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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 constantly see apostrophes used in ways I believe are incorrect. I am wondering anyone can confirm for me, though. For example, I often see “Temperatures will reach the high 90′s today...”

Aren’t apostrophes only used to show possession or in contractions? For example, “This sweet ride isn’t (cont.) mine; it’s (cont) Jessica’s (poss).”

Also, how would I word something to the effect that everyone is coming to the house that my husband, Mike, and I own?

“Everyone is coming to Mike’s and my house.”?

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Let us say I received a box of apples from Joe Jones, Ltd.

Would I write:

“Joe Jones, Ltd., sent a box of apples.” or

“Joes Jones, Ltd. sent a box of apples.”?

Notice that the first example has one more comma.

Thanks!

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Is it proper to hyphenate percentages if they’re modifiers? Example - a 20 percent increase. I’m trying to determine this by Associated Press standards.

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Are common pet-names capitalized as per proper names i.e. when writing to a loved one, which of the two is the better option? -Hello darling- or -Hello Darling-

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When do you capitalize directions? ie) Uncle Henry flew south for the winter.

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1. The much talked about question; or The much-talked-about question. If hyphenation is not required, would hyphenation make it wrong, and vice-versa.

Though I’d definitely hyphenate the following: “The much-talked-about-but-never-dealt-with question”. No?

2. I like groceries shopping; or I like groceries-shopping. Same for things like coat(-)checking, floor(-)scrubbing, etc.

How about: The groceries-shopping tedium; coat-checking etiquette; etc. Would it be okay if you don’t hyphenate them?

3. Behaviour is context dependent; or Behaviour is context-dependent. The page is content heavy; or The page is content-heavy.

Likewise, if hyphenation is required, would the lack of hyphenation make it wrong, and vice-versa.

4. The end of school vacation; or The end-of-school vacation. A not so surprising accident; or A not-so-surprising accident.

Again, the same question applies. Especially for the first case, since not hyphenating it would possibly change its meaning: The end of *the* school vacation vs. The vacation that happens at the end of school. Thus, can anyone, without hyphenating it, argue that they mean the latter?

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I’m curious about the correct way to punctuate something like the following: David found a note that only had a few words written on it. “I’m too tired to walk.”

Is there a correct way to do this without quotation marks. I’ve seen hyphens used in some instances but that seems incorrect.

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From Jim Van:

“If the Recovery (read it Money) is in the millions [of dollars], even 4 decimal places would make a SIGNIFICANT figures.”

Question: What difference in use between parenthesis and square brackets?

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On page 89 of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”, Lynne Truss writes, “I wonder why?” Many people put a question mark at the end of this phrase, but to me it doesn’t seem like a question. Isn’t it a statement? “I wonder” is a statement. “Why” is a question in and of itself. In this context, though, the question mark is not making sense to me.

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I am a student working on a thesis in anthropology and I am quoting one of my informants. In his quote, he says “United States Geological Service.” I know that it’s “United States Geological SURVEY,” not “service.” Should I put [sic] after the word “service” in the quote? Is it obnoxious to do that? Is it necessary?

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Latest Comments

@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?

@jayles the unwoven

There are nouns which are recognised as having only a plural form and as such are not relevant to a discussion on collective nouns.
These include police, cattle, oats, tweezers, pants, remains.