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

What do you think about using obscure and out-of-use words, such as “ebulliate”? You won’t find it on dictionary.com or even if you google it, but it is in the OED and appears to be a verb-form of “ebullient,” which, of course, is a commonly used word today. My vote was to use it because, hey, it is a word, why confine myself to commonly used words, if we don’t keep up or revive the more obscure words then we’ll lose them forever, and worse, we’ll be overrun by new words being invented not in a smart Joycean fashion but rather inspired by the world of texting and internet chatting fashion. This thought works for phrases like “might could,” too, which I used even though some of your commenters had negative things to say about it.

But my question really is whether it is ok to use obscure words when it’s likely no one knows it/them and unless the reader has access to the OED, which most people don’t, and won’t be able to define it/them, but can probably figure out the meaning from the context of the sentence.

Read Comments

Is it technically incorrect to use “maybe” in an interrogative sentence? Or to make an indefinite statement (with “maybe” or “perhaps” in it) interrogative?

‘Maybe we just need to add some more salt?’ -- Is it incorrect to use a question mark here? Technically, I guess, it’s a statement, so it shouldn’t take a question mark, but in natural speech it can come across as a question (you’re *asking* if we should use more salt) and a question mark at the end can reflect this. But maybe that’s just plain wrong? (← Like this.)

Actually, that’s not a great example... What I really want to know is whether or not it is always incorrect to use “maybe/perhaps” interrogatively in formal written English.

Any thoughts?

Read Comments

What is the difference between writing “Find anything again” and “Find everything again”? My feeling is that “everything” has a more positive connotation.

Read Comments

I think when used as an adverb or adjective, the word should be really, as in “She is really happy.” Real is equivalent to true, or genuine, or actual whereas really is equivalent to the word very.

Is it correct to use real as an adverb or adjective in this way?

Read Comments

I find myself lately having to resist the compulsion to correct those around me when I hear the term ignorant used in the wrong, ever-persisting way. Example:

“What a loser: he just tripped himself playing soccer!”

“Uggh, jerk, don’t make fun of him! You’re ignorant.”

(sometimes pronounced “ignert” in my local area)

Anyone else happen to run into this problem as frequently as I do?

Read Comments

If you’ve had 5 annual events in 5 consecutive years, then skip the 6th year, and have the event again the 7th year, do you call it the 6th annual or the 7th annual?

Read Comments

So i’m a PA & I’ve been having an argument with my boss over the word myriad.

I was under the impression that it stands alone: “there were myriad apples on the fruit-seller’s stall” but he argues that it is correct to say “there was a myriad of apples on the fruit seller’s stall”

What d’you make of that?

Read Comments

I most often hear this “conjunction set” used in spoken form; it seems redundant. I’m quite sure that “yet” suffices. If indeed “yet” is setting off an independent clause, think a semicolon right before “yet” would be the proper form. Any opinions?

Read Comments

This misuse of “verbiage” bothered me a lot from when I first heard it. I worked for a computer company then in the mid-1980s and one day several engineers (programmers) at a meeting called various papers “verbiage”. The papers were marketing reports, technical proposals and the like, all prose. It had long been clear that these engineers disliked reading anything more than a short paragraph long, and now their contempt for written language was evident, too. They assumed “verbiage” meant “written language” and because they used it indiscriminately for long documents as well as short ones, it was also apparently they didn’t know “verbiage” only meant excessive or poorly written documents, or sometimes long, tedious documents without interest. “I looked at the verbiage”, they’d say, “and the verbiage from IBM is a little better.” Or, “I think our verbiage should reflect we avoid spaghetti programming.” Their tone, facial expressions and irritated manner left no question of their feelings. Soon it seemed thousands of people misused the word “verbiage” as they did, and later probably millions. I hear it less because I no longer work in a corporation.

Your opinions, please?

Read Comments

I hear this word more and more, usually to describe music, singing and writing. From the 1950s to about 2000, “edgy” meant “compelling”, “provocative”, often “defiant” or “questioning”, “obviously important” and sometimes dangerous, or nearly so, as it is to walk on a ledge, or near the edge of a rooftop. For example, Bob Dylan’s songs have always been called “edgy”, same as Kurt Cobain’s or Lou Reed’s. Part of edginess is nonformist, and challenging the status quo. Jon Cage would be considered edgy, while Leonard Bernstein would not. “Edgy” usually seems to mean “original”, too. You could call Chris Rock cool and provocative, sometimes, but not usually edgy, as Dave Chappelle is edgy. ---- All right. Is that still what most of you mean by “edgy”? Lately there seems to be a growing connotation of “originality”, too. For example, it’s hard to be “edgy” with even slightly older styles, subjects or forms of singing, composing music or writing short stories or novels. What do you think?

Read Comments

Latest Comments

eat vs. have breakfast

To " have " breakfast is to " eat " and "drink" something.
To " eat" breakfast is to only eat something.
Thus, have is more convenient and makes more sense to use, especially when you're teaching ESL students.

@jtu
I rest my case.

@HS I don't recall being taught anything about collective nouns plus singular verbs at school; perhaps it was taught and I was so busy daydreaming about our French conversation mistress at the time and worrying about my sinful thoughts that I missed it. Presumably your syllabus was different or you were more attentive.

@jtu
I just have one more question:
Do you, and those who share your thoughts on issues like this, believe that those of us who attended schools and universities prior to 1965 should forget all that we learned about the English language in that time and adopt the various fads and errors that have become commonplace since then?

@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.'