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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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Why is “behead” the term for removing a person’s head rather than “dehead” or “unhead”?

Other words that begin with the “be-” prefix seem to be opposite in meaning to the idea of something being removed or coming off (e.g., become, begin, besmirch, befuddle, bestow, belittle).

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Irrespective of whether 1st generations are the ones who are born first in the new country vs. the ones who immigrated, [See the previous post] what would your child be if say you are 1st generation and your spouse is 2nd generation - Is your child “second and a half”? Curious to know what people under such circumstance (or similar) call themselves?

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I have read that at one time in the American South, it was not common to use an apostrophe to form a contraction of words. Some examples used in the article were you’re spelled as youre, don’t as dont. The implication was that the change was part of Reconstruction and a way of forcing conformity on the southern states. I cannot remember where I read this nor what sources were cited as reference. Where can I find information to prove or disprove that such was the case?

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Genius has no ‘o’ in it and yet ingenious does. Why the difference in spelling?

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary...

forum n. (pl. forums) 1) a meeting or medium for an exchange of views. 2) (pl. fora) (in an ancient Roman city) a public square or marketplace used for judicial and other business. Origin ME: from Latin, lit. what is out of doors.

But everywhere else I’ve looked, it seems that forums and fora are interchangable. I personally prefer to use the word forums, when referring to a group of workshops and meetings.

I want to argue for this at my work because the term fora is being used and I want to know if there’s more evidence that I’m actually correct, besides what the Oxford English Dictionary tells me.

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I never paid this much attention until my dad mentioned today that it’s never sounded right to him when people say “hey” instead of “hi” or “hello”. I’ve been using it this way for at least 20 years, but I looked it up in various dictionaries and haven’t yet found a definition consistent with this usage. Most references just define it as “an interjection used to call attention” or something similar and leave it at that. Any thoughts or references that might shed some light?

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Below, is the speaker B sure of who the person is? If so, why not say “That is Julia Roberts”?

A: Who’s that woman over there?

B: That would be Julia Roberts.

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Hi All

On another forum, two native English speakers insisted that the questions shown below were incorrect English. Please tell me why, if the affirmative forms (answers ) shown are allowed, the question form is not allowed.

What does psychology study?

What does solid state physics study?

What does quantum mechanics study?

................

-Psychology studies the relationship between environments and human behaviour. -Psychology studies the human psyche, behavior, and mental processes. This diverse field has roots in biology, medicine, philosophy, religion, and history. ... -Solid state physics studies the processes taking place on surfaces and semi-conductors. - -Theoretical physics above all examines the theory of quantum fields, gravitation and quantum information. -Quantum mechanics studies the behavior of atoms and the particles that make them up.

Thanks

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I am trying to figure out if there is a definite pattern in when ‘th’ is voiced (as in ‘the’) or unvoiced (as in ‘thin’). Someone has commented that sounds are to a large degree determined by the sound that comes after them. This doesn’t explain to me why the ‘th’ in ‘with’ and ‘myth’ are pronounced differently as they have the same ‘sound’ preceding them and nothing after. Can anyone shed any light on this for me? Thanks

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What does the “o’” in “o’clock” stand for? I’ve heard it means “of the”, but that sounds odd. “I’ll meet you at two of the clock”. Perhaps it means “on the” which makes more sense to me. “I’ll meet you at two on the clock”

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Latest Comments

Horizontal Stripes?

We just had this very discussion in the office which brought me here... the boss believes they are Hoops, however, 6 colleagues in the office, 1 of the colleagues wives and even the bosses 13 year old daughter all agree... definitely... Stripes. Some say that for clothing Stripes implies vertical and that they would call them Horizontal Stripes... but all agree that Hoops is not the correct term for it.

Might could

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 9:53pm

I am from all over, but my parents are from Idaho, so I'm not sure the regions identified in previous posts have a monopoly on the form. Anyway, I inherited "might could" from one of parents, and find it very useful. The way I use it, it deflates the less cooperative "might," alone as in "I might do that," which sounds like a teenager challenging an authority figure.

"I might could do that" suggests a willingness to try rather than an insouciant "I might," as in "if I feel like it."

I have a BA in English and an MA in teaching English as a Second Language. If one of my international students used "might could," I would be over-joyed. There are so many worse "infractions" with modals. Believe me, I see them every day.

all _____ sudden

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 8:11pm

I hear "all the sudden" in interviews on NPR. I agree with asheibar that such colloquialisms emerge because they are heard and passed on, but not seen in written text. It reminds me of the occasion someone had written on the blackboard, "It's a doggy dog world." Clearly, whoever wrote this had never seen the written version, "It's a dog eat dog world." Well, marzy dotes and dozey dotes and little lambsy divey" !

It does not bother me that colloquialisms emerge and colonize the language; what bothers me is that it seems that reading is becoming a quaint, anachronistic habit performed by backward looking people who haven't caught on that it's all in the tweet.

The term "First" or "Second Generation", omits the obvious, first or second generation "American". If we say that those who immigrated are the 1st, then by definition their children are 2nd. But that poses a problem, not everyone who immigrates becomes an "American" (11 million are not even legal residents). Although a bit confusing because many of them (I am one of them) do end up becoming American, for clarity, we need to start calling only those who are born here the First Generation.

It's always been LEGO to me (caps or not). I see people who use "Legos" as casual consumers of the product, and should have no business writing about LEGO for public viewing.

Did I get an earful on a "Hey!" when I was in London!!

The concierge in my apartment really took offence when I casually greeted him - "Hey!"

I got something on these lines:
"That's very disrespectful of you. How dare you 'hey' me?!"

So I have been ever so careful when using "hey" over a "hi" or a "hello". I thought this was a very English thing, but quite surprising to find quite a few English folks on this page to be okay with "hey".

Hey, what the heck!

Might could

  • jeb
  • June 26, 2016, 3:08pm

I might could say something about snobby grammarians...bless their hearts...but I won't.

As a well educated native of southern Appalachia (BA in English; PhD in Education), I can say with confidence that might could is mighty useful modal construction that conveys nuance and a sophisticated appreciation of the historical English, at least as spoken by the Scotch Irish settlers who populated these parts.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_English

Indirect Speech?

Oops.
Forgive the extra line in my previous post.
A thought that died at birth.

:)

Indirect Speech?

We could call it "oblique speech", or even "roundabout speech", or we could use a derivative of euphemism, metaphor, or allegory.
I am sure there a a number of terms that could be used to avoid the inevitable confusion caused by the use of the term "indirect speech" in this context.
.
Perhaps a simpler solution would be to refer

Someone else’s

  • Don
  • June 25, 2016, 3:04pm

An adverb, such as else, cannot be made possesive. That is reserved for nouns and pronouns. Else cannot be made in a possesive form. If used, it is poor English.