The English Language Can Be Tricky To Learn

It must not be too hard though given it’s the lingua franca of the world

A Grain of Salt | ElbyJames


A drawing of the greek god Janus
A ‘Janus word’ is a word that is its own opposite — like ‘fast’, which can refer both to moving very quickly and to staying put.

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE CAN BE tricky to learn. I would argue that speaking the English language is easy but learning to read or write is the tricky part. It’s easier to learn the English language given it’s all around us.

If a person watches television, or listens to music, or even watches YouTube videos long enough they will eventually pick up the language. But, when it comes to reading and writing, that’s a different conversation to be had.

How did the English language attract this reputation for being so fearsomely difficult? And is it really even that difficult, when it has become the Lingua Franca of the world?

It just makes no sense!

One of the reasons why English is known for being difficult is it’s full of contradictions. Speaking of contradictions, there’s the term contronym.

A contronym is a word having two meanings that contradict one another. “Sometimes, just to heighten the confusion, the same word ends up with contradictory meanings. This kind of word is called a contronym. Sanction, for instance, can either signify permission to do something or a measure forbidding it to be done. Cleave can mean cut in half or stick together. A sanguine person is either hotheaded and bloodthirsty or calm and cheerful. Something that is fast is either stuck firmly or moving quickly.”

— Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue, 1990

A contronym can also be referred to as an antagonym, autoantonym, or a Janus word. The Janus word is my favorite.

Then there’s the term “enantiosemy” (from greek enantios meaning opposite, sema meaning sign) which means “when the same word includes two opposite meanings.” This is just another word for contronym, see why the English language is considered a hard language to learn.


  1. alight 1. To get on (to land), 2. Get off (the vehicle)

2. blunt 1. Not sharp, 2. Direct and sharp (blunt criticism)

3. break 1. To stop, 2. To start



A Grain of Salt | ElbyJames

ElbyJames is an American disabled combat vet exiled in the UK & a free speech absolutist. He’s an occasional Top Writer