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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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Wondering a) if “quality-control” is a verb b) if it is, should the hyphen be used or not - two instances are found on the “About” page of this website - one with, one without:

“As long as we quality-control questions, we should not have to quality control comments.”

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I was challenged by a colleague of mine with the subject question to me the other day.

I turned to several resources but failed to find a satisfactory and convincing answer and PainIntheEnglish is my last hope.

Can anybody help me?

Thanks a lot!

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When completing forms that ask for my personal information, I find that many forms ask for “Street Address.” I dutifully fill in my home street address. When I do this I find that, a couple of weeks later, I get a phone call asking me if I’ve moved because a mailing addressed to me was returned marked “unable to deliver.” I explain that I don’t receive mail at my home address, and that I have a Post Office Box for that purpose. The frustrated caller then corrects the information that I provided on the form. I calmly explain that I provided the correct information that was asked for. But this wins me no points with the caller.

On other occasions, I have been able to ask someone, “Do you really want my “street address,” or would you rather have my “mailing address?” On many of these occasions I have been told, “No. We have to have your physical street address.”

So it appears that when a form says “street address,” sometimes they really want a “mailing address,” and at other times they really do want a “street address.”

Is there a general rule of thumb to decipher what people really want?

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John said, “My birthday fell on last Friday.”

If the above is reported, which verb should I use?

John said that his birthday fell/had fallen on the previous Friday.

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“The liquidity is high, as evident/evidenced from the Reserve Bank of India’s reverse repo auctions.”

Which one of these two words would be more appropriate here? How do we decide that ?

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I’ve seen some writeups around the internet where they use the word “con-cum” or “con cum with”. I know “cum” means with in Latin like “suma cum laude” or transformation like “bus cum green house (bus converted to green house). Can anyone tell me how to use “cum” correctly, or should I avoid it as much as possible?

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When writing, “the below changes will take place tomorrow” followed by a bulleted list of changes, would it be more correct to use the phrase “the following...”? Or, is this a matter of personal style? In the above context, what is the phrase “the below”, an adjective?

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Question; are you going to the game? If I am, I say yes. Sometimes the question is framed “You’re not going to the game, are you?” If I’m not going I maintain the response is YES. as in yes, I’m not going. This has been a source of friction with a friend for some time. Comments please over this picayune dribble.

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When excess is used an as adjective, are these words the same. Is there a case for using one over another?

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I am designing an answer form for multiple choice and true-false examinations. The form has also an instruction how to fill it out. I would like to know if the English is correct and if it is clear what I mean. The students have to fill in the box of their choice for every question, that is to “blacken” the box as they say.

Here is the instruction as I formulated it:


1. Use a blue or black ballpoint for filling out the requested information at the top of the form and for encoding your student number in the designated boxes.

2. Use a pencil (preferably HB) when giving the answers. Use an eraser for corrections. Do not use correction fluid or tape.

3. Answer every question by filling in the box of your choice (fill in one box only!).

At first I wrote regarding point 2 “Use a pencil (preferably HB) for filling out the answers.”, but someone told me that “when giving the answers” would be better English. Further I would like to know what the correct place of “only” is. Should one write “fill in one box only!” of “fill in only one box”?

I would appreciate your comments. Thanking you in advance.

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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