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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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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?”

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Is “She was wearing the exact same outfit” grammatical? And if so, what part of speech is “exact”?

People use that phrase all the time, and seem to think it’s correct, so from a descriptive viewpoint it is correct. “Same” is clearly an adjective, and “exact” modifies “same”, so you would expect it to be an adverb.

So what’s the problem? Well, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition) doesn’t list “exact” as an adverb. It can only be an adjective (or a verb, with a different meaning). The adverb form is “exactly”. So if you take Webster as an authority, you should say “She was wearing exactly the same outfit” instead.

What’s the verdict? Do you think the first version of the sentence is grammatical or not?

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Why is it, when using the construction ‘only then’, do we reverse the verb order that follows? i.e. We must acquire funding. Only then can we achieve our goals.

A friend suggested it was for emphasis, but I thought I’d put it to the masses, too. I had a student put this question to me and could not come up with a grammatical reason. Is it just ‘English is that way’? Does anyone know of any other situations where this occurs without a question? Is there a name for this?

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Several people I know felt that this use of “concern” was correct: “She felt concern, but not enough to sacrifice...” I felt that it should be “concerned”. Two of them are professional writers, so I can’t argue much, but if “concern” is also correct, what is its function? Noun or adjective? If it’s a noun, shouldn’t it be “a concern”? If it’s an adjective, shouldn’t it be “concerned”? In dictionaries, “concern” is either a noun or a verb, not an adjective.

Oddly enough, the same people felt that “She felt scare” was clearly wrong. If “scare” is wrong and “scared” is correct, then shouldn’t the same hold true for “concern” and “concerned”?

On the web, I do see many people using “feel concern” although it is slightly less common than “feel concerned”.

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In linguistics, is there a term that refers to words (like “format”) that can function as either verb or noun?

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In the sentence, “I met him drunk,” couldn’t the adjective apply to either party, the “he” or the “I”?

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I work in the legal field and it is necessary to write out percentages. I need help. Is this the correct way? For 4.975% - would it be written “Four and Nine Hundred Seventy-Five Thousands percent”.

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Nouns describing activities don’t normally take an article in English e.g. I go running, I play cards, I hate tennis, etc.

Why then do many domestic activities take the definite article? e.g. I do the dishes, I do the hoovering, I hate doing the housework, etc.

Can somebody explain to me the rules that govern this type of construction? Are there any other examples of this kind of usage outside of the domestic sphere?

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This question came up a couple days ago at work, and spurred a lively, if puzzled, debate:

In the following sentence, what is the function of the word “black”?

The barista served the coffee black.

“Black” doesn’t seem to be adjectival, modifying “coffee”, because of the position: there’s a semantic difference between “served the coffee black” and “served the black coffee.” But it hardly seems adverbial, describing the manner in which the serving was done.

The same question applies to “painting the wall blue” and other similar constructions.

It seems to me that the adjectives here act like a kind of double accusative, but I thought double accusatives were typically used with verbs like “make.” So I really don’t know what kind of construction it is; I just know that I use it a lot.

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I’m accustomed to hearing people make grammatical mistakes, but occassionally I’ll start hearing new and painful trends that are so pervasive that I wonder if someone changed the rules while I was asleep. Case in point: how to negate constructions containing the words “all” or “some”. A few months ago, I was looking at some magazines at the grocery store and saw an ad asserting that “all insurance policies are not the same”. I’ve been hearing that kind of construction from high school kids for some time, but always attributed it to poor language skills. A few minutes later, I went to use the store’s bathroom and saw the following sign on the door: “All unpaid merchandise not allowed in restrooms”. Now those of you who grew up in the America that I grew up in know that prior to the George H.W. Bush administration, such locutions would have read “Not all insurance policies are the same” and “No unpaid merchandise allowed in restrooms”. What has happened here? I now hear this “all...not” construction constantly and I’m not sure what to make of it. When I hear a teacher lament, “All of my 8th-graders didn’t finish their chapter test on time.”, what does she mean to communicate by that? Does she mean to say that NOT ONE of them finished (supported by literal deconstruction)...or that some did and some didn’t (supported by a higher likelihood of being the case)?

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Latest Comments

hanged vs. hung

I'm an antiquarian. I want my careful (though defective, of course) education to matter. Should my position have any legitimacy? I think it has always been a strong motivation for those who resist linguistic change; and sloppiness has always been a pressing reason for it.

No Woman No Cry

I thought it mean if a boy don't involve themself with girl , they won't ever get hurt and you know won't never cry .

People use it a lot it hurts!
a sarcastic example would be by singing:
" Would OF " the red nosed reindeer

Is it just me, or is the spacing between 'Pig' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'And' and 'And' and 'and' and 'and' and 'Whistle' just a little bit off...?

Proper usage of “as such”

  • ggh
  • April 29, 2016, 12:45pm

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History of “-ish”

@Philip
Never seen or heard "ish" used in the manner you describe.
In my experience it's more commonly used to mean "around" or "about", as in "What time will you arrive?" "12ish"

History of “-ish”

  • Philip
  • April 25, 2016, 10:57pm

Yes. Sorry for the confusion.
What I mean by "ish" is the "ish" I saw on a note fastened to a local store's locked entrance door that claimed they would return in fifteen"ish" minutes to reopen. I have also experienced the statement made, "That's cool'ish'". When I asked someone where something that I was looking for was I received the answer, "it's around'ish'". I understand its meaning but why the need for it? Is it laziness? Has it become so pop culture that now it is in common use in our languages? Do we fear committing to the very statements we make? "Ish" to me implies a lack of confidence. Call me old fashioned, but when a store owner used to claim they would return in fifteen minutes they, more often than not, would. But a store owner claiming to return in fifteen'ish' minutes means they could either return in fifteen, twenty, thirty or sixty minutes. There seems to be no accountability in "ish".

History of “-ish”

Just to be clear: we are not discussing the "-ish" ending of words like abolish, punish, which comes from French.
"-ish" in the sense of "somewhat" is recorded in the OED as far back as 1894/1916
The alternative is to use the French version: "-esque" .
"Ish" has become a new standalone word in British English, meaning somewhat.

I will be honest and say that I have no academic background in the use of words, grammar or punctuation, that is aside from a high school diploma that I barely acquired in my youth. In fact, in almost everything that I have typed, am typing and will type, it will be quite understandable if one was to find a multiple amount of errors. I have probably proven this within the few sentences that I have written here. However, this does not stop me from trying, nor does it stop me from learning. I love to learn about words, their history and their origins. Before I research, when I come across a word that I do not know I first guess at it's story and then search it out. So allow me to try that here with the word 'of'

Now I could be completely wrong or I could be on to something. When I think of 'of', I think of it in relation to a subject or topic. When we say "How bad of a decision" the of refers to the particular decision. If we were to say "How bad a decision" there is more ambiguity as to what decision is being referenced. "How bad a decision?" could be any decision, whereas "How bad of a decision?" is more specific to the situation at hand. "A decision" is more abstract and free. "'Of' a decision" is a little more concrete and belonging to. Call me crazy or just plain wrong, but hey I got to play in the world of words for but a few moments.