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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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The phrase “liquid water” seems to have become very much in vogue with science correspondents in the media. Does the fact that most of us probably view water as being liquid not render this particular neologism redundant, and reveal it as another example of members of the fourth estate, or perhaps the people they interview, trying to be ultra clever? Shall we all now be required to start referring to ice a “solid water” and steam as “gaseous water”?

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English (other than American English) has a clear differentiation between the two words. Both are about moving something. In “bring” the something of somebody is moved to where the speaker is currently situated. “Take” is used to indicate moving something or somebody to a place that the speaker is not currently at. I have heard and read examples of these two verbs being confused in a number of American movies and TV shows, and in a number of books by American authors. Jeffrey Deaver is one author guilty of this along with other flaws like misuse of perpendicular, another is George R R Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire series.

For example, in the UK a boy will say to a girl, “May I take you home”. Meaning “may I escort you to your home”, not “would you like to come back to my place”. Whereas in the US “May I bring you home” would be be more common. Similarly, a UK girl might say “Would you take me home please” as opposed to “Would you bring me home please”. Why does this confusion exist and persist?

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What’s the difference between “among” and “from among”? Do you select a winner “from” the list of participants or “from among” the list of participants?

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If you’re over a certain age, you will probably be familiar with the expression - ‘If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming’. But if you’re a bit younger than me, you might well have heard it as - ‘You’ve got another thing coming’, especially if you’re a heavy metal fan. While I can understand that the saying could have changed through mishearing (an eggcorn?), I am puzzled as to how people who use the newer version understand it’s meaning. The original has a perfect logic to it (if not perfect grammar) which seems to me to be completely lost in the newer version.

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Ok, so the abbreviation is No, but should it have a capital ‘n’ to distinguish if from ‘no’, and is it with a period after it, or not?

It is short for numero so, at least in British English, I understand that there should be no period (as the last letter of the abbreviation is the last letter of the word), but in US English there would be (because they don’t care about that sort of thing).

And the plural...? Nos. or Nos ... or nos or nos. ? or just leave it as No?

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What’s the difference in meaning between ‘-ic’ and ‘-ical’, for example, as in ‘horrific’ versus ‘horrifical’, ‘comic’ versus ‘comical’ ‘fantastic’ versus ‘fantastical’, ‘Eucharistic’ versus ‘Eucharistical’, ‘feministic’ versus ‘feministical’, ‘ecclesial’ vs ‘ecclesiastic’ vs ‘ecclesiastical’, etc? 

The more informative the answer(s), the better.

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There are two questions associated with this. The first one is: Should it be “Not just I who think...” not “Not just me who think...”?

The second question is: Should the subject be considered singular or plural in this case? That is, should it be “Not just I who thinks...” or “Not just I who think...”? After all, if it is not just just me (or I?), there are other people, which makes it plural.

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My beef is with titled vs entitled. It seems that it is now acceptable to use entitled in the place of titled. For example: Jane won the contest so she was entitled to the winnings. This is correct. Jane wrote a book and it was entitled ‘How to win at the lottery’ In my opinion, the book was not entitled to anything. The misuse of the word is very widespread and supposedly the meaning has now been officially changed.

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In recent years I’ve noticed an increasing use of “and” or “but” followed by a comma, as in this example I saw today in an email: “We don’t believe these updates change our practices but, we want to communicate this information directly to you.” The rationale seems to be that a pause is intended after the conjunction, but clearly this violates the traditional rule about punctuating a compound sentence (as per this sentence).

In today’s Providence Journal the lead editorial, ”Tough but vague Romney,” includes this: “Mr. Romney has demanded that Iran stop its program aimed at making nuclear weapons and suggested the [sic] Mr. Obama hasn’t been firm enough. But, the former governor hasn’t said how he would do that other than, perhaps, give more support to the Israelis to attack Iran.”

I realize the paper’s evident lack of sufficient proofreading might cloud the issue here, but [not "here but,"] I assure you this is not uncommon in today’s newspaper and other published writing.

So does this bother anyone else besides me?

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“Latest Crew Blasts Off for the International Space Station”

I wrote this in response to an e-mail newsletter distributed by NASA.

Yes, they are all dead, dead, dead....
Also, they never could get anywhere on time.
What you really meant was the “newest crew”.

These newsletters from NASA contain grammatical and logical errors almost every time. They also include the e-mail addresses of the authors, but nobody ever writes back OR publishes any corrections. Also, about half the time, the e-mails to those addresses get returned with the note “Recipient unknown” or “Address unknown”. Why publish any e-mail address if it is not going to work? Why bother?

When I write an e-mail to the office of the President of the United States, it goes through, so the people whom I mentioned above cannot claim that they are too busy of VIPs.

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Overhead yesterday in a coffee shop:
Customer: Excuse me; I was wondering if I could trouble you for a side salad.
Waitress: Side salad?

Slight mismatch of styles!

How should a waiter or bartender address a customer?
"Do you want .........................?"
"Would you like.....................?"

When you say, "Can I get..?" in the UK, it's generally considered a f**king rude Americanism. Happy Thanksgiving, though.

She and her father look alike
Her and her father look alike

age vs. aged

Which is correct? aged 45 years or over OR aged 45 years or more


Your apology is noted.


Although the addition of "got" may not follow the strictest syntax rules I believe it's use can be justified here because it serves as an intensifier that emphasizes the need to act is greater than the use of "have" alone connotes.
Also, when the contraction "I've" is used then the addition of "got" improves the word structure sonically by preserving the normal rhythm of a sentence because the contraction works as a single word that serves as the noun, or rather, pronoun of the sentence and leaves a need for another verb.

@WW Sorry, I assumed 'cacography' was just a made-up word - it's all Greek to me ;}

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen:

mixing semicolon and em dash

Not an answer, but a comment on the use of dashes in British English. As far as I know BrE doesn't talk much about em-dashes, for example you won't often see -- (substituting for an em-dash) from British contributors to forums etc. We simply use a dash, in writing the same length as a en-dash, (but on a computer just using a single hyphen), and we put spaces either side - like that, for example. And they don't seem to be used nearly as much as in American English.

From one website on British grammar:

'The double dash encloses supplementary information in the same way as round brackets –
"Alaska – purchased from Russia in 1867 and granted statehood in 1959 – comprises some 586,000 square miles and 624,000 people."
But brackets are preferred in formal scripts.'

This is from the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

"note that it is also the common British practice to use an en dash with a word space on either side where American publishers would use an em dash closed up to the surrounding words"

But I've noticed that the Economist has recently started using M-dashes without gaps. In the online version they are obviously M-dashes, and there's no real problem, but in the print edition they don't seem to be as wide. This is really confusing my students (and me, to be honest), who think they are hyphens, reading the two separate words as one hyphenated word. It turns out that Polish, like British English always uses gaps. I'm beginning to wonder about other European languages. WW will have to investigate!