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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 have a question to ask of you. A professor of English Usage said the next expression is incorrect:

(a) She is not what she was ten years ago.

He insisted that this sentence should be corrected like:

(b) She is not who she was ten years ago.

In my opinion, both sentences are correct but there is some difference between them:

(a) implies that she changed her habit or attitude, or lost her physical strength etc.,

but (b) implies that she became ill and lost her physical ability etc.

Do you agree with my opinion? I examined the following examples:

who he was

(1) ‘I believe he was a massive influence on the pitch when we played against them. He was United’s football brain, he was highly motivated and he was a quality player. At 34 he is not what he was in central midfield aged 28. But he is still a top Premier League player and a loss for United.’ — The Independent (London, England), November 19, 2005

(2) Mr Wolff added: “Murdoch is an 80-year-old man. He obviously is not what he was five years ago. He is in the midst of an enormous legal situation and lawyers have taken over. He is under an emotional strain as great as any in his life. This is incredibly painful for him.” — The Evening Standard (London, England), February 17, 2012

what he was

(1) All this is understandable. Arenas is returning from an interminable rehabilitation process. He is not who he was. And getting back to who he was will not be easy on him or his teammates, not when he has the ball in his hands so much of the time. — The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 23, 2009

 (2) Parkinson’s disease has kidnapped my wife. It is in the process of killing her. I hug and kiss what is left of her, hang photographs of the old, strong Milly throughout the house, and talk to her. We hold hands. We make love. But she is not who she was. She cannot walk, and now she can barely speak. She is being carried into an abyss, and I am helpless to rescue her. — Morton Kondracke, Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson’s Disease (2001) p. xix

I am looking forward to your comment on this!!!

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When I first heard the lyrics, “Wake up to reality, use your mentality” I thought that Cole Porter was joking. You don’t use your mentality. You use your mind.

Here’s a list:

Medicine » Medication
Document » Documentation
Reason » Rationality
Mind » Mentality
Transport » Transportation

The list is seemingly endless when one starts looking. My point is that ‘document’, for example, is an official piece of paper. ‘Documentation’ is the furnishing or provision of that piece of paper. ‘Medication’ is the application of medicine.There are those who think it is classy to say “I took the medication” Oh dear me, no. Words have meanings.

Americans tend to believe that the British dislike of ‘transportation’ to mean ‘a bus’ is based on our guilty consciences about shipping convicts to Australia. Actually no, that was a pretty good policy. Where better to send them? ‘Transportation’ was the policy, not the ships.

No doubt there are, legitimately, grey areas but...no, I take it back. I’m not weakening.

So there we are, fellow-pedants. The battle-lines are drawn.

May I finally say how pleasant it is to find this forum, the only place I know of where one can sound of on such subjects without being told to take an aspirin and lie down in a darkened room.

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When speaking about wish statements, why is it okay to give the short answer form for an action verb (e.g. snow), but not for be + adjective (e.g. to be sunny).

For example, we say “It won’t rain tomorrow, but I wish it would.”

But, “It won’t be sunny tomorrow, but I wish it would be.”

What is the distinction we make here, or is it just an arbitrary rule that we use be?

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It’s one I had not encountered before moving to NZ. Now I hear it and read it almost daily. Yet a Google seach shows 843,000 hits for NZ out of a total of 267,000,000 so it is obviously not restricted to the antipodes.

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What diacritic would I use over the word YANA to accent the first a as an “ah” (short o) sound. It is pronounced Yahna. Thanks!

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In NZ I have often seen in print and heard people say “it caught on fire” instead of “it caught fire”. Is this a regional thing or does it occur elsewhere?

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I have heard the president hypercorrect personal pronouns as in “he gave it to Michelle and I.” Is this common now even in the highly educated? Would this have been heard by a highly educated person 30 years ago?

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Another interesting phrase from The Independent:

“nearby to where he lives”

This journalist must be paid by the word. Wonder what was wrong with “near where he lives”?

Link to the article »

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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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Latest Comments

Computer mouses or computer mice?

  • Brus
  • October 1, 2016, 9:51am

First it was called a mouse because it looked like a mouse, then 'they' thought up a suitable acronym. Of course the plural, should it ever be needed, is "mice", for 'mouses' sounds plain silly. The same applies to goose-geese, and your man who says it is "not acceptable" seems, as it were, to be shooting from the hip: being authoritarian but quoting no authority and using terminology which has a whiff of political correctness about it in its dogmatism. Humourless, too. 'Gooses' is a verb, and renders uncomfortable its use in the context suggested. So I say the plural form of the noun is 'geese' as always.

The handle of a tailor's smoothing iron is a goose. The word geese is NOT acceptable as the plural. In this case the plural of goose is GOOSES. So, I vote for mouses !

On Tomorrow

I live is south Louisiana and I hear it more and more. It's driving me nuts.

attorneys general vs. attorney generals

  • jdjay
  • September 28, 2016, 1:04pm

Isn't "General" a rank rather than an adjective. The AG is the top ranking government attorney and not some general purpose "JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES" . Are we really supposed to say Postmasters General, etc.?

It seems to me that the premise of this assertion is entirely false. The British do use plurals where North Americans tend to use singulars. Words such as family and staff are commonly construed as being plural in Britain. This is not a new phenomenon. I think the import part is to be consistent and to be attuned to one's audience.

No Woman No Cry

It's a purely political song about the subjugation of Jamaica by the British. "Woman" is "Queen".

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and so...

I like to use 'and so' in certain forms. I would never use it in an academic paper but I would in poetry and some others as well. Correct or not, it is understood and I have accepted much less elegant words or terms under the premise that a living language changes

The letter o is silent in the name phoebe(feebee, not fobe)