Tag Archives: English

The sufferings of ‘S’

In this strange life I’ve stumbled into, I spend a lot of time living inside a foreign language. I think I’m beginning to develop a slight empathy for what foreigners encounter when they try to learn our very bizarre English tongue.

What struck me the other day was the way we use (or torture) the letter S.

At the end of a word, “s” can mean one of three different things in English:

  • It can mean a simple plural: “dog” becomes “dogs.”
  • If we precede it with an apostrophe, it means a possessive: “Edward’s” (except in the case of “its,” an unfortunate and confusing side effect of the very problem I’m complaining about).
  • Finally, when used with a verb, it means present tense: “This is the product Acme makes.”

This is all the result of bad table manners on the part of the English people – bolting down a Germanic language and Old French without chewing them properly (Old Norse for dessert).

Norwegian is much more rational (a final “s” means possessive. That’s all). I’ll bet Chinese is too.

And pretty much any other language you could name.

But I love English. It’s kind of like one of those exclusive neighborhoods with the winding, poorly marked streets: “Welcome to Pretentious Heights, Minnesota. If you can’t find your way around, it’s probably because you don’t belong here in the first place.”