You Can't Write This

The credit for this very brief article must go to my former high school English teacher, Mr. Barrows.

On the first day of class, he asked us to write the following sentence, "There are three twos in the English language." He then sat back in amusement as some of us tried to do it. The sentence is impossible to write with the intended meaning. There are not three twos in the English language, but instead - too, to, and two. You can say it, but not write it.

Different homonyms can be substituted to create other sentences that cannot be written. There are three theirs (there, their, and they're) and two bears (bare and bear).

Cool, but apparently unknown. I first encountered this dilemma 36 years ago, but not once since, and I did try. I questioned technical writers at work, and visited many writing sites.

I don't understand why this interesting bit of trivia is not common knowledge among writers, but maybe there is a good reason. Perhaps it really was Mr. Barrows who made the discovery and it never spread beyond he and his English class.

Anyway, there it is. There are sentences you can say, but not write. - COB

There will be a new post every... Oh I don't know. Let's say every two weeks.