Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

Pain in the English offers proofreading services for short-form writing such as press releases, job applications, or marketing copy. 24 hour turnaround. Learn More

Discussion Forum

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.

Search Pain in the English

Latest Posts

I am currently teaching English in Spain and one of my students asked me a question that has left me dumbfounded. How would someone explain the differences between:

Wrong/Right
Incorrect/Correct
Bad/Good

I know what sounds good, but I haven’t been able to find a hard and fast rule.

Read Comments

What is the difference between “common” and “commonplace”? In which situation can I replace “common” by “commonplace”?

Read Comments

Is “nevermore” a real word? Can it be used in “ordinary” writing? I’m wondering because it seems to be the only word that means ‘never again’, and it would be nice to have a concise word.

Read Comments

I seem to have developed a writing tick of using “and so” rather than “therefore” or “accordingly.” I like the flow of “and so,” but I have been discouraged from using it. I’m curious about what others think of “and so.”

Read Comments

When did we stop “giving” presents, and instead started to “gift” presents?  I was taught that “gift” was a noun and not a verb, but it appears it is now used as the preferred verb to indicate the giving of a gift.

Read Comments

Is it really proper to say “I graduated high school,” or should it not be, “I graduated from high school?” Previously, I thought only rednecks were able to “graduate high school.”

Read Comments

Am I the only person in the world who finds the ubiquitous misuse of the verb “reference” to be incredibly annoying? Where did the use of “reference” rather than “refer to” start? I realise that the definition can skirt close to this usage, but I maintain that it is a misuse.

Read Comments

The word signage seems to keep popping up more and more and it would seem that in the majority of cases it is being used as the plural of sign and increasingly is perceived as a “clever” alternative to that plural. The OED states:

Chiefly N. Amer. Signs collectively, esp. public signs on facia boards, signposts, etc.; the design and arrangement of these.

Read Comments

Is there a gustative equivalent to the olfactory word “malodour”?

Is there a lexical, not imaginary, word that means anything that tastes bad just like “malodour” means anything that smells bad?

Read Comments

Any regular rule applicable for those words “make” and “do” while using with some nouns?

  • make war
  • do the homework
  • make a new plan
  • doing my own business

Any rule ladies and gentlemen, or just memorize every case one by one?

Read Comments

Latest Comments

Someone else’s

The grammar patterns of Courts Martial, Judge Advocates General, etc. would seem to agree. In example, those who pass flatulence would be "gas passers" or passers of gas, just as passers by, which is short for an entire phrase "passers by the side of [implied or mentioned object]" is different. However, "someone else" appears to hearken back to a more Germanic form of grammar, rather than the French Norman with its Latin influence. If this is the origin of the phrase, then using the entire phrase as a single noun or idea would be appropriate. In this case, where both words originate from the Germanic, it would be "someone else's". The Germans frequently abbreviate such phrases where they become excessively long, but in their original were written as one word using their cursive. In school I studied French, Classical Latin, and German enough to become aware that our aggregatenous language has so many exceptions because of those origins. (I have dabbled with Gaelic which is as far as I can tell the source of split infinitives.)

Someone else’s

The easiest way to avoid the use of "someone else's" (which is grammatically incorrect), is to put the NOUN, with which you are linking the possessive, FIRST in the sentence.
For example: "It was someone else's fault." (incorrect)
"It was the fault of someone else." (correct)
This works every time when you write, but for conversational speech, "someone else's" is the common usage. However, if you are quoting what was spoken by someone else, then you would want to quote it exactly.

@Lisa: biennial

What happens if you skip a year?

I'd say that when using the % sign it would be "between 40% and 50%" but when spelling it out "between 40 and 50 percent" would be adequate.

It depends on what you are writing. In a legal document one might spell it out unambiguously as "between forty percent and fifty percent". Elsewhere omitting the first percentage sign may well be clear enough.

There is a good explanation of mixed conditionals here:
http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.nz/2011/...

If I remember correctly, there is a comment in Michael Lewis's "Lexical Approach" (1993) that in conditional sentence one just uses the appropriate tense and modal. If we construe "would" as a modal subjunctive indicating a counter-factual situation, and "have been" as a perfect infinitive indicating the situation is in the past, then this does not sit well with the time adverb "today".

However, I do believe that in some areas, such as Quebec, usage may be different, so there may be some wiggle-room here.

Where are the commas?

  • dionne
  • March 21, 2017, 1:35pm

I was lead to believe it was Sally.

As far as I can discern, it is neither impolite nor polite. However, it is incorrect. "Can I get [something]?" implies that the person is asking whether it is possible that they, themselves, are able to go and fetch or obtain something e.g. "Can I get petrol there?" or because they are asking whether another person would like something that they could obtain on their behalf, for example "Can I get you a drink?"

If they are asking a waiter, bartender, shop assistant or other person serving if they would go and fetch something for them on their behalf, they should ask the question "May I have/can I have/could I have" and similar variants preferably with "please" in there somewhere!

I am wondering how you say this percentage in words:
.00011 percent.
Is it something like:
One hundredth and one thousandth of one percent??

I am trying to show how SMALL 1100 parts per billion is...

Thank you,

Joanna