Rules and Conventions of the English Language

As the English Language has grown up over time it has adapted to its times accordingly. It will continue to change over time despite the protestations of some that such progress is synonymous with a degradation of the English Language – but such arguments are false. As with anything living – and languages are surely living things – if they are rigid they ultimately fail to suit their purpose – and die.

There are thousands of rules across the spectrum of the English language, perhaps even tens of thousands, all of which you consciously or subconsciously learn as you go through life. This blog entry lists a few of the more common or interesting ones that you will use when you are writing essays for college or university.


The numbers one to ten are written out, and any number above 11 is expressed as a digit; for example, “five monkeys”, “20 case-studies” or the year “2012”. Avoid starting sentences with numbers; however, if you have to then write the word out, no matter what its size. When writing numbers, use commas and not full stops: for example, 3,422,100. Centuries and decades should also be written out in full.

Singular and plural forms

Remember to state the correct form, whether it’s singular or plural. Whereas the rule is to add an “s’ to make something plural (i.e. to show there is more than one of something) there are some notable exceptions. “Sheep’, for example, is one of the rare examples where it’s the same for both singular and plural (one sheep, two sheep). “Bacteria’ refers to the plural but just one on its own would be a “bacterium’. “Stadium’ in its plural form is “Stadia’; “thesis’ in its plural form is “theses’ and so on. If unsure, carry out some research on the internet.

Avoid Americanisms

Pronounced shiiteUnless you’re an American writing in America, ensure you are using the British spellings. If you’re using Microsoft Word, click on “Review’, “Spelling and Grammar’ then click on “Options’ and select the “Language’ tab. Ensure this is set to “English (UK)’. During presentations, make sure you’re using the correct pronunciation of words, for example, controversy ought to sound like con-trov-ersy, not con-tre-vercy – although not even the BBC gets this right these days…

Weird conventions…

A lesser known convention of the English Language is that human beings are not killed by being “hung’ but “hanged’ – the distinction being that animals are hung and humans are hanged. Although it’s worth spending a little time on Google with unfamiliar phrases, getting something like this wrong is unlikely to result in you being penalised and indeed, depends on whether your lecturer is aware of such lesser known conventions. Some rules of the English Language have emerged through necessity; others such as the convention on using “hung’ and “hanged’ appear to be little more than someone’s quirk.

If in doubt, check

There are many things in the English language which trip students up – for example, when to use “who’ and “whom’, or even more basic conundrums such as the selection of “there, their and they’re’ or “to, too and two’. In these cases the Internet is your friend, but remember to check a few sources and choose only those that are reliable (i.e. not Yahoo Answers or forums) to make sure the information you’re accessing is accurate.

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