ESL students can get frustrated because English grammar exceptions can play havoc with their progress.

But the important thing to remember from the beginning is that every rule has an exception and, in this case, knowing them could help you to avoid common errors in English.

As an English student, it’s essential that you embrace the more tricky English grammar rules, which, with the right attitude, can make the language interesting!  

Even English native speakers break grammar rules and struggle with spelling which certainly proves that rules for English grammar can be difficult especially for students.

In this article, we will look at 10 of the most common English grammar exceptions and easy ways to remember them.  

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1. Exceptions to Grammar Rules when Using Auxiliary Verbs

Usually, the present tense is used for events that happen regularly.

I practise soccer every day.

However, one of the common errors in English happens with these English grammar exceptions. Consider these:

I eat supper now.

Correctly said, that sentence should be…I am eating supper now.

This is because using the present tense when we are meant to use the present progressive tense is not only one of the common errors in English, it is one of the hardest lessons in English grammar to grasp.  

The Oxford English dictionary offers an outstanding resource to assist students of English to master verb tenses.

The English grammar exceptions to this rule serve to reinforce your statement with what is known as an auxiliary or helping verb:

do practise Soccer every day!

Adding the ‘do’ emphasises that you are, a diligent soccer player who is sure of what is needed to succeed.

2. Exceptions to Grammar Rules for Conjugated Verbs

Another one of the common errors in English that are frequently made is when the auxiliary verb is added to the conjugated main verb form:

He does practices soccer every day is incorrect.

Correctly written or spoken: He does practice soccer every day. There is no -s in practice.

3. Further Exceptions to Grammar Rules for Verb Tenses

The simple present tense is useful for expressing general truths or habits:

  • She is a girl.
  • You want to expand your French.
  • They learn new vocabulary every day.
  • Esol teachers work hard.

The grammar exceptions to this rule occur when expressing future, scheduled events.

  • French classes start fall semester.
  • We have grammar and spelling tests next Thursday.
  • Non-native speakers sit for exams every October.

In all of these examples, the verb is in the present tense, but the actual action happens in the future.

4. Tricky English Grammar Rules for Spelling  

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In English, there are more grammar exceptions than general rules. - Source: Pexels

There are more grammar exceptions, both when speaking and spelling English words, than general rules. Let’s teak a look at the three major ones.

I Before E Except After C, but also when sounded like an A

Remember that i should come before e (like piece, achieve and believe), except in two instances. The first is after a c, like ceiling, or for words like weight and freight that sound like they have an a.

Unfortunately, this rhyme won’t help you with further exceptions to this rule for words like height, weird, foreign, and neither, which you will simply have to learn and remember!

E,I,Y will make C sound like S

Another English spelling rule that implicates phonics and vowel order is that certain, circle, citrus, cyber and cynical are all pronounced using an s-sound.

Vowels O, A and U, are pronounced with a K 

Car, cold, can, cues, cunning are examples of this rule.

“In Shakespeare’s day, you could get by with a little variation in spelling...” - Allan Metcalf

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5. Doubling Final Consonants

Another one of the more tricky English grammar rules has to do with double final consonants.

Students learning English as a second language are easily confused by words that end with a consonant.

The question is should the word contain a suffix, or should the consonant be doubled?

Try and remember that the final consonant is only doubled when both of these conditions are in place:

Firstly, when a single vowel comes before the consonant – admit, stop, benefit

Secondly, when it is only a one-syllable word or the final syllable is accented.

An example is the word benefited which is commonly incorrectly spelt as benefitted.

You will notice that this word meets only one of the two criteria for consonant doubling. When pronouncing this word, the first syllable is emphasised.

However, admit as a two-syllable word with the emphasis on the final syllable requires the double consonant, making it admitted.

6. Exceptions to Grammar Rules with the Silent E

In English, when an E occurs at the end of the word, it is generally not pronounced. It is silent and serves to emphasise the sound of the prior syllable.

VCV (vowel, consonant, vowel) combinations make for short sounds in words such as date, done, and made where the final e is silent.

However, you will need to remember that this doesn’t apply to those words borrowed from other languages, like French.

Consider the words: risqué, macramé, fiancé and recipe.

In the original French, all of these words have an accent on the final letter which makes the final consonant-vowel pair a pronounced syllable.

English does not use markings on vowels as other languages do, so the phonetic sound is borrowed while the spelling is unchanged.

Wouldn't macramay and risquay be far easier to read?

Finally, on this topic: Resume.

The personal document that is presented to recruiting agents is called a resume (sounds like resumay), however, to continue with something after a break is to resume (sounds like rezoom).

The first word originates from the French language, which means 'to summarise'. The second with its Latin roots means to start again.’

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Silent letters can take some getting used to. - Source: Pexels

7. Punctuation English Grammar Exceptions

Some of the most common errors in English have to do with grammar exceptions regarding punctuation.

Certain languages don’t use punctuation, however, in English, these rules are essential to understanding even the most basic English.

To improve your English speaking skills, you may need to learn to speak punctuation!

Imagine the shock of the celebrity who had given a personal interview, only to find that the final caption of the article read:

“... is inspired by cooking her family and her cat”

Most likely, the writer meant that the celebrity is inspired by cooking, her family, and her cat.

Did you notice the comma after the word 'family' in the above sentence?

When listing items in English, separating them with the use of a comma is essential. The final comma on the list is called the Oxford comma!

8. A Full Stop (or Other Punctuation Mark) Completes a Sentence, Except ...

When making a list, it is not necessary to add a full stop to every statement even if the sentences are complete.  The following section demonstrates this rule.

9. Advice for Learning English Effectively

When you are learning English as a second language, your goal should be fluency, to achieve this, you should:

  • Aim for reading comprehension
  • Practise your writing skills
  • Grow a sizable vocabulary
  • Practise speaking English at every possible opportunity
  • Concentrate on your listening skills

Should you hope to have a brilliant academic career, you should seek out language courses in English for academic purposes.

If you would like to use English in a more formal way, you may want to obtain a business vocabulary in English.

The British Council offers much to meet an English student’s needs from basic English lessons to English courses for English. In addition, in South Africa, you could find a private English tutor near you for in-person or online lessons here.

The Internet is also filled with free ESOL courses like those found on Duolingo.

To supplement your English lessons, remember that even using your smartphone to improve vocabulary and basic phrases can be very helpful.  

Finally, let’s take a look at the last rule on our list of English grammar exceptions.

10. Exceptions Involving Articles

One of the more difficult English grammar rules is knowing how to use articles correctly.

‘The’ is, without doubt, the most common article, and is used to denote things that are unique or specific.

The sun bathes the earth in light.

Because both the earth and sun are unique, using 'the' to differentiate them is correct.

When it comes to the article ‘a’ it is used for more general mentions: a door, a cat, an envelope.

However, there are also cases in which single objects must be articulated with the general article a.

Our Earth wouldn’t be the same without a sun.

Similarly, ‘the’ is usually used before a superlative:

She had the most fascinating dress on – meaning: the dress is both fascinating and unique.

You could hear a native English speaker say: She had on a most fascinating dress, with emphasis on most.

This suggests that the dress must have been especially stunning.

However, it could also mean that the dress was appalling, which is where the nuances regarding the use of tonality and inflection in English, are so important.

The best ways to master these areas of fluency and to avoid common errors in English is to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible, and to rely on an English tutor to assist you with the subtleties that are not necessarily found in a textbook!

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.