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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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I saw this sentence in a text: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Should the comma be replaced with a semicolon because all three elements are independent clauses.  

Should the sentence be written, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” or “I came; I saw; I conquered.”?

Is the comma acceptable, because the elements are in a simple series?

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Ok, so the abbreviation is No, but should it have a capital ‘n’ to distinguish if from ‘no’, and is it with a period after it, or not?

It is short for numero so, at least in British English, I understand that there should be no period (as the last letter of the abbreviation is the last letter of the word), but in US English there would be (because they don’t care about that sort of thing).

And the plural...? Nos. or Nos ... or nos or nos. ? or just leave it as No?

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In recent years I’ve noticed an increasing use of “and” or “but” followed by a comma, as in this example I saw today in an email: “We don’t believe these updates change our practices but, we want to communicate this information directly to you.” The rationale seems to be that a pause is intended after the conjunction, but clearly this violates the traditional rule about punctuating a compound sentence (as per this sentence).

In today’s Providence Journal the lead editorial, ”Tough but vague Romney,” includes this: “Mr. Romney has demanded that Iran stop its program aimed at making nuclear weapons and suggested the [sic] Mr. Obama hasn’t been firm enough. But, the former governor hasn’t said how he would do that other than, perhaps, give more support to the Israelis to attack Iran.”

I realize the paper’s evident lack of sufficient proofreading might cloud the issue here, but [not "here but,"] I assure you this is not uncommon in today’s newspaper and other published writing.

So does this bother anyone else besides me?

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For example, ‘Hello, dear, how are you?’ or ‘Hello, Dear, how are you?’ (Darling, Sweetheart, etc.) Is either absolutely correct/incorrect. I have tended to favour the capitalised form (though not if using the term ‘my dear’, ‘my love’, or whatever) until now but it has recently been questioned and I cannot fully justify my usage. Thank you all, in anticipation.

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Is it a correct syntax to say: “I’ve no idea” to shortcut “I have no idea”? I see alot of people doing this and I feel that it is wrong.

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I’ve done some research about the use of “for example” in its shortened form, but have been left more confused than ever.

Is it eg, e.g., or eg.? It comes from the Latin “exempli gratia”, so I would have thought it correct to place a period after the e and after the g in place of the missing letters.

Yet, in official documents all over the place I see one or two periods, or none at all. I have in front of me an official document from the New South Wales government, The Board of Studies English K-6 Syllabus. Throughout this document each example is preceded by “eg”, no dots at all. Same with other Board of Studies documents, however other Education Department documents do have e.g.

Personally I think that e.g. is more correct, but seeing no dots at all in an official document on teaching English to primary school students, had me wondering whether the convention in this case has changed, or whether it might simply be a matter of choice with no one way being either right or wrong.

Which is correct, or doesn’t it matter?

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On this page (#18), the writer says, rather authoritatively, that “LEGOs” (plural of LEGO) is wrong because “LEGO” is a company name (a proper noun). I disagree. Firstly, there is no grammatical rule that says a proper noun cannot be used to refer to a countable object. “Mac” is a proper noun. It’s a name of a product but it is also used to refer to the individual Macintosh machines, i.e., “Macs”. Think of car companies, like Honda, BMW, and Porsche. When we refer to their cars, we say, “Hondas”, “BMWs”, and “Porsches”. BMW’s own site uses the plural form: “Today’s BMWs are equipped with...” And, Porsche’s own site says, “Barely any two Porsches are identical.”

So, I would say “LEGOs” is perfectly fine if you are referring to the pieces of LEGO. It is however wrong to say “LEGOs”, if you are referring to the brand/company. 

And, this should be a sparate issue from how the company officially uses the term for their marketing and communication. They could have their own policies but that does not make “LEGOs” grammatically incorrect. The correct use of a word is not determined by the person who coined it.

What do you think?

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When using the word respectively after listing items and corresponding relations do you use a comma before it? Example: The corresponding sewer projections for the monthly and yearly flows are 18 and 200, respectively.

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I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

I’ve dotted the “i”s and crossed the “t”s.

Which of the foregoing examples is correct?

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On the Web, the majority seems to think we need a question mark in the following context:

Q: “What is the meaning of life?”

A: “Who knows?”

I disagree. I consider “who knows” as a phrase or an expression, not a question; not even a rhetorical question. Adding a question mark sort of ruins the response especially in writing because it sets up an expectation (or subtle tension) of further response. A period, I feel, is the right choice because it’s a complete answer. In speech, we would not pronunce “Who knows” as if we are really asking a question; that is, our tone is missing the question mark. What do you think?

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Latest Comments

First annual vs. second annual

  • Burt
  • January 19, 2017, 11:51pm

If I am correct and an annual event requires 2 years prior to an event for it to be considered an annual event. Then isn't the term "second annual" incorrect as well? Actually it should be referred to as consecutive meaning second? Looking forward to feedback!

I disagree with Dyske's answer.
In the first example, you are saying something that you know is not true.
In the second example, that is a subjective opinion. They can truly believe they have the best pizza, just like you hear people say they have the greatest wife or kids. It's a subjective opinion that they may truly believe in.
In the third example, that would be a lie because once again you are saying something that is not true even though it's hyperbole.
The way I under the definition of "lie" is that it wouldn't be a lie if I say something I BELIEVE to be true, but is factually wrong. If the police ask me to describe a suspect from memory I could truly believe I'm giving the correct description from memory and be factually wrong, but wasn't my INTENT to deceive the police.

Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."

Usually a brand name or a play on words, used in advertising. Like the old pop brand, "Hi Klas" rather than "Hi Class" I want to say what that is called. Would an advertising agency know, I wonder? Or a college course in advertising maybe?