Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

Pain in the English offers proofreading services for short-form writing such as press releases, job applications, or marketing copy. 24 hour turnaround. Learn More

Discussion Forum

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.

Search Pain in the English

Latest Posts

I’d like to go back to an old question which was discussed here in 2011. What is the correct preposition to use with “different?” 

Every time I hear the BBC’s “different to” it grates on me. I distinctly remember my 6th Grade teacher, Mrs. Murphy, explaining to us that “different” takes “from” because in arithmetic, when you subtract one number from another you obtain a difference. Her analogy was faulty, of course; but her grammar was correct. The abuse she was trying to correct was “different than.”  I never heard “different to” until relatively recently, on the BBC World Service.

The consensus of the 2011 discussion seemed to be that “different to” is British usage and “different from” is American. 

Well – yes and no. I’ve gone through some quotation websites looking for 19th and early 20th century British examples and could find not one “different to.” They all use “different from.”

I did also find this, however, from the 1908 edition of Fowler’s “The King’s English.”

“. . .’different to’ is regarded by many newspaper editors and others in authority as a solecism, and is therefore better avoided by those to whom the approval of such authorities is important. It is undoubtedly gaining ground, and will probably displace ‘different from’ in no long time; perhaps, however, the conservatism that still prefers from is not yet to be named pedantry.

Well, that was prescient – if you concede that 100 years counts as “no long time” when it comes to the English language. 

(In response to some of those 2011 posts which mentioned “more different than” as an acceptable use of “different than”: in that case “than” refers to “more” not “different.”) 

Read Comments

Since when did “concerning” become an adjective meaning “causing concern?” I first noticed it in the New York Times sometime earlier this year. Now it’s being used both in the media and in everyday conversation as if it had been around forever. Yet the usage is not mentioned in either my 1971 abridged edition of the OED or my trusty 1980 New World Dictionary. Should we just accept this new word as an example of the English language moving on? Or is it concerning?

Read Comments

Hey

Why, in English, do we say ‘hey’ as a conversation starter? Why not hello? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, hey is “used especially to call attention or to express interrogation, surprise, or exultation”. It does not mention any connection to the word hello. Why then, do we so often hear hey substituted for hello? Whether talking on the phone, texting, or just trying to make small talk in person, everyone always seems to begin with hey, even when you are already talking to the person and you don’t need their attention. My best guess is that is probably another development in our ever-changing language that came about over time, but does anyone know how this connotation came to be?

Read Comments

I watched some movies over the weekend, and by doing so some questions arose regarding the use of who and whom.

In the movie “Prometheus” one of the main characters is describing the reason of traveling to a planet so far away from earth, and a suporting character says: “We are here because of a map you two kids found in a cave?” - “Not a map, an invitation” - “From who?”

Now, I think the guy is asking for the object. Is he not? Also, I understand that whom must be used after a preposition. Then shouldn’t it be “from whom”?

In the movie “X-Men: First Class” two CIA agents are conversing and the following dialogue takes place: “A war is about to begin.” - “I know. But a war with who?” Same as the other one: Shouldn’t “whom” be used here? “with” is also a preposition, and he is also asking for the object.

Read Comments

Does anyone know if there are rules governing the pronunciation of “a”? It’s either “AYE” or “UH”, depending on the word following. My preference is dictated by how it sounds and how it flows off the tongue, but I have never been able to establish if actual rules exist.

Americans and Australians tend to use “AYE” all the time and sometime it just sounds ridiculous, like...”Aye man driving aye car stopped at aye traffic light”

Read Comments

I’m an English teacher in France. In this question I am seeking confirmation that the following use of “used to” is no longer in use. I’m willing to be enlightened.

“Where used you to live before you came here?”

The form that I would employ is:

“Where did you use to live before you came here?”

My source is “Pratique de l’anglais de A à Z” by Michael Swan and Françoise Houdart. In this book they say that you can use either with or without the auxiliary ‘did’. I would not have been shocked by “Where were you living before you came here?”

The book is really very useful and well organized, but occasionally I come across sentences that seem (to me) to be archaic. The version I have was published in 1983. And before any of you say it, no this is not my only source for my English lessons.

So I would be glad of your opinions.

Read Comments

I saw this sentence in a text: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Should the comma be replaced with a semicolon because all three elements are independent clauses.  

Should the sentence be written, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” or “I came; I saw; I conquered.”?

Is the comma acceptable, because the elements are in a simple series?

Read Comments

A colleague just asked me which of the statements below was correct:

“System A will be replaced by System B” or

“System A will be replaced with System B” 

Note that in this context System A and System B are competing software packages that are removed / installed by third parties. System B does not install or remove System A. 

I thought that either was correct - is this right? I could not tell her which was better or why or in what contexts I would choose ‘by’ over ‘with’ or vice versa. Can anyone propose guidelines for usage?

Read Comments

Sequence of tenses requires us to use, for example, past tense if the verb in the introductory clause is in the past tense. For example:

All the members of the survey team said: “You have a beautiful library!”

All the members of the survey team happily acknowledged that we had a beautiful library.

NOW,

This holds true if the quote is a universal truth, quite obviously. But, what if the physical situation talked about in the quotation still holds true? For Example:

Ring Ring.

Sarah: Hello!

Sarah: Yes this is she.

Sarah: Oh really!

Sarah: Well, your ring awoke us.

Sarah: No, I have no laundry outside.

Sarah: Thanks, Bye!

Jeff: Who was it?

Sarah: it was Betty.

Jeff: What did she say?

Sarah: She said that it was raining / it is raining. (Now, here the logical sequence does not follow the grammatical sequence,)

Another:

The survey team said about Plymouth High School, “They have a beautiful library.” (in March 2012)

Subsequently talking to the principal of Plymouth school, Saba told her that the committee commented that (you had a beautiful library / you have a beautiful library). (May 2012, and the situation still holds true).

Read Comments

Does one make a decision or take a decision? I favour the former but the latter seems to be gaining popularity, especially with politicians.

Read Comments

Latest Comments

@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.

@HS Could you please complete the following:
a) Quick! The police ___ coming!
b) The cattle ___ lowing, the baby awakes.

Please also explain how, in your world, we can tell which nouns are "collective" and which are not.

“It is I” vs. “It is me”

"It is I," and "It am I," are both stiff for the same reason; they are illiterate, for both attempt to mix first and third person pronouns and "to be" verbs.

Another way to answer the question, only this time with the word "me," would be with an appropriate preposition in front of it. For example, one could say, "This is the voice of me." Or if someone asked whose picture this is, one could answer, "It is an image of me."

One could drop the use of pronouns altogether and say, "It was my knocking you heard. May I come in?" Clearly, all the person on the other side of the door just needs to hear is the knocker's voice to know who it is.