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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 “page” abbreviated “p” while “pages” is “pp”? Of somewhat less interest to me, I also wonder whether “p” or “p.” is the correct notation?

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Talking about the concept of the afterlife in Catholicism, would you capitalize Heaven? Moreover, what about Hell?

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According to my research, punctuation is part of “mechanics”. If so, is it redundant to say, “punctuation and mechanics”?

I do see many instances of people using “punctuation and mechanics”. For instance, I came across an article written by an English professor entitled “Common Mistakes of English Grammar, Mechanics, and Punctuation”. If punctuation is indeed part of mechanics, then this title itself would be a mistake ironically.

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When referring to “French” and “English” bulldogs, the geographic part of the breed will always be capitalized. What are the rules about capitalizing the stand alone word “bulldog?”

From what I understand, AKC dropped the requirement to use “English” in front of the word “bulldog” (or so I’ve been told....) so I am left with the word “bulldog.”

Should I capitalize or not? I referred to the AKC site to see how they were handling the capitalization and they begin by capitalizing the word then use a non-capitalized version throughout their article.


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Is “someone else’s” grammatically correct? Every time I type, the spell-checker reminds me that it’s wrong.

There are a lot of discussions online about “passers-by” vs. “passer-bys”. The general consensus, from what I saw, is that the former is more correct. If this is true, shouldn’t it be “someone’s else”?

I personally feel that “passer-bys” is more correct, especially when you remove the hyphen (”passerbys”). It’s more consistent with other words like “blastoffs” and “playoffs”.

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I have a question about when to use hyphens. For example, do I have a five-year-old dog or a five year-old dog?

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Working from a textbook, one exercise requires students to find the error in different sentences. Can anybody find the error in the following sentence?

*The painting of the Buddha, that has nine figures, made the religion more concrete to believers in 13th-century Tibet.*

The sentence refers to a picture in the book of a painting of a Buddha with several other figures (bodhisattvas) around it.

Sections of the sentence is underlined. I will use square-brackets to indicate the underlined sections. The error should be with one of these underlined sections. Here is the sentence again:

The painting of the Buddha[, that has]{A} nine [figures,]{B} made the religion more [concrete]{C} to believers in [13th-century Tibet.]{D}

The Teacher’s Edition of the textbook says that the error is with {A}. If this is correct, what is wrong with it?


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I need to list the people in a photo, below the photo. The picture will be framed, not in a magazine, etc. What is the proper punctuation? The way I originally typed the names follows but I am ready to finalize the layout and want to know the proper format. The way I have it now:

1. Catherine, March 11, 1874; 2. Alice Bell, July 8, 1875; 3. Birdie Alberdine, February 14, 1877; 4. Mary Adella, November 15, 1879… and so on for eight people.

If I number each person, is additional punctuation required between the names as I have typed it or do the numbers stand alone? Should the individual names even be numbered? I am really not certain what the proper format is.

I am on a deadline to complete this restored photo and layout for a client so a prompt reply would be greatly appreciated.

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So, for a last name like “Stachewicz”...would it be The Stachewiczs or the The Stachewiczes?

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Is it appropriate to use a bulleted list in a question? Example:

Which type of flour would you use for the following items: - bread - cake - cookies

Would you put a question mark at the end of each bullet? Would you only use a question mark at the end of the last bullet? Does the sentence need to be re-worded?

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age vs. aged

Which is correct? aged 45 years or over OR aged 45 years or more


Your apology is noted.


Although the addition of "got" may not follow the strictest syntax rules I believe it's use can be justified here because it serves as an intensifier that emphasizes the need to act is greater than the use of "have" alone connotes.
Also, when the contraction "I've" is used then the addition of "got" improves the word structure sonically by preserving the normal rhythm of a sentence because the contraction works as a single word that serves as the noun, or rather, pronoun of the sentence and leaves a need for another verb.

@WW Sorry, I assumed 'cacography' was just a made-up word - it's all Greek to me ;}

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen:

mixing semicolon and em dash

Not an answer, but a comment on the use of dashes in British English. As far as I know BrE doesn't talk much about em-dashes, for example you won't often see -- (substituting for an em-dash) from British contributors to forums etc. We simply use a dash, in writing the same length as a en-dash, (but on a computer just using a single hyphen), and we put spaces either side - like that, for example. And they don't seem to be used nearly as much as in American English.

From one website on British grammar:

'The double dash encloses supplementary information in the same way as round brackets –
"Alaska – purchased from Russia in 1867 and granted statehood in 1959 – comprises some 586,000 square miles and 624,000 people."
But brackets are preferred in formal scripts.'

This is from the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

"note that it is also the common British practice to use an en dash with a word space on either side where American publishers would use an em dash closed up to the surrounding words"

But I've noticed that the Economist has recently started using M-dashes without gaps. In the online version they are obviously M-dashes, and there's no real problem, but in the print edition they don't seem to be as wide. This is really confusing my students (and me, to be honest), who think they are hyphens, reading the two separate words as one hyphenated word. It turns out that Polish, like British English always uses gaps. I'm beginning to wonder about other European languages. WW will have to investigate!

The exact origin of the continuous aspect in English is debatable. The theory that I find most useful is that it corresponds to the dialect German eg: "Sie war am Buegeln" = She was an-ironing. This exists in English in phrases like:
"A-hunting we wil go"; "The cocks were a-crowing"; and so on.
The "a-" prefix was, as I understand it, originally a preposition as in "asleep", "awake", "abed", and so forth. In time the prefix fell by the wayside to form the continuous aspect, but the meaning of being in the process/activity remained.
The reason I favor this explanation is that it makes sense of the so-called "present perfect continuous" - "What have you been doing? I've been hunting. (cf I've been a-hunting.) The root idea behind the continuous is still to this day about being engaged in an activity or process.
Thus if one could say:
"How's the burger, Rastus?" "I'm a-loving it"
then it would all make sense. That it does not quite - as "loving" is not really an activity unless it involves bodily movement - demonstrates the underlying meaning of the continuous.

The whole thrust of the original question is misguided. Why do we need "a word" for "intentionally incorrect spellling". Surely the "word" is "intentionally incorrect spelling" if that is what one means. Why bury the meaning in some obscure word that few know or understand? Where does this mentality come from? We seem to do it all the time; for example "arachnophobia"? Who are we kidding? It's just very Stephen Fry and snobby. What's so wrong with "fear of spiders" - or even "spider-dread" or something that a normal person would understand. After all, isn't language for communicating with normal people? Why make it so esoteric?

@HS Why are you resorting to Greek? Why do you think that we must find and borrow a Greek/Latin word in order to make up a "proper" word for something? Why not just use an English expression like "willful misspelling" or something?
BTW "cacography" would just mean "bad writing" IIRC - 'kakos' means 'bad' and 'graphein' is to write cf 'cacophony' = bad sound