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This is a forum to discuss the gray areas of the English language for which you would not find answers easily in dictionaries or other reference books. You can browse through the latest questions and comments below. If you have a question of your own, please submit it here.

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Google’s new application called Ngram Viewer lets you see how frequently any terms or phrases appeared in books over time. The data is based on the millions of books Google digitized. As you can see below, the occurrence of the word “feminism” peaked in 1996 and has been in decline since. But, in the same period of time (from 1980 to 2008), the occurrence of the phrase “gender equality” has steadily grown.

feminism

This makes intuitive sense to me. Now that the economy assumes each household to have two people earning income, in order to sustain a decent lifestyle, men need and want their wives to work. It is no longer a matter of choice. In other words, “gender equality” is just as important for men as it is for women. However, men are much less likely to identify themselves as “feminists” because the word itself implies gender bias; i.e., someone who advocates for the interests of women. The men who are interested in gender equality would not want to advocate for women or for men. The point is to eliminate gender bias as much as possible. In that sense, the word “feminism” or “feminist” does not make sense; it feels awkward and inappropriate. I believe the first graph above reflects that.

Language has subtle yet powerful ways of influencing our values and behavior. This is why certain words have been deemed politically incorrect and have been replaced by new words, like “black” to “African American”. I feel that it’s time for us to retire the word “feminism” as it does not make sense for the ideal of gender equality itself to have gender bias. What do you think?

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An article I was writing recently came back to me with this suggested edit: “commitment to proactively address the issues” was changed to “address proactively the issues.” This grates on my ear, and I’m interested in this forum’s insights. My quick research suggests that adverbs usually follow “be” verbs, but there are complicated usage rules for other than “be” verbs, and in many cases, adverbs correctly come before the verb.

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Has anybody else noticed a trend in the over-use of periods? I’ve seen it a lot in advertizing and the like. I’m not talking about an elipsys (...), I’m referring to when periods are over used, so as to fragment a sentence, or used where perhaps bulleted words/sentances should be used. Periods are also over-used in the likes of phone numbers now where hyphens were once used, thus making it look something like a computer network IP address. (Dot Com revolution maybe? ...Don’t know.) Anyway, it just looks like pop cuture gimmicks--it just looks rediculous.

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The first spelling/grammatical mistake I always see, even in journals is the spelling for cannot. Cannot must be one word, just like today and tomorrow!

But, I see so many can nots!! You can still grammatically use can not in some contexts, like Can you not shake your leg when I’m in the room? You can just not shake, ok? -> You can not shake it.

As in, you can choose to not shake it rather than you being unable, incapable of shaking! But that’s not the context they use in those darn journals!

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If you lie to someone, have you necessarily misled them?

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Why is it that we name some single objects as if they were plural? I’m thinking of for example a pair of jeans - you can’t buy one jean can you? But a sweater, which has the same construction - one body and two extensions for limbs - is not a pair of sweaters. A pair of scissors makes a little more sense, and I believe that tailors call them ‘a scissor’ anyway. The example of bicycle forks is also interesting - in the U.S. a bicycle has a fork to hold the front wheel, whereas in the U.K. we hold on to our front wheels via ‘forks’ or a pair of forks.

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I came across this on my local Fox TV station’s website. What do you all think?

I’m not even sure this thing is needed. It seems to me that if sarcasm is done right, there should be no reason to point out what it is. And I’m certainly not going to pay two dollars for a punctuation mark that I’ve not needed in 40 years.

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If you ever listen to Charles Osgood, you know he has been saying “twenty-oh-one” rather than “two thousand-one” for, well, about nine years. The usage is parallel to calling the year 1901 “nineteen-oh-one” rather than “nineteen hundred-one”, yet it never caught on with the general public. Now, however, the stakes are higher with “twenty-ten” saving a whole syllable vs. “two-thousand-ten”, aside from being easier to pronounce. Yet I still mostly hear the latter. Am I going to have to grate my teeth every time I hear “two-thousand-x” for the rest of my life, or is there hope that the English-speaking world will come to it’s senses?

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I ask each of you to consider the fact that a certain word seems to have disappeared from all of our media! What you say, that is impossible! Well just read the news or listen to the news, etc. and you will find out that a very simple word has been replaced by a more complicated word, and every one is doing it in the Media! And, I mean everyone!

The word is “Pled” / “Plead, which can be a short version of “Pleaded”!

You have been unable to see the shortened version of “pleaded” in either print media or hear it in TV, or Radio media for about ten or so years now, maybe even longer.

Instead of a news account saying “John Doe pled / plead guilty yesterday”, all media will say “John Doe (or “they”) pleaded guilty yesterday!”

My question is, WHY? And why wasn’t I told about it? And why did everone else know it was no longer to be used before I noticed it was totally missing in my world of today?

Why, Why was I not involved in the numerous discussions which must have taken place amongst the learned persons of this society? Why was not there a Public Opinion Poll taken, which whould have made it a majority descision? Why?

I now asume that most Media will still state that, “John Doe bled to death”, or will they change this to, “John Doe bleeded to death?” And what might happen to “led”, will it be “leded” or even “leaded” away?

What will we all do about the use of this phrase “John Doe was shot “to death” yesterday!” Is now possible for someone to be “Shot to life?”

How about the never let a chance go unused use of the terms; “immeasurable”, and “countless”, and “un-countable”, and, and ?, when most every thing that the Media considers as “countless” or “imeasurable”, etc., is in fact either “measurable” or “countable!”

When will it stop? And if it does, will anyone let me know?

Ron

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For some unknown reason, I’ve always aspired to coining a word to be used by millions. That dream came true when the term “muffin-top” was picked up by Daily News, and consequently by William Safire in New York Times where he even mentioned my name. Since then, several people came out and claimed that they invented that term, but none of them have the proof that I have, which is my entry to pseudodictionary.com dated May 2003.

The Internet has changed the way language spreads and evolves. It also changed the way we keep track of that evolution. A new book by Grant Barret entitled, “The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English” is a great example of that. By using the technologies available on the Internet, he devised a way to record new words and word usages. It is a printed version of his site doubletongued.org. By reading the chronological citations for each word, you get a sense of how it spread and evolved. As amusing as some of these words are, studying of this process of evolution goes far beyond mere entertainment. I think it’s a great contribution to the modern lexicology.

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Latest Comments

As wet as ?

  • GD43
  • March 29, 2017, 4:59pm

a sick kids hanky

I mean it depends on how you are using say if your saying can i go get some more food you are asking am i able to go get some more food. So i think can i is proper but my teacher corrects me every time

Fora vs Forums

@Lenur Poetry and lyrics sometimes use a less usual word order to suit their purpose; nothing wrong in that, as long as it is readily understandable. In fact "I can see how tiny are we" is a word order which is often, albeit mistakenly, used by some non-native speakers of English.

Social vs Societal

I hope you're still not running a proofreading service, as just glancing at this post I've spotted two errors. That doesn't fill me with confidence! You've missed a question mark at the end of one sentence, and the word 'separate' has an 'a' in the middle, not an 'e'.

Fora vs Forums

  • Lenur
  • March 28, 2017, 3:23am

Hi everyone!
Again, I need your help
I know that correct construction of the sentence:
"I can see how tiny we are"
But is it possible to say?

"i can see how tiny are we"
Like a statement....
Because in my situation it's better for singing, riming and flow in the song. Or it just sounds stupid?

The fact of the matter is is that

  • Thad B
  • March 27, 2017, 11:28pm

This is similar to the "that that" problem, which I have myself found utilizing. Perhaps, if not in such a rush with emails, I would find the time to reconstruct my sentence to avoid "that that", though I don't find it difficult to understand when I read it myself. Perhaps others do.

English, at least American English, is an evolving language. I am abhorred by radio, television and my own just-adult children who have seemed to have forgotten what an adverb is. The sentence "He ran really quick" irks me constantly but seems to be common usage these days. While I dislike the new usage, I am also not an advocate of using Old English, ergo - I am accepting of the evolving language.

Salutations in letters

  • Thad B
  • March 27, 2017, 10:06pm

I use "Hello Jim"
and sign,

"Regards,
John"

I work for a high tech American firm in New York.

Someone else’s

The grammar patterns of Courts Martial, Judge Advocates General, etc. would seem to agree. In example, those who pass flatulence would be "gas passers" or passers of gas, just as passers by, which is short for an entire phrase "passers by the side of [implied or mentioned object]" is different. However, "someone else" appears to hearken back to a more Germanic form of grammar, rather than the French Norman with its Latin influence. If this is the origin of the phrase, then using the entire phrase as a single noun or idea would be appropriate. In this case, where both words originate from the Germanic, it would be "someone else's". The Germans frequently abbreviate such phrases where they become excessively long, but in their original were written as one word using their cursive. In school I studied French, Classical Latin, and German enough to become aware that our aggregatenous language has so many exceptions because of those origins. (I have dabbled with Gaelic which is as far as I can tell the source of split infinitives.)

Someone else’s

The easiest way to avoid the use of "someone else's" (which is grammatically incorrect), is to put the NOUN, with which you are linking the possessive, FIRST in the sentence.
For example: "It was someone else's fault." (incorrect)
"It was the fault of someone else." (correct)
This works every time when you write, but for conversational speech, "someone else's" is the common usage. However, if you are quoting what was spoken by someone else, then you would want to quote it exactly.