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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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When I was in my linguistics class in college, my prof said using the verb be in this context was actually more grammatically correct than when we say “He calls me up all the time,” or “He’s always calling me,” etc. I can’t find my notes or any other info...can someone give an explanation? Thank you!

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How much space should be given after a period in Word documents and in PDF’s?

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It seems like I’m seeing, more and more, “believe” and similar words being used as nouns. At first I thought that it was an ESL issue; perhaps in other languages, the same word is used for both “believe” and “belief”. But that explanation is looking less and less plausible. Is it just me, or are other people baffled by this? I don’t understand how any native speaker can confuse the two words. Perhaps there are accents in which they are pronounced the same?

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Do we use “shall have done” followed by second and third persons? I understand that if ‘shall’ comes after second and third persons, it is employed to indicate an obligation or a warning, etc. How about ‘shall have done’?

for example: Company A shall have contributed 50 million dollars to the joint venture.

Is such usage correct? I feel somewhat strange. I understand that if we want to use future perfect tense, we will use “will have done” and in case of first persons “shall” could be adopted instead of “will”. If we want to use subjunctive mood, we will use “should have done”.

“[third persons] shall have done” looks neither future perfect nor an indication of obligations. I think it is wrong. Am I right?

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My husband and I disagree on the use of these two words. I say, since we have three children, two girls and a boy, that I can say that “Rebecca is the younger daughter, and the youngest child”. He says that since she is the youngest of all three children, that he can say she is his youngest daughter. I feel that it should be she is the younger daughter since there are only two daughters and of course, she is the youngest child.


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Help! I have an annual report ready to go to print....Can someone please tell me which footnote is grammatically correct?

Percents do not add to 100 because members may indicate more than one business activity.


Percentages do not add to 100 because members may indicate....

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What is the consensus on using words like “therefore” and “thus” as conjunctions (i.e. to connect two sentences), such as:

“I ate a burger, therefore/thus I am full.”

Or, can they not be used as conjunctions, and does a “real” conjunction or a semicolon need to be inserted?

“I ate a burger, and therefore/thus I am full.” “I ate a burger; therefore/thus I am full.”

Any thoughts?

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a) a program that is open source b) an open source program

(b) sounds right because “open source” is in fact a whole adjective. It is neither “open” nor “source”. So the construct in (b) is just like “a blue book”.


a) the machine that is spinning around b) the spinning around machine

Somehow, (b) doesn’t look right for me, because the base adjective is only “spinning”. Is it just my feeling, or is it indeed wrong? If wrong, is there a way to somehow “correct” it?

Thanks a lot.

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A coworker and I are arguing over the word “correspondence”. I say it’s already plural, therefore an “s” at the end is unnecessary and incorrect. She says that because she was working on multiple letters, it is “correspondences”.

Who’s right?

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I’m getting married and my fiancee (with a Harvard PhD) says that our vows should end as “until death us do part.” My priest (with a PhD equivalent who studied in Rome under the Pope) says that the traditional language is “until death do us part.”

I’m just a Texas Aggie who thinks that perhaps we should use “for as long as we both shall live.”

But just for grins, which of the “until death . . .” phrases is correct? Or are both correct?

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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.

@Lisa: biennial

What happens if you skip a year?

I'd say that when using the % sign it would be "between 40% and 50%" but when spelling it out "between 40 and 50 percent" would be adequate.

It depends on what you are writing. In a legal document one might spell it out unambiguously as "between forty percent and fifty percent". Elsewhere omitting the first percentage sign may well be clear enough.

There is a good explanation of mixed conditionals here:

If I remember correctly, there is a comment in Michael Lewis's "Lexical Approach" (1993) that in conditional sentence one just uses the appropriate tense and modal. If we construe "would" as a modal subjunctive indicating a counter-factual situation, and "have been" as a perfect infinitive indicating the situation is in the past, then this does not sit well with the time adverb "today".

However, I do believe that in some areas, such as Quebec, usage may be different, so there may be some wiggle-room here.

Where are the commas?

  • dionne
  • March 21, 2017, 1:35pm

I was lead to believe it was Sally.

As far as I can discern, it is neither impolite nor polite. However, it is incorrect. "Can I get [something]?" implies that the person is asking whether it is possible that they, themselves, are able to go and fetch or obtain something e.g. "Can I get petrol there?" or because they are asking whether another person would like something that they could obtain on their behalf, for example "Can I get you a drink?"

If they are asking a waiter, bartender, shop assistant or other person serving if they would go and fetch something for them on their behalf, they should ask the question "May I have/can I have/could I have" and similar variants preferably with "please" in there somewhere!

I am wondering how you say this percentage in words:
.00011 percent.
Is it something like:
One hundredth and one thousandth of one percent??

I am trying to show how SMALL 1100 parts per billion is...

Thank you,