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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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From my experience, about 95% of english speaking people (even educated people) employ this grammar (which I believe is incorrect, based on my school training in English, many moons ago, and which I hence detest and just cannot and will not adjust to !):

e.g.: “I wonder THAT this is correct”, rather than: “I wonder IF this is correct”, or:

“I wonder WHETHER this is correct”.

“I wonder THAT that is a fact”, rather than: “I wonder IF this is a fact” or:

“I wonder WHETHER OR NOT this is a fact”.

“I don’t know THAT it was cleaned much…” (from a radio personality this very evening)

IF or WHETHER must be used when there is uncertainty or doubt.

THAT should be used when there is certainty. E.g.: “I know that this is true.”

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Can “Fine.” be considered a complete sentence?

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I recently saw the trailer of “Anne of Green Gables”, and the Marilla character can clearly be heard saying that she is expecting an orphan boy from “Nova Scotia”, but she pronounces that “ti” inn a very strange way. It sounded like “Scothia” or “Scozia”, I couldn’t tell. Is this an alternative pronunciation for the usual “SCO-SHA”?

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Has the word ‘notoriety’ lost its negative connotation? Nowadays, it seems to be synonymous with ‘fame’ but without the negative meaning to it.

He got his notoriety as a WWF wrestler in the 90′s. (even though he played a ‘good guy’)

He gained notoriety as a sharpshooter in his rookie year. (skilled hockey player)

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Can a lie simply be not telling the truth or must you intend of deceiving someone? Is deception or motive necessary in it? All of OED’s make reference to deception as a requirement. My Webster’s New World Dictionary also makes repeated references to deceit with one possible exception: “a false statement or action, esp. one made with intent to deceive.” I’m not sure if the especially used there is meant to negate the necessity of motive in the definition or not, considering all of the other definitions requiring it.

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One grammar guide teaches that if two modifiers of similar kind refers to the same noun (thing or person) only the first is preceded by an article, while the noun is in the singular (The black and white dress she had on was very becoming); but if they refer to different things the noun is in the plural, with an article preceding each modifier (The black and the white dresses were very becoming). This, as I have understood it, means that, for example, the phrase a/the political, economic, and social sphere implies that the sphere is at once economic, political, and social. But how should I understand (if the above rule really governs the structure) an example where the noun is in the plural but only the first modifier is preceded by an article as it is in a sentence you can read in the CollinsCobuild dictionary--We are doing this work in the context of reforms in the economic, social and cultural spheres. The use of the plural noun means that the three spheres are considered different things by the writer, and thus, the article the would have to stand before each adjective like here-- the economic, the social, and the cultural spheres. Via the Internet, you can find a lot of examples being much like the former structure one but almost nothing resembling the latter one. Does this mean that the rule is wrong or incomplete, or I have misunderstood something?

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Since ye is you’s plural, are yer, ye’re and yers respectively your, you’re and yours pluralized, and/or do they have other plural counterparts?

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For the phrase (idiom?) “to make [something] work,” what part of speech is “work” functioning as?

My initial instinct is to say verb, since the something is actively working now.

As a follow-up, why don’t we conjugate “work” or keep it in the infinitive? For instance, why are the following sentences wrong?

Jane’s boss makes the schedule works for everyone.

Jane’s boss makes the schedule to work for everyone.

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When did perpendicular lose its verticality? I have always understood perpendicular as being “at right angles to the plane of the horizon” ie: at right angles and vertical.

OED:- 1. perpendicular, adj. and n. ...Situated or directed at right angles to the plane of the horizon; vertical....

The wall is at perpendicular to the floor but the floor is at right angles to the wall.

But more and more I hear it being used as meaning at right angles regardless of the plane. I have even seen such a reference in print. Once again our good friend Jeffrey Deaver:- “I took a chair perpendicular to his.” Another example of evolution?

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There are all sorts of things I believed in then which I don’t believe in now, and language rules set in stone is/are (?) one of them.

My feeling is that ‘is’ is OK here, since ‘language rules set in stone’ is one of a list of things I once believed in, and ‘are’ would grate with ‘one’. What do you think?

NB This is purely a grammar question, not one about my beliefs, which I know some of you will strongly disagree with. There will no doubt be plenty of other occasions to cross swords over them.

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Latest Comments

First annual vs. second annual

  • Burt
  • January 19, 2017, 11:51pm

If I am correct and an annual event requires 2 years prior to an event for it to be considered an annual event. Then isn't the term "second annual" incorrect as well? Actually it should be referred to as consecutive meaning second? Looking forward to feedback!

I disagree with Dyske's answer.
In the first example, you are saying something that you know is not true.
In the second example, that is a subjective opinion. They can truly believe they have the best pizza, just like you hear people say they have the greatest wife or kids. It's a subjective opinion that they may truly believe in.
In the third example, that would be a lie because once again you are saying something that is not true even though it's hyperbole.
The way I under the definition of "lie" is that it wouldn't be a lie if I say something I BELIEVE to be true, but is factually wrong. If the police ask me to describe a suspect from memory I could truly believe I'm giving the correct description from memory and be factually wrong, but wasn't my INTENT to deceive the police.

Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."

Usually a brand name or a play on words, used in advertising. Like the old pop brand, "Hi Klas" rather than "Hi Class" I want to say what that is called. Would an advertising agency know, I wonder? Or a college course in advertising maybe?