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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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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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Does the word “akin” share roots with other words starting an “a”? For example, “Morton’s gone acourtin’ Daisy Sue”. And if so, are these hillbilly expressions? Hillbillies on TV never seem to use the word “akin” they say “kin” a lot as in “...we’re kin folk”.

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Where does the word “nope” come from? Is it just slang for “no” or does it have more distinguished roots?

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Summarising: Three ways of looking at it. Extracts from the Geoffrey Leech article, English Grammar in Conversation.

View 1: Spoken English has no grammar at all: it is grammatically inchoate.

(That view) ...does not need to be taken seriously, although it is surprisingly persistent in the mind of the folk grammarian. It is inherited from the age-old tradition associating grammar with the written language, and it is bolstered by examples such as the following, which, like others which follow, is from the Longman spoken corpus:

No. Do you know erm you know where the erm go over to er go over erm where the fire station is not the one that white white

View 2: Spoken English does not have a special grammar: its grammar is just the same as the grammar of written English

Conversation makes use of entities such as prepositions, modals, noun phrases and relative clauses, just as written language does. So - assuming, as many would, that differences of frequency belong to the use of the grammar, rather than to the grammatical system itself - it is quite natural to think in terms of one English grammar, whose use in conversational performance can be contrasted with its use in various kinds of writing. In other words, conversational grammar is seen to be just a rather special implementation of the common grammar of English: a discovery which does not necessarily in any way diminish the interest of studying the grammar (i.e. the grammatical use) of spoken language.

View 3: Spoken English does have a special grammar - it has its own principles, rules and categories, which are different from those of the written language.

In handling spoken language, (David) Brazil argues for a totally different approach to grammar from the approach which has become familiar through conventional focus on the written language. He argues for a linear model moving dynamically through time, and puts aside the more traditional architectural model in terms of hierarchies of units. Although Carter and McCarthy do not take this thorough-going approach, they do throw the spotlight on grammatical features of spoken language which they feel have been largely neglected by standard grammars entrenched in the ‘written tradition’. They argue that structures which are inherent to speech have not been properly studied until the advent of the spoken computer corpus, and are consequently absent from canonised written grammar familiar to learners of English throughout the world: structures such as the ‘dislocated topic’ of This little shop ... it’s lovely or the ‘wagging tail’ of Oh I reckon they’re lovely. I really do whippets. These tend to find their raison d’être in the fact that conversation constructs itself in a dynamic fashion, giving the speaker only a small look-ahead window for planning what to say, and often inducing retrospective add-ons. Carter and McCarthy (1995) put forward a structural model for the clause in conversation, containing in addition to the core clause itself a pre-clause topic and a post-clause tail. With their refreshing emphasis on the dynamic modelling of grammar in action, Carter and McCarthy seem to be taking a line similar to Brazil’s advocacy of a new grammar of speech.

Read more at: tu-chemnitz.de

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Who thought of calling left, left, and right, right? Why don’t we say 1 and 2, or A and B to determine left and right? My sister really wants to know and I don’t have a clue.

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Does anyone know where the term “zero conditional” comes from and why we use it for labeling the “unchanging Laws of Existence” conditional?

What does that “zero” mean?

(Looking for a bit of etymology here and not a desription of zero conditionals per se.)

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I’m wondering if George Lucas just made this word up. I found that sith was from the celtic word “sidhe” meaning “fairy, especially one that conjures dead spirits.”

It seems really random that Sith would mean something and that Jedi would be meaningless.

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L

Can one say “beforehandedly?” and if so should it be with double L or single. If rejected what word would you useinstead? By the way, is the any rule as to use one or two Ls when making adverbs?

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I was taught by my English Lit professor, whilst studying Chaucer and Shakespeare that the old definition of the word “punk” was “Prostitute”. Is this true? The only references I can find will only give me stuff related to The Sex Pistols & co. Any help? Thanks!

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Latest Comments

Social vs Societal

I hope you're still not running a proofreading service, as just glancing at this post I've spotted two errors. That doesn't fill me with confidence! You've missed a question mark at the end of one sentence, and the word 'separate' has an 'a' in the middle, not an 'e'.

Fora vs Forums

  • Lenur
  • March 28, 2017, 3:23am

Hi everyone!
Again, I need your help
I know that correct construction of the sentence:
"I can see how tiny we are"
But is it possible to say?

"i can see how tiny are we"
Like a statement....
Because in my situation it's better for singing, riming and flow in the song. Or it just sounds stupid?

The fact of the matter is is that

  • Thad B
  • March 27, 2017, 11:28pm

This is similar to the "that that" problem, which I have myself found utilizing. Perhaps, if not in such a rush with emails, I would find the time to reconstruct my sentence to avoid "that that", though I don't find it difficult to understand when I read it myself. Perhaps others do.

English, at least American English, is an evolving language. I am abhorred by radio, television and my own just-adult children who have seemed to have forgotten what an adverb is. The sentence "He ran really quick" irks me constantly but seems to be common usage these days. While I dislike the new usage, I am also not an advocate of using Old English, ergo - I am accepting of the evolving language.

Salutations in letters

  • Thad B
  • March 27, 2017, 10:06pm

I use "Hello Jim"
and sign,

"Regards,
John"

I work for a high tech American firm in New York.

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.