This is on purpose not a very concrete question, I simply want to know some interesting properties other languages have that English doesn't, or features you even think English ought to have, this can be with respect to all linguistic fields you can imagine (grammar, phonetics etc.)

For the correct answer I'll choose the most voted property.

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    @AdamBittlingmayer: I guess (I haven't cast a downvote here) for the same reasons as there are close votes. I admit that I often use close votes and downvotes in combination because this enables some automatic sanitizing scripts. Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 13:56
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    And why the close votes? Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 14:53
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    Another unique feature: nil mainstream angst about threats to survival of the language or use as a global language. Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 19:57
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    @chepner "Mother", "father", "daughter", "son", "sister", "brother", etc. How much this counts as grammatical gender depends on your analysis; some people say English has no grammatical gender at all, only semantic gender (since it's not a property of the signifier, it's a property of the signified).
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 2:03
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    A productive diminutive form, which allows you to convert almost any noun into a "diminutive" version. For example, farfalline vs farfalle. By "productive", I mean a generalizable grammar construct that can be used to produce dimmunitative forms of almost any noun. In contract, English has it to a limited extent, but only as "hard coded" cases, e.g. piglet vs pig.
    – Alexander
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 23:44

8 Answers 8


I'll give the glib answer:

A straightforward/predictable orthography.

Out of all the languages which have established writing systems, the vast majority are to some extent phonemic; not all have a one-to-one correspondence between phonemes and graphemes, but it's generally possible to figure out how a word is pronounced, given nothing but its written form.

Only a few languages lack this property; English is one of them. (Others include Mandarin and Japanese—so when I say "only a few", I'm going by number of languages, not number of speakers.)

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    @user6726 Because native English-speakers, in my experience, don't tend to think about it as something unusual—even though it's reached the point that national English-orthography competitions are held in America (spelling bees).
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 0:50
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    "Only a few languages lack this property; English is one of them." Semitic languages (and languages like Persian that use an abjad writing system) are another major group, since vowels are mostly not written.Therefore it's not generally possible to figure out how a word is pronounced, given nothing but its written form.
    – LarsH
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 20:26
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    English orthography is much more predictable as long as you don't think of it as a single orthography. Spelling rules are (mostly) consistent within a subgroup (Latinate words, Germanic words, French words, etc) but incompatible between subgroups. Is it phonetic? No. Is it more regular than it is given credit? Yes.
    – chepner
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 22:40
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    @chepner That's a big "mostly" ;) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chaos
    – wjandrea
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 2:47
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    I have to disagree on one point: outside of proper nouns, Japanese is extremitusly phonemic, even with the Kanji characters (subclassified into "native"訓読み and "foreign" 音読みreadings). I would add French, actually, to the pile of non-straightforward orthographies. oui oui
    – Carly
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 18:03

Here are some features that are common to many languages, but absent in English. It's worth taking WALS entries with a grain of salt, but the chapters are great at calling out potential issues and borderline cases and identifying areal patterns.

In no particular order, here are some common features that English does not have.

English does not have an associative plural construction.

English does not have distributive numerals.

English does not have productive full or partial reduplication, according to this source cited by WALS.

  • I'm sure I've encountered reduplication in English. "Like-like"? "Super-duper"?
    – Brilliand
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 20:14
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    It's not a big feature of the language, but it's there -- fancy-shmancy, hoochie-koochie, pussy-wussy -- and it's largely pejorative in English.
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 21:20
  • Maybe I'm misunderstanding precisely what an associative plural is, but I would think English has several: "-ians", "-ists", "-ites", etc.
    – chepner
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 22:45
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    @chepner, an associative plural is a construction like 田中達 (tanaka-tachi) meaning Tanaka and her/his associates, Tanaka and her/his family, or something similar. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 5:04
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    Does associative plural have to be an affix? We have the phrase "et al" (borrowed from Latin and then abbreviated, of course).
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 19:34

English lacks a simple vowel system: Cross-linguistically, three (/a/, /i/, /u/) or five (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/) vowel systems are very common, having a lot of different vowel qualities like English is uncommon.


Tonality. It may seem exotic to English speakers but Yip (2002) says up to 70% of the world's languages may be tonal. I know English has things like record (v) vs record (n) but they are in complementary distribution.

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    The distinction of record in english is one of prosody, not tone. (ie. stress or intensity, rather than pitch).
    – Octopus
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 19:06
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    Isn't it lexical? Additionally, I think that prosodic stress can involve pitch, and tone is not solely, or even necessarily mainly, to do with pitch (Pham, 2004).
    – mango
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 8:07
  • @mango Tone may not be solely to do with pitch (it’s just as often contour-based), but it is often (probably usually) separate from stress. English has lexical and constrastive stress, but not tones; recórd and récord are differentiated purely on the basis of stress distribution. Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 14:43

English doesn't have gendered adjectives, adverbs, or verbs.

There's a debate in comments about gendered nouns, but in no case does English have to match the adjective, adverb, or verb to the gender of the noun. The only time the gender of a noun matters is when you're replacing it with a pronoun.

Example of gendered adjective: the la from la torre (I think this is Italian; correct me if I'm wrong). In Spanish, the adjective one uno is also gendered and appears as una if the noun is feminine. But use of uno as an adjective is rare as opposed to the adjective un which also becomes una when pared with a feminine noun.

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    la and uno are articles
    – wjandrea
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 2:38
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    There's only one obscure exception I can think of: blond man vs blonde woman, and that's because of French.
    – wjandrea
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 2:39
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    @wjandrea Similarly fiancé/fiancée, né/née, and so on. All of which are French loans. How much they count is debatable.
    – Draconis
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 5:23
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    Gendered adverbs are definitely linguistically unusual, I cannot think out of my head of a language having such beasts. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 9:02
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    @Joshua It's generally easier to use diacritics with smartphone's keyboard. Pressing the letter for a bit will open up a list of alternate forms. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 15:13

English doesn’t use infixes (except for a few colloquialisms where an infix is created for comic emphasis, like fan-bloody-tastic or abso-fragging-lutely).

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    Why the downvotes? Are infixes not common in other languages?
    – Joshua
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 23:33

English does not double its negations. The correct interpretation of a sentence with two negatives really should cancel them out. You may have heard "I ain't got no satisfaction." It's deliberately incorrect for effect. While the author may well insist on a simple meaning, formal English demands the opposite of what the author intended, and this is very important to formal language that it behave this way. Complex electrical controls and option contracts would be very difficult to describe without this property.

Spanish on the other hand stacks its negatives. It doesn't take too long to get used to in general conversation and literacy but I can't imagine using it for technical work.

Some kinda source: Double Negatives in Spanish

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    Not so. This is a prescriptivist’s unsuccessful attempt to impose a bogus requirement on English. Belongs in the bin next to what you don’t end a sentence with. Though I agree with the logic of it for avoiding arguments in critical applications.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 20:05
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    This is called "negative concord", as it applies to more than just two negatives, and is a feature of many dialects in both the UK and the USA, just not the standard dialects of either country. Although Jagger wrote his lyrics in imitation of lyrics written by black American blues musicians, he wouldn't have needed to learn negative concord from there. Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 20:10
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    Negation is much more complex than that; not all negatives cancel out.
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 21:17
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    What nonsense is this? You're saying languages like Spanish or Italian aren't suited for talking about "technical work". That is beyond prescriptivist, that's some whack theory of language superiority. It's not true. Hence my downvote.
    – LjL
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 14:42
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    @BrennanVincent That's not really true. For example, in the exchange "I'll bet you did nothing to help." "I didn't do nothing.", the double negative is clearly intended to create a positive sense. I'm not sure whether that construction can work that way in languages with negative concord. Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 13:21

I am always surprised that there is no English word that is equivalent to French neuf (new to you or revised but not brand new (newly made)). For example in English someone can buy a "new used" car. I assume that other romance languages have a neuf word.

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    If you're going to make this argument, then there are literally thousands of words that can be chosen. The reverse is also true (for example, may languages use complex phrasing to express the same concept of possession that English expresses in the single verb 'to have'). Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 1:42
  • This doesn't answer the question as it has been asked. The OP is looking for cross linguistic features, not single words in single languages. Also, this is a meaning of a single word, not a feature of French as a whole.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 10:29
  • Also FYI you have it backwards: neuf/neuve means new (not used) whereas nouveau/nouvelle means new (to you or revised). So you'd say nouvelle voiture for your new (latest) car and you'd say voiture neuve for a brand new car with 0 miles. A voiture neuve would typically be from the nouveau modèle, i.e. the new (latest) model.
    – asac
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 14:32

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