Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

Pain in the English offers proofreading services for short-form writing such as press releases, job applications, or marketing copy. 24 hour turnaround. Learn More

Discussion Forum

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.

Search Pain in the English

Latest Posts

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....

Read Comments

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?

Read Comments

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.

Read Comments

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?

Read Comments

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?

Read Comments

I have a picture posted on a website and I was wondering if my caption underneath it is grammatically correct. I wrote “Greg and me” and he feels it should be “Greg and I.” Who is right?

Read Comments

The following are default extensions. The followings are default extensions.

Which one of the above is correct?

Read Comments

The modal verbs, should and would, are different in meaning in that the former expresses the obligation or necessity on the part of the subject while the latter the intention or prediction in the future.

There are a couple of examples I cite below and which I found by googling.

“As a Southerner, how would I be received?”

In this sentence, ‘would’ can clearly be seen to be used to express the prediction in the future.

“How would I go about helping my brother get some help with his drug abuse and violent behavior?”

In this sentence, ‘would’ seems to mean the necessity, so ‘should’ is more appropriate in this case. What do you think?

Read Comments

Well, a fellow ESL teacher who is taking a degree in English told me she had to explain why it is correct to say, “The door opens.” and why it is incorrect to say, “The dog wets.” My first reaction was thinking that someone or something actuates on the door to open it. Therefore, our saying of, “the door opens” merely refers to the fact that it was opened by a third party. Thus, the sentence may have a passive structure. However, when I try to rephrase, “the dog wets” I find myself lacking an object, therefore I would need to use “get + wet” to validate the passive, but I must not add words to the sentence. I’d rather change the verb. But, alas, the purpose of the exercise is to elaborate on an argument that can satisfactorily state why the sentence is wrong. I told my fellow teacher to consider the fact that “wet” would require an object for the sentence to make sense. Any input, opinion, or observations are appreciated.

Read Comments

Why is it that double-negatives are looked negatively upon, yet we commonly use a double-negative prefix? I’m reffering to my gripe with the word “undisclosed.” Understandabley if, let’s say, documents, were “disclosed” we are using a negative prefix of “dis” on “closed”, here meaning not “open” to the public. So by “disclosing” the documents, we have in essence opened them. So, when we have not opened them, should they not remain “closed” instead of becoming “undisclosed?”

Read Comments

Latest Comments

Overhead yesterday in a coffee shop:
Customer: Excuse me; I was wondering if I could trouble you for a side salad.
Waitress: Side salad?

Slight mismatch of styles!

How should a waiter or bartender address a customer?
"Do you want .........................?"
"Would you like.....................?"

When you say, "Can I get..?" in the UK, it's generally considered a f**king rude Americanism. Happy Thanksgiving, though.

She and her father look alike
Her and her father look alike

age vs. aged

Which is correct? aged 45 years or over OR aged 45 years or more


Your apology is noted.


Although the addition of "got" may not follow the strictest syntax rules I believe it's use can be justified here because it serves as an intensifier that emphasizes the need to act is greater than the use of "have" alone connotes.
Also, when the contraction "I've" is used then the addition of "got" improves the word structure sonically by preserving the normal rhythm of a sentence because the contraction works as a single word that serves as the noun, or rather, pronoun of the sentence and leaves a need for another verb.

@WW Sorry, I assumed 'cacography' was just a made-up word - it's all Greek to me ;}

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen:

mixing semicolon and em dash

Not an answer, but a comment on the use of dashes in British English. As far as I know BrE doesn't talk much about em-dashes, for example you won't often see -- (substituting for an em-dash) from British contributors to forums etc. We simply use a dash, in writing the same length as a en-dash, (but on a computer just using a single hyphen), and we put spaces either side - like that, for example. And they don't seem to be used nearly as much as in American English.

From one website on British grammar:

'The double dash encloses supplementary information in the same way as round brackets –
"Alaska – purchased from Russia in 1867 and granted statehood in 1959 – comprises some 586,000 square miles and 624,000 people."
But brackets are preferred in formal scripts.'

This is from the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

"note that it is also the common British practice to use an en dash with a word space on either side where American publishers would use an em dash closed up to the surrounding words"

But I've noticed that the Economist has recently started using M-dashes without gaps. In the online version they are obviously M-dashes, and there's no real problem, but in the print edition they don't seem to be as wide. This is really confusing my students (and me, to be honest), who think they are hyphens, reading the two separate words as one hyphenated word. It turns out that Polish, like British English always uses gaps. I'm beginning to wonder about other European languages. WW will have to investigate!