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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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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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What type of words are respectively ‘-ward/s’-suffixable and ‘un[...]worthy’-affixable?

In oxforddictionaries.com/definition/-ward, ‘-ward/s’ is a ‘suffix added to nouns of place or destination and to adverbs of direction’.

In that case, are the examples ‘Richard the Lionheart travelled Jerusalemwards’, ‘Zoroastrians pray flameward’ and ‘John looked Sunward and was briefly blinded’ correct, meaning ‘Richard the Lionheart travelled towards Jerusalem’, ‘Zoroastrians pray toward flame’ and ‘John looked toward the Sun [...]’ respectively? If not, why?

Also, are ‘unswimworthy’, ‘unwatchworthy’ and ‘unbuyworthy’ correct, meaning the thing mentioned is worth/deserves swimming, watching and buying respectively?

Insofar as ‘un[...]worthy’ is affixed to a verb when meaning ‘worth/deserving’, is it correct? If not, why?

I’m aware ‘-worthy’’s meaning can be different when affixed to a noun, so I only asked if with verbs, where the meaning is consistent (=worth/deserving), it is correct.

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Since ‘of’ is possessive, is writing ‘the Ark of the Covenant’, ‘Book of Ezekiel’, ‘Robin of Locksley’ and ‘Joan of Arc’ respectively as ‘the Covenant’s Ark’, ‘Ezekiel’s Book’, ‘Locksley’s Robin’ and ‘Arc’s Joan’ correct? If not, why?

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I’ve come across the following dependent clause that has piqued my grammar interest, and I’m not sure if said clause is grammatically correct:

“...with the exception of a roast beef sandwich, a protein-dense smoothie from Jamba Juice, and 500 million dollars!”

In this case, should the word “exception” be plural since it’s referring to a list (and subsequently the preceding “the” should be dropped as well)?

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Is ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’ correct English?

Since ‘You have no idea where they live’’s and ‘You have nothing better to do’’s respective inquisitive forms—‘Have you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Have you nothing better to do?’, their past tense forms being ‘Had you no idea where they live?’ and ‘Had you nothing better to do?’—are correct, following the same logic, isn’t ‘He had breakfast this morning’’s inquisitive form, ‘Had he breakfast this morning?’, likewise correct?

Please read the full question. I’m looking for a logically (hopefully) justified answer. The more informative the answer is, the better.

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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.