I'm always wondering this question: what benefits can people get from using different forms of words in different contexts?

For example:

  1. We say "he learns English" instead of "he learn English" but doesn't the pronoun "he" already indicate the sentence is in 3rd person?

  2. We say "yesterday he drank too much beer" instead of "yesterday he drink too much beer" but doesn't the word "yesterday" already indicate the action happened in the past?

  3. We say "he is going to read these 3 books during the holiday" instead of "he is going to read these 3 book during the holiday" but doesn't the number "3" already indicate how many books there are?

How is having various word forms advantageous in languages like English?


Language benefits from a principle called redundancy: this means that some information is expressed in multiple ways (and multiple times). There is a lot of redundancy in human languages, as it makes communication easier.

If you think about it from the point of view of transmission, you have a message that is encoded, sent over a (noisy) channel, and then decoded at the other end. If in the course of the transmission something gets lost, it is still possible to decode the message, and in many cases without changing the actual meaning.

Sure, he learn is easy to understand, but what if you didn't understand it properly and hear we learn instead? If it was we learns you know that something went wrong (assuming you trust the grammatical proficiency of the speaker), and you can try and re-interpret it as either we learn or he learns, depending on context. Or you can ask the speaker to repeat it.

Historically there was more inflectional morphology in English, but its use diminished over time. Instead other methods were used, such as position in the sentence. In most cases the subject in an English sentence has to come first, as there are no case markers left (apart from maybe the possessive).

You can come up with a greatly simplified version of English, where you remove a lot of redundancy, but while such a language would be very efficient in a perfect environment, in practice it would not work, as the world is too noisy. There would be a lot of misunderstandings, or cases where you have to ask the speaker for clarification, so that ultimately it would be easier to have redundancy, even though it might at first appear wasteful.


English is already simplified. It has only one definite article, (the) and two indefinite articles (a/an).

Nouns are genderless e.g, house, people, pain.

Regular Nouns add an -s to make the plural form, e.g. house ---> houses.
A statement such as “Blue houses are the best” affirms that there is more than one blue house in existence.

Verbs are genderless in English. He/she drinks to forget

Adjectives are genderless and are not pluralised. The blue house (s) The blue houses (pl).

The pronoun "you" can be singular or plural, but the verb is always plural. E.g “You are”

There is a total of seven subject pronouns to memorise (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they).

The majority of verbs in English are regular and simply tag an -ed to express past meaning. (Walk --> walked)

There is no future tense in English, just stick a "will" in front of the bare verb and it's "future": I/you/he/she/it/we/they will walk, is expressing future meaning. English doesn't require that a date, day, or time be specified e.g, “She'll swim when she's ready” expresses future meaning.

Modal verbs are the same for all subjects, and are normally used in the present with the exception of can, which becomes could to express meaning in the past.

English has already done a very good job of simplifying itself.

  • Being a bit of a pedant here, but nouns are not really genderless. They are in comparison to French or German, in that you don't have a seemingly random 'masculine' table (as in German), but man and woman clearly have gender. And even some weird ones like ship, which is feminine. – Oliver Mason Jul 4 '18 at 10:41
  • @OliverMason The word "ship" is neutral nowadays. The words man and woman refer to a specific sex that is their meanings, the words themselves are not inflected to denote masculine or feminine gender. A/the man/men, a/the car(s), a/the ship(s), a/the garden(s). Mother is the term for the female parent, that is the "meaning". A better argument, and one that just occurred to me, are the words: actor --> actress, waiter ---> waitress, songster ---> songstress the first two are falling out of fashion, and the last one is almost archaic. – Mari-Lou A Jul 4 '18 at 10:56
  • I said that was being pedantic :) Ship is definitely not neutral. I do a lot of dinghy sailing, and ships are definitely referred to as feminine. Other (odd) examples would be sun and moon. – Oliver Mason Jul 4 '18 at 11:13
  • @OliverMason The word ship in itself is not feminine, how people (usually men :) ) refer affectionately to a ship or their car is a different topic. Poets can use the feminine pronoun when referring to the moon, but the term itself is genderless. You are talking about personification or anthropomorphism. – Mari-Lou A Jul 4 '18 at 11:19
  • OK, I think we were talking about different aspects of 'gender'. I agree with your view that there is no grammatical marker of gender other than pronoun agreement. – Oliver Mason Jul 4 '18 at 11:21

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