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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 including a complete sentence in parentheses, what are the rules? For example, someone just sent me this in an email:

“I always change some of the readings from semester to semester (for example, I am trying out the book on migration for the first time this semester and am not sure if I will keep it in the Fall).”

But I could just as easily see it written this way:

“I always change some of the readings from semester to semester. (For example, I am trying out the book on migration for the first time this semester and am not sure if I will keep it in the Fall.)”

Are both acceptable? Is one preferred? 

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When making a list of the very same name of something, is it proper english to use one quotation mark in place of the same name or word after writing it a couple of times down the list? I can’t seem to find anything on it.

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Which ending punctuation sequence is correct for a question dialogue sentence containing a quotation within it?

a. ”Does the menu say, ‘no substitutions?’” asked Jo.

or

b. ”Does the menu say, ‘no substitutions’?” asked Jo.

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My friend is sending an invitation, and she is using the date of:

January, 16th 2016

Is this technically correct, or at a minimum not considered barbaric? Where should the comma be?

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In a sentence, there is the name of a company followed by an abbreviation, the initials of the company, in parentheses. The company name is a possessive in this sentence. Where does the apostrophe go? I want to know how this would work, as I am having trouble finding anything but advice to restructure the sentence, and I would like an answer that gives me what to do with the sentence as it stands.

Example: This policy sets a standard for determining access to Introspective Illusions (II) resources.

Would it be Introspective Illusions’ (II’s) or  Introspective Illusions’ (II) or some other construction?

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Should a rhetorical question end with a question mark?

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I have a question about “;” and “—” as used in sentence structure. I prefer using — i.e. “He did not expect to meet anyone—the house had been empty for years—and was surprised to hear whistling from the upper floor.”

Now, as I wrote a line in my story, as sentence ran away from me and I ended up using a ; at the end, as well as the — and I got the feeling that maybe it had to be one or the other all the way through and not a mix. Anyway, the sentence (racial slur warning)

Rod had not let her buy the beer herself at first—not until father had gone down there and cleared up some misconceptions from that sneaky pool-digger—and hadn’t that been a fun day to be alive; now he just gave her sympathetic looks whenever she came to get beer for her father.

So, in such a sentence, is it right to use both the “—” and the “;”? I can always rebuild it, but it felt right to me somehow, even though I got uncertain about if it would sting in the eyes of others.

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Could I use both a colon and semicolon in a sentence?

A college will provide help for students who are struggling in homework; the resources are: study skills that help students to be on top of coursework, counselors will give advices dealing with the workload, and the option to drop a class early.

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For example, “Every morning, I wake up at 6:00 am and then I make a cup of coffee.”

As a writing teacher for international students, I see this kind of sentence all the time. I know it is technically correct to use a comma before a coordinating conjunction, but I have found that so many Americans omit this comma that it has become extremely commonplace even among native English speakers. Is it socially acceptable in writing to omit the comma? How serious is it to mandate that my international include this comma?

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I imagine everyone uses an apostrophe with expressions of distance or time when the number is one:

It’s only an hour’s drive from here.
They live a mile’s walk away.
A stone’s throw away.

It follows that an apostrophe should also be used in the plural version, as stipulated by, amongst others, The Guardian and Economist style guides:

It’s three hours’ drive from here.
They live two miles’ walk away.

I notice the apostrophe is often dropped here, so my question is this - do you think the apostrophe:

is always optional?
is only necessary in formal writing?
is always necessary?

or that there is some other grammatical explanation that makes the apostrophe unnecessary?

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Latest Comments

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • SKS
  • July 26, 2016, 6:45pm

I live in Canada and we would be appalled to see "resume" (pronounced here as "re-zoom") as the spelling for something we pronounce as "reh-zoom-ay". Either "resumé" or more correctly "résumé" works for us, and we don't consider the accent(s) poncey or pretentious. Then again, the majority of us also speak French, so accents are pretty normal up here. Perhaps just use "CV" and spare us trying to figure out if you're wanting to begin again or seeking a job. But please don't call us pretentious for using correct spelling. :) While we're at it , what's up with "story" to indicate the number of floors in a building? I guess there really are many stories in the Naked City. But clearly no storeys. I'm American-born but it still drives me nuts to see letters dropped for no discernible reason.

Found this on this website: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/meeither.html

...Inside a longer sentence, “me either” can be perfectly legitimate: “whole-wheat pie crust doesn’t appeal to me either.” But by itself, meaning “neither do I,” in reply to previous negative statement, it has to be “me neither”: “I don’t like whole-wheat pie crust.” “Me neither.”

what is best for a resume?
Graduate from _______________
High School Diploma from________________

Someone else’s

"Else" can be an adjective or adverb, we can agree. But would it be improper to recognize certain usages as being an indefinite noun, or as a compound noun as in "somewhere" (both an adverb and a noun) as it relates to "somewhere else"? Both are indefinite places, only "somewhere else" is an indefinite place other than the indefinite place referred to as "somewhere". Is one of those more definite than the other? A mathematician using logic and set theory might give a different answer than a grammarian. But either way it seems like a trivial question of no substantive import.
Maybe we can accept variations of syntax and spelling as having a preferred status (according to the source) without the requirement that one form be labeled incorrect from a literary or scholarly perspective. Sure makes life a little easier and less contentious, unless one is obsessively compelled to accept only black-and-white, all-or-nothing single versions, which gets really complicated since most words have more than one definition. The bottom line is whether the message is easily understood by all or most readers, (and whether there are any penalties or adverse consequences which an administrative authority may impose). And if it has the additional factors of consistency and commonly accepted versions, so much the better. Eventually, most languages undergo changes in some way or else another. (I refuse to even try to analyze that usage.)

In 1826 it occurs in print here:
Hearings Before Subcommittee No. 3 of TheCommittee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Eighty-first Congress,

as "I'm just saying that this is ridiculous and unfair".

As a stand-alone sentence, possibly about 1936.

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/de...
identical adjective
BrE /aɪˈdentɪkl/ ; NAmE /aɪˈdentɪkl/

*similar in every detail
*a row of identical houses
*The two pictures are similar, although not identical.
*identical to somebody/something: Her dress is almost identical to mine.
*identical with somebody/something: The number on the card should be identical with the one on the chequebook.
Cheerio! :)

“ask the gays”

Technically the grammar is ok; it is just that by using "the" one almost tends to suggest that all gays are one homogenous group who think alike. There is a discussion about this here:
http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=26223

I'm not at all surprised that no one cited from Oscar Horace's second (1913) publication, "Word and Phrase Sources and Usage: Adjectival and Advebial Etymologies and Preposition Connectors," which he dedicated to his father, Horatio, and his daughter, Amelia.

Horace explains the French usages, as for instance ), "Je suis amoureaux d'Amelia.," of which the English translation is, "I am enamored of Amelia."

He was greatly surprised that, born of the English casual pronunciation of that phrase, an artisan created a tiny glazed bird he called the "Enamor Dove," to be used when words fail the suitor who wants her to be apprised of the depth of his love for her. (In marketing the artisan, at fairs, emphasized that the Enamor Dove exemplifies a a level of courtship that is far beyond the turtle dove stage).

Anyway, the Enamored Dove was oft-bought throughout the British Isles.

And, explains Horace, the product increased the popular usage of "I am enamored of."

Ultimately, Horace's 13 volumes of his word-usage explanations were replaced by more recent books authored by others beginning in the 1880s. Nothing replaced the Enamored Dove, and it was soon forgotten. Foolishly, Horace was against copyrighting and his volumes were not reprised. Libraries, always in need of shelf space, discarded the Horace 13 volumes or stacked them in their basement. Apparently, none of them now exists, either.

Luckily, a friend from Cambridge U, Divad Saratla, visited Washington, DC and was introduced at a party to a huge defensive lineman and they became fast friends. When David learned about his new friend's verbal deficiencies caused by dyslexia, he showed one of the Horace volumes to him, of which the football player became enamored. David gave to him all 13 of the Horace volumes.

I have no idea if any volumes are extant. After years of contacting the usual suspects (forgive me, Sam), and as I now unable to continue, I suppose that Horace's works, to the extent some still may exist, are lodging in a few private homes.

Cheers,
JuTep

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • doug
  • July 19, 2016, 6:12pm

Speedwell - I understand "affected overcorrectness" and "we don't use accent marks in English." But it's nice to have a clear difference between "re-zoom" and "rez-oo-may," and the accents clearly eliminate any ambiguity.

Pled versus pleaded

In court, it is common for attorneys and judges to state someone "pled guilty" in the past. I was a criminal prosecutor as well as defense attorney for years and I rarely heard the utterance, "pleaded," in oral discourse. I'm not sure what global marketplace carries more weight than daily use in the courtroom.