” is passive and hence, it’s associated only with women since they are the ones who accept the proposal made by men rather than proposing first. So we say, “She got married to him” or “Choden is about to get married to Dorji”. I hope you got the difference. Man is the subject (doer of action) and woman is the object (receiver of action). The first one is associated with the subject whereas the later one is associated with the object.

Return back

This is one of the most commonly mistaken phrases in English language. Many people often say “I returned back from Paro” or “We must return back on time”, which is wrong because the word “return” itself means “come back”. So, if you say “return back”, it literarily means “come back back”. So, the correct sentences should be, “We must return to work on time” or “He has returned from New Delhi last night”.

Fish vs. Fishes

Do you know “fish” is a noun whose plural form is as it is, like "sheep" and hence, we don’t add “es” to it to make it plural? Yet, have you been surprised to hear some people say “fishes”? So, here’s the difference. 'Fish' is a noun with an irregular plural, which means that it does not include 'es' at the end. E.g., “I could see a lot of fish in the water” or “there were large quantities of fish in the meat-shop”. However, this refers to mostly similar species of fish. The word “fishes” refers to a variety of species and that too in extensively large quantities. E.g., “There are many fishes in the Indian Ocean” or “The Pacific Ocean is host to numerous delicate fishes”. But we don’t say “I have bought many fishes”.


I have heard some people saying “Scissor” which is actually only one of the two blades of the scissors. So, since it consists of two blades or scissors, we should call it “scissors” and not “scissor”. E.g., “Can you pass me that scissors?”

Leave/left for

I have heard some people saying “I left to Phuntsholing” which is actually wrong. We should say, “I left for Phuntsholing” or “I shall leave for Paro tomorrow”. If we break down the above sentences, we can understand that the place we are leaving behind is not mentioned because the person whom you are talking to knows where you are. So, when you say “I shall leave for Paro tomorrow”, the person whom you are saying this to will understand that you are leaving your present location for Paro. Even if you want to indicate the starting point of your journey, you can simply say "I left Bhutan for Bangkok in Thailand". So, I guess the logic is simple.

Love vs. Loving

Well, this reminds me of an old Bhutanese song with the lines in the chorus, “I’m still loving you” sung by Tshering Dolkar. This is grammatically wrong. When you are expressing your emotional feelings, the word “love” should be used directly in its simple present tense. E.g., “I love you”, “She loves you” or “They love me”. This indicates that this feeling is always there with you and it’s not going to change. But when you say with reference to a specific time, you can use the word in its present-continuous tense. E.g., “I hate English songs but I am loving this one”. Here, the intensity of the word “love” is temporary, only for a certain period of time. This form of the word can also be used as an adjective to describe a noun. E.g., “He is a loving father” or “She is a loving teacher".


  1. Thanks for these useful observations and clear explanations. I would just query one thing, though: is "fish" really a "collective" noun? I view it as an ordinary noun with an irregular plural, like "children", the reason being that collective nouns can usually take plural -s ("audiences", "governments"), whereas "fish" cannot.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Thank you so much for your important observation. Yes, I fully agree with you that 'fish' is a noun with an irregular plural form and I have made the correction right away. But collective nouns also do not always take plural forms with 'es' or 's' such as "furniture", "stationery", "army", etc. That's why, English is the funniest language. LoL! Anyway, I highly appreciate you for your comment and concern. Keep coming back again. I will also follow your blog.

  3. Amrith Sir, I have thoroughly enjoyed going through this useful post. In fact, I learned many aspects of English grammar here. When it comes to "marry", I had a similar justification before. But I wrote on my blog, "I got married" in my recent post (despite I being a man). I think this applies no more to our generation as both sexes are considered equal and these days even a woman proposes man. Just my opinion, Sir. I really applaud you for writing this important post. Just to tell you, I referred your previous post on grammar for my ILETS preparation and it really helped me. Thank you.

  4. Many thanks, Rikuji. Yes u r right about gender equality. But this is how it originated in Britain. LoL

  5. Tat song...I'm still loving you..I remember we singing it in group in school during lympo Sangay needups massive campaign on career information.I alys felt sth not quite right about tat English line ...I guess they ignored the grammatical error for its tune..Instead of love they needed one more syllable, loving , to tune it with other lines. Just my guess.

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