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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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In the interest of being concise, is it acceptable to use “Following is a complete list of tags...” instead of “The following is a complete list of tags...”

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I was speaking to my administrator and explaining how I met another person in our company. I said “her and I traveled to Kansas together”. She stopped me and said it should be “she and I traveled to Kansas together”. I feel both were appropriate, but she disagreed. Could we both be correct?

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There was a pen and three pencils on the table

or

There were a pen and three pencils on the table.

In this example, the singular noun must precede the plural noun. Which verb is the correct one?

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Consider a scenario where a bloodstain was discovered and analyzed. It was determined the blood came from a single source. Joe is not the source of the blood. Jack is not the source of the blood. Which of the following statements is correct and why? Joe and Jack are excluded as SOURCES of the blood. Joe and Jack are excluded as THE SOURCE of the blood.

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“His being chosen as a headmaster have surprised us.”

Is the sentence above right? Do I have to change the gerund to:

“His having been chosen as a headmaster have surprised us.”

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When one has rendered a female animal unable to bear young, one spays the animal. If it happened last week, the animal was spayed. Over and over, including in vets’ offices, I have seen references to “getting an animal spade,” and even worse, “We had our cat spaded.” I don’t know what that would be: Hit over the head with a small shovel-like object?

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I’d love to know your take on the plural form of sense of humour. Is it sense of humour or senses of humour?

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In the following sentence, would “me” or “myself” be correct and why?

Serious gardeners like my wife and me/myself always use organic fertilizer.

Since the person talking is also a gardener and has referred to himself once already in the sentence as being in the group serious gardeners (”we gardeners”), it seems as if he should use “myself” in the reflexive. Yet this sounds wrong.

Please help! The horrid trend of using “myself” in place of “me” is starting to wear me down and confuse me.

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I’m stuck on the correct use of “un-” (as in “reverse action”) and “de-”. Specifically, I want to write that a student should change an incorrectly capitalized word to the lower case. Should he “uncapitalize” it or “decapitalize” it? It’s true that the word should be uncapitalized, but since he incorrectly capitalized it in the first place, must he now decapitalize it?

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“It has a great construction” sets my teeth on edge every time a writer I work with uses the phrase in written English. Is this correct/standard usage? It sounds so wrong to me, but I can’t point to the rule it violates.

Am I simply biased against... A perfectly acceptable construction?

These sound/seem so wrong:. My t-shirt has a durable cotton construction.

That house has a great construction.

With a construction of 100% cotton, her dress...

I think you omit the indefinite article.

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Latest Comments

@jtu
I just have one more question:
Do you, and those who share your thoughts on issues like this, believe that those of us who attended schools and universities prior to 1965 should forget all that we learned about the English language in that time and adopt the various fads and errors that have become commonplace since then?

@jtu
That is a typical descriptivist cop out.
Your use of "different to" illustrates that you are firmly in the camp of those who just like to be different for the sake of being different and who have absolutely no respect for the language.
No doubt you will soon be advocating the use of "should of" as a correct alternative to "should have" and that perpendicular just means at right angles with no regard to plane.
How do you stand on mixing up past tense and past participle?

Whether it is "correct" or not would hinge upon the criteria used. However if "people who are apparently reasonably well educated" persistently and knowingly use words such as "family" with a plural verb, despite "what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere", there must be a good reason, they must feel comfortable doing so, and editors do not automatically edit such constructions out. If you feel uncomfortable with this, then your eduction or background or thinking must be different to theirs.

@jtu
"@HS It's not just Jane Austen:
http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=%22the+family+...

Does that makes it correct?

@jtu
Are you saying that Jane Austen could not have been wrong?

You know, it really surprises me that people who are apparently reasonably well educated seek to gainsay what has been taught for decades in schools in the UK and elsewhere.
It's a bit like the old lady watching troops marching past and exclaiming, "They're all out of step bar our Willie".

@HS You have not actually explained Jane Austen's use of 'family' - a "collective" noun - with a plural verb, which seems contrary to your opening post: 'Despite arguments to the contrary, "family" is a collective noun, and I don't care how many family members there might be, it therefore gets a singular verb.'

@jtu
In answer to your two previous posts.
1.
Education
2.
Family is and always will be a collective noun.

I would also like your analysis of whether "family" is a collective or plural noun in the following extract taken from Pride & Prejudice, Chapter VI of Volume II (Chap. 29):
"...and it was but the other day that I recommended another young person, who was merely accidentally mentioned to me, and the family are quite delighted with her."

@HS So how can we tell that "cattle" is plural but "herd" is a "collective" noun?