The Problem with Words…

“Language is the source of misunderstandings.”
from Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saunt-Exupéry


I always felt German was a hard language to learn – much harder than French, my first foreign language at school – but I do understand that the English language has its problems too…

Here are some sentences found, oh goodness knows where, many years ago, that I sometimes show to my students to console them when they have difficulties!

  1. The farm was used to produce produce.
  2. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  3. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  4. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
  5. I did not object to the object.
  6. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  7. They were too close to the door to close it.
  8. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  9. After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  10. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

And then there’s these:

  • The chicken is ready to eat.
  • Visiting relatives can be boring.
  • They are cooking apples.
  • They are hunting dogs.
  • We saw her duck.
  • He ate the cookies in the kitchen.
  • Mine exploded.
  • I know a man with a dog who has fleas.


Who says English is easy?!


23 thoughts on “The Problem with Words…

  1. Mmh: Tho’ European-born, I must have lived too long in a basically English-speaking country!! I can manage about 4-5 languages only : I suppose English is the one I use most. I cannot understand one single solitary reason why any in the second column should provide difficulty! Please explain!! In the first list given: as long as a newcomer to English knows a word may have more than one meaning [as in most other tongues!]: why is there a difficulty with any? Exactly where does any problem lie : D ?

    • In column one, the pronunciation difference (stress on syllables) between nouns and verbs/adjectives causes problems (to native speakers too!). In column two, there is always a second meaning… Read them again! 😉

  2. Yes, of course there is a ‘second’ meaning! There always is!! Surely one uses logic and/or finds out more about the language? 😀 ! It still means having a certain amount of ‘experience’ in a language 🙂 ! And indeed I am only fluent in about four!!!!!

  3. In der 2. Spalte wären saw + mine deutsche Teekesselchen (wir sprachen schon mal darüber) 🙂 Es darf nur ein Wort sein und ist häufig ein Substantiv ~ aber Verben gehen auch 😉 Have a nice Winter-Weekend! Uta

    • I think the double meanings of some English words are hard too… I learned today that a pasty is something completely different on your side of the Atlantic to the British, i.e. a pastry pie! 😉

  4. Yes, the quote from “Le Petit Prince” surely is very true. My school English isn´t so good to
    perceive the pronunciation differences, but reading once more I`m able to catch the different meanings in column two.
    Have a nice Sunday, Cathy. I`m longing for some sun…

  5. Oh what fun Cathy. I enjoyed your examples especially the second batch. I certainly admire my Italian mother for getting to grips with the English language 🙂

  6. How funny! I think learning a foreign language is always tricky when you don´t have a good native speaker as a teacher. Otherwise you sometimes learn words or expressions that are probably never used by native speakers or are impolite.

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