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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 blame here is on an American TV network that presented an interview with a British Fire Chief saying something about an outbreak of criminals with “petrol bombs” -- and then with no explantation whatever. In America, we do not have “petrol” and nobody knows what a “petrol bomb” is.

Then after several minutes of thought, it dawned on me that the Fire Chief meant Molotov Cocktails. Yes, the crooks were committing arson with Molotov Cocktails. Those are bottles of gasoline with wicks attached to the tops, and then set on fire. Molotov Cocktails are well-known here from their history as weapons of the Soviet Army in fighting against Nazi German tanks.

Vyacheslav Molotov was the Soviet Foregn Minister from 1939 through 1949, and he was well-known to Americans especially since he visited the United States in 1942 (to see President Roosevelt and to ask for wartime aid) and in 1945 (to sign the Treaty of San Francisco that established the United Nations). Molotov also held other high posts in the Soviet heirarchy. Hence, the name “Molotov Cocktail” came from all of this.

People who appear on American TV need to use the American names for things, or at least the TV networks should explain what foreign phrases mean.

We understand what a TOKAMAC is because it has been explained to us as a Russian acronym. We can look up the details in www.Wikipedia.org if we want to. Slang phrases like “petrol bomb” at not there.

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I just heard a British announcer say “much more ready” on TV. Whatever happened to the word “readier” and the phrase “much readier”.

Also, is the source of the phrase “much more X”, where X is a simple one or two syllable adjective, in British English -- and Americans are now slavishly imitating it?

Now we hear such wretched phrases as “much more free”, “much more grave”, and “much more simple”, when we already had simple comparatives like “freer”, “graver”, and “simpler”.

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They pronounce words such as success, luck, but et al with a closed “ooh”: “sook-cess”, “look”, “boot”

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Pet Peeve 2. People pronouncing “mandatory” as “mandaytory”. Just sounds pretentious.

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Pet Peeve 1. Lots of antipodeans (particularly sports commentators) persist in pronouncing “début” as “dayboo” yet they pronounce “débutante” correctly. Occurs 2 or 3 times in every broadcast on Sky TV. I now mute the sound otherwise my teeth would be ground to dust.

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In the sentence “It is a highly unusual form of melody, one that occurs only in this composer’s work”, what is the referent of the pronoun ‘one’? Is it ‘melody’ or the entire prepositional phrase ‘form of melody’? Or, perhaps the referent is the subject of the sentence, ‘it’? I frequently hear the rule that the referent has to be the prior proximate noun.

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In a work by a major scholar, about a piece of music, he wrote that a passage was ‘repeated’ 7 times, when actually it occurs 7 times (stated once and repeated 6 times). Is his usage idiomatic?

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‘we have a cricket tournament tomorrow.’ or ‘we will have a cricket tournament tomorrow.’ -which is more correct?

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We often hear sentences like:- “Your teen is more at risk while on their restricted licence” where “their” appears as a means of combining “his” and “her”. Although there may be nothing wrong in this, it does sound a bit strange.

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For example, ‘Hello, dear, how are you?’ or ‘Hello, Dear, how are you?’ (Darling, Sweetheart, etc.) Is either absolutely correct/incorrect. I have tended to favour the capitalised form (though not if using the term ‘my dear’, ‘my love’, or whatever) until now but it has recently been questioned and I cannot fully justify my usage. Thank you all, in anticipation.

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@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.

It depends on what you are writing. In a legal document one might spell it out unambiguously as "between forty percent and fifty percent". Elsewhere omitting the first percentage sign may well be clear enough.

There is a good explanation of mixed conditionals here:
http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.nz/2011/...

If I remember correctly, there is a comment in Michael Lewis's "Lexical Approach" (1993) that in conditional sentence one just uses the appropriate tense and modal. If we construe "would" as a modal subjunctive indicating a counter-factual situation, and "have been" as a perfect infinitive indicating the situation is in the past, then this does not sit well with the time adverb "today".

However, I do believe that in some areas, such as Quebec, usage may be different, so there may be some wiggle-room here.

Where are the commas?

  • dionne
  • March 21, 2017, 1:35pm

I was lead to believe it was Sally.

As far as I can discern, it is neither impolite nor polite. However, it is incorrect. "Can I get [something]?" implies that the person is asking whether it is possible that they, themselves, are able to go and fetch or obtain something e.g. "Can I get petrol there?" or because they are asking whether another person would like something that they could obtain on their behalf, for example "Can I get you a drink?"

If they are asking a waiter, bartender, shop assistant or other person serving if they would go and fetch something for them on their behalf, they should ask the question "May I have/can I have/could I have" and similar variants preferably with "please" in there somewhere!

I am wondering how you say this percentage in words:
.00011 percent.
Is it something like:
One hundredth and one thousandth of one percent??

I am trying to show how SMALL 1100 parts per billion is...

Thank you,

Joanna

hanged vs. hung

  • Maya
  • March 20, 2017, 11:48pm

I want to know , which is the correct sentence to use when your laptop freeezes. Like , " My laptop hung up or my laptop hanged or my laptop is hung

fill in the blanks!

I have a release of all claims and above the notary & witness signatures, there is this statement:
WITNESS___________ hand and seal this ______ day of _________, 2017; what is put in after WITNESS?