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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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Alright, this has me stumped for some reason. I believe that saying “I don’t watch much stuff.” is incorrect, but I can’t articulate why. At first, I thought the problem was with [action verb] + stuff, but I realize that you can ask someone to please watch your stuff, so that’s not it. And the problem isn’t simply ‘much stuff’ because someone can have too much stuff. In any case, I was hoping for a definitive reason why (or why not, if I am wrong) it is improper to say ‘watch much stuff’.

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My question is on “of a”, as in, “How long of a process would this be?” or “How long of a wait is it?” I was taught there is no “of”, rather “How long a wait is it?” or “How long a process?” I see and hear “of a” so often now, I’m wondering if the rules have changed. Thank you.

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Is the dialect expression “He was sat ...” in place of “He was sitting ...”, which is quite common in the UK, also found in US English? When I first arrived in England I was astonished to hear a teacher tell his class to “stay sat” when they had done whatever it was they were doing. Now it is like an epidemic, heard on the radio and television too, used by people speaking otherwise standard English. US dialect is very rich and diverting, but I wonder if this one features?

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I’ve come across the following dependent clause that has piqued my grammar interest, and I’m not sure if said clause is grammatically correct:

“...with the exception of a roast beef sandwich, a protein-dense smoothie from Jamba Juice, and 500 million dollars!”

In this case, should the word “exception” be plural since it’s referring to a list (and subsequently the preceding “the” should be dropped as well)?

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Do we change tenses on common expressions when writing fiction? “God only knew” sounds bizarre, but I find it difficult to let “knows” persist when writing...

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I need you help explain this structure to me: “prefer/want it that way”. I have heard it the first time in the song “I want it that way” of Backstreet Boys. But I think the complete sentence could be: “I want it in that way”, is it right? Is “in” left out in this sentence? Thank you in advance.

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What is the meaning of “I dove my hat”?

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Is there not a redundancy in the use of “got” with “have”? Why say “I have got” or “I’ve got” when “I have” conveys the exact meaning? The same would be true of its use in the second or third person.

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Can the term ‘self-confessed’ be correct? I read it last week and it’s been bugging me ever since. Surely the only way to confess is to do it personally? Can someone else confess to my crime or secret? The ‘self’ part is redundent.

Then I thought it might come from a police background. If someone is about to be questioned and they confess without any probing I can see how ‘self-confessed’ could make sense, as they were not forced to confess by interrogation. But it still feels like saying ‘cold ice’ to me!

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I’m looking for a phrase or idiom that conveys the same sense of wild goose chase or false lead as a red herring, but that is not placed intentionally. A red herring is necessarily an attempt to mislead. I’m looking for a phrase that can apply if the distraction is unintentional.

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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.