Boy, did I make you think I had an answer to this question? Sorry to disappoint you. I have no clear answer,
Dave asked me to write about this because he was wondering why the plural of mouse is mice when the plural of house is houses. You might ask the same thing about the plural of goose or even moose (the plural is technically meese). The truth is that there is a reason (it’s called i-mutation), but I just looked up the reason and it honestly doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
The reality is that English is a mish-mash of lots of languages – Latin, German, Russian, etc – all of which have different rules of conjugation, spelling, and word order. (Think of your high school Spanish or French class where you had to remember that the adjectives came after the noun). Sometimes we have exceptions because of the roots of words; sometimes we have exceptions because of the way language just evolves (Remeber, bootylicious is now officially in Webster’s.) Sometimes there is probably a very good reason for the exception, but even with two graduate degrees in English, I don’t know the reasons. And I wouldn’t advocate that you know them either, unless you want a PhD in linguistics.
The easiest thing to do is just memorize all those quirky little exceptions or the rules that help you remember them. (You know, “I before e except after c except in cases like neighbor and weigh.) You can also make a list of exceptions if they throw you off track. And if spelling is your challenge, make a list of words that you often misspell and keep it close whenever you have to write something.
We could all learn a lot about why the words are they way they are – and maybe that would help some of us – but for most of us, we’d just be using precious memory space to learn things that may not help us apply the rules at all.
So what exceptions in English really throw you? What ways do you have to remember how to apply the exceptions?