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

In one of the discussions here, Brian W. tells me that the following sentence is wrong:

“This is one of the most common errors people make…”

He says it should be: “One of the more common…”

He explains:

Proper use of ‘most’ requires the size of the set in which the subject is a member: “one of the 10 most.” Without a numeric qualifier, all but the last are potentially included in the set “one of the most.” That (unfortunately) makes it as meaningful as “up to 10… or more!”

Now, is this a grammatical issue or stylistic issue? I see “one of the most” being used quite often.

As a side note, in Japanese, “one of the most” would be an oxymoron because the concept of “most” implies that it is at the top of the list, that is, there is only one thing that could be “most” or “best”. I remember feeling awkward about the phrase “one of the most” when I was first learning English.

Read Comments

What is it called when a verb is no longer the process of doing, but the process of being something? Is it still simply just a verb?

Sorry for the lack of example, it was troubling me late last night, if i still remembered the word, i probably wouldn’t be asking this question.

Read Comments

This is one of the most common errors people make, and I frequently come across people arguing about it. The explanations of how to use them properly are easy to find, but the conceptual difference between the two does not seem to stick in people’s mind. The confusion comes from the fact that “effect” can be used as a verb, although it’s rare. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be any confusion (i.e. “effect” = noun and “affect” = verb). To make it worse, “effect” used as a verb is pretty close in meaning to “affect”. And, if that’s not confusing enough, “affect” can also be used as a noun, and it’s also similar in meaning to “effect” as a noun.

So, the only way to get the hang of using them properly is to see actual examples. While I was arguing about this with a friend of mine, I came across this quiz that tests your ability to use “effect” and “affect” properly. I’m curious how well or badly everyone does on this quiz.

Read Comments

So I frequently write headlines such as “Manchester United are in the quarter-finals” but I always wonder if it should actually be “Manchester United is in the quarter-finals”. I think I actually use them interchangeably depending on what mood I’m in. I guess the question is whether a soccer team is a group of players (”are”) or if it’s an entity (”is”). Which is it?

Read Comments

I cannot stand when people say “sleep” instead of “asleep”. For example I’ve heard, “When I got home, he was sleep on the couch”. What is this laziness of not saying ASLEEP?? I have lived in the North all of my life, and most recently moved to the south. This must be some sort of “southern dialect”, annoying to say the least....Has anyone else encountered this?

Read Comments

Which would be correct? There ARE progress and improvements. There IS progress and improvements.

Read Comments

This is what I’d like to have engraved on a memorial brick, but the last line doesn’t look correct with the word “it” after “known”.

I’m glad most
folks let me know
they’re religious.
By their actions,
I wouldn’t have
ever known it.

Read Comments

My wife is a non-native speaker and came up with the phrase above. Rightly or wrongly - I gently suggested that I’d use OR instead of AND ie

“I didn’t sleep last night AND the night before”. --> “I didn’t sleep last night OR the night before”.

That’s based on the sound of it (I’m no expert). The second sentence sounds better to me, but makes no sense really. Why is it “OR”.

In fact I’d probably use a slightly difference sentence in written English (after multiple hacks), and don’t really care re verbal use.

But that’s not my my question. I’ve been wondering about the use of ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ in similar contexts. For example:

“I don’t like chocolate OR ice-cream” “I don’t like chocolate AND ice-cream”

“I don’t like chocolate OR vanilla ice-cream” “I don’t like chocolate AND vanilla ice-cream”.

I think there’s two issues here... the grouping of words, and the way in which OR somehow acts like AND.

The AND vs. OR bit particularly bothers me... Can somebody explain this? In math/logic they are opposite terms.

Read Comments

I was wondering if Curriculum Vita is indeed the usage for a single CV. Is Curriculum Vitae not used in both the plural and singular formats?

Read Comments

How do you refer to two people with the last name Valdez. Is it “the Valdezes” or “Valdez’s” are coming for dinner?

Read Comments

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.