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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 love to read Victorian era mysteries and novels. Can you tell me the meaning of “ton” as used in that era? By context it appears to refer to members of high society. Is this accurate? What is the origin of the term? Thanks for your help.

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Is there any difference between “bad” and “poor.” I always thought that bad implied a moral tone whereas poor simply implied low quality. Has this ever been true? I now look both words up in the dictionary (AHD and Merriam-Webster) and they are synonyms of one another and carry very similar meanings. Have these two words always been essentially the same in their meaning? Or has popular usage of “bad” made them converge toward one another?

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In the third conditional, the structure uses the past perfect with the if clause (e.g. “If I had studied...” and the conditional modal + present perfect in the second clause (...I would have gotten a good grade.”)

When and why is it also acceptable to say “If I had studied, I would have a good grade,” where “have” is used as a possessive auxiliary instead of a conditional modal?

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Another oddity from my favourite source, The New Zealand Herald:

“Perhaps it’s time to deal to the ads that are just plain downers?”

It may be an undetected error or a misprint, but knowing the Herald, I’m sure the author, the proof readers, and the editors, all thought that “deal to” made perfect sense in the given context.

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Is “no end” as acceptable as “to no end”, as in “This amuses me no end.”?

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What is a correct... “A gift of John Doe” or “A gift from John Doe” when referring to a large charitable donation? I like the sound of “of” but not sure which one is right.

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Is there any defense of capitalizing after a semicolon? This reads well to me:

We do not sell tricycles; We sell velocipedes. 

Learn the difference.

Not capitalizing the first word of the second clause diminishes the perceived parallelism:

We do not sell tricycles; we sell velocipedes.

The store around the corner sells bicycles.

With a period between them, the first two clauses read like the premises of a syllogism:

We do not sell tricycles. We sell velocipedes.

Do we sell unicycles?

I will continue, of course, to pen as I please, but, in this instance, wonder if I can confidently publish as I please.

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My evening of horror transpired as follows:

While sharing a bottle of wine with my girlfriend I was stupid enough to posit why it was that I had taken such a huge interest in blues music. 

“Why, because it’s accessible to your mediocre guitar skills,” she said, “and when your skills improve you switch to real music, like classical guitar”.

“Well then, I hope, once your skills improve in belly dance you’ll switch to real dance,”  I responded, “besides it is a misnomer that blues is ‘simple music’!”

Now,  my meaning here was that blues music has been historically labeled and designated as “simple music” in order to mislead people into thinking that African-Americans, from whom the music generated, are not capable of anything complex and so somebody will say, “I love blacks because they play ‘simple music’!”

My girlfriend claims English superiority because she went to college and has been told she has a greater grasp on the language than it’s inventors, so she informed me that I had incorrectly used the word “misnomer”. According to her, what I should have said was that ‘simple music’ was a ‘misconception’ and not a ‘misnomer’. I can see the angle she is coming from and, in all honesty, I barely graduated high school, but I am sure that in this instance I am correct. My point was that blues was “misnamed” or “mislabeled” in order to mislead and not if it is actually simple music (I obviously believe that it is not and I am improving at guitar, so hopefully one day I will be able to tell).

In any case, I am currently sleeping on the couch. Is she correct or is it my “belly dance isn’t real dance” that has me on the couch?

Please help me.

Mr. On the Couch Blues

I beg you not to yell at me about any grammar mistake I may have just made. I finished the bottle of wine by myself and I really just want to be right about this one thing.

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Is this correct?

“I so appreciate you taking mine and Gregg’s child to school today.”

Is it correct to use “mine” or should I say “my”?

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Can clauses be misplaced because I always thought that they were superordinate of that. While searching for math accuplacer questions, I was given a set of problems, which I did not want, and, in boredom, did the first one and was wrong. The question was this:

Select the best substitute for the parenthesized parts of the following ten sentences. The first answer [choice A] is identical to the original sentence. If you think the original sentence is best, then choose A as your answer.

Question 1:

Although she was only sixteen years old, (the university accepted her application because of her outstanding grades).

  A. the university accepted her application because of her outstanding grades.

  B. her application was accepted by the university because of her outstanding grades.

  C. her outstanding grades resulted in her application being accepted by the university.

  D. she was accepted to study at the university after applying because of her outstanding grades.

I chose A, but it said D was the correct answer on these grounds:

The clause Although she was only sixteen years old describes the characteristics of the female student. Remember that clauses always need to be followed by the name of the person or thing they are describing. Therefore, “she” needs to come after this clause.

So, to reiterate, is there such a thing as misplaced clauses?

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Latest Comments

It is important to understand the change in English teaching in the UK in the 1960s which meant that children were no longer taught the structure of the language. From then on understanding of usage was gained passively. This meant that the next generation of teachers did not know the correct use of English and this has had a knock-on effect over the intervening years. Reading internet posts shows the low level of literacy in English.
I have found that those who use English best are the people who learned it as a second language and were taught the rules formally.

Walking Heavens

  • ron2
  • December 9, 2016, 8:02am

It would be "the doctor's woods" for one medic and "the doctors' woods" if there were more than one.
So, given that Heaven is singular, it is "Walking Heaven's woods with her daddy."

Capitalizing Directions

@Marilyn If "west" here simply means to the west of the city, then no. However if you mean a specific region of the country such as the Rockies, then you could imply this by capitalizing given the right context. See :
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/west

Capitalizing Directions

I love skiing out west. Would west be capitalized? Out?

This would suggest -ies is more common:

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=th...

could be avoided by: ".... you will receive four issues of the SGS Quarterly this year."

Plural of name ending in Y

The glass collecting club I belong to has a quarterly publication called the SGS Quarterly. I am continually seeing it in various articles in the publication referred to (for example) as ".....you will receive four Quarterlies this year." I contend that since it is being used as a proper noun, it should only have an "s" rather than changed to "ies." Which is correct?

Plural of name ending in Y

The glass collecting club I belong to has a quarterly publication called the SGS Quarterly. I am continually seeing it in various articles in the publication referred to (for example) as ".....you will receive four Quarterlies this year." I contend that since it is being used as a proper noun, it should only have an "s" rather than changed to "ies." Which is correct?

Might could

  • Dwaro
  • December 6, 2016, 9:27am

I see nothing wrong with this term. Normal daily expression. How about Used to could as an expression. We use that also.

Resume and CV are far more common than the rest in print. There are keyboard issues with entering accents for many users.

Copy this to your browser address line for the evidence:
http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=re...

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • Brus
  • December 5, 2016, 2:16pm

My English dictionary, which has the word with both accents as in French, nevertheless gives the pronunciation as res- as in bet, and the emphasis on the first syllable, which is more natural. Someone suggested emphasising the final syllable, which would be like doing so to the English resumED which would be hard to do, indeed, and frankly quite daft.
I say that if you choose to use a French word as in this case, then pronounce it as in French, or why use it at all? Or use curriculum vitae, much better.