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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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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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A question about time expressions with the past perfect tense: I realise “by the time” is a time expression used with the past perfect but in this sentence: “By the time he arrived at school, the lesson had finished” , why is “by the time” next to the verb in the past tense (arrived) as if it is refering to that verb rather than to the one in the past perfect (had finished)?

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Do we change tenses on common expressions when writing fiction? “God only knew” sounds bizarre, but I find it difficult to let “knows” persist when writing...

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In English, I know it’s perfectly correct/proper/formal to, for lack of a better word, ‘‘shorten’’ phrases and sentences in a certain way in some cases as in ‘Be that true, ...’ (= ‘If that is true, ...’), ‘if need be’ (= ‘if it is necessary’), ‘come what may’ (‘regardless of what may come/happen’) etc.

So, I’m wondering if similar rules apply to ‘Why be anonymous?’, ‘Why so excited/angry/etc?’ and ‘Why the question?’ as well as to ‘Haven’t you anything better to do?’ and ‘Have you any idea [...]?’, which I also hear a lot from seemingly formal English-speakers. Are they correct English?

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I’ve done some research about the use of “for example” in its shortened form, but have been left more confused than ever.

Is it eg, e.g., or eg.? It comes from the Latin “exempli gratia”, so I would have thought it correct to place a period after the e and after the g in place of the missing letters.

Yet, in official documents all over the place I see one or two periods, or none at all. I have in front of me an official document from the New South Wales government, The Board of Studies English K-6 Syllabus. Throughout this document each example is preceded by “eg”, no dots at all. Same with other Board of Studies documents, however other Education Department documents do have e.g.

Personally I think that e.g. is more correct, but seeing no dots at all in an official document on teaching English to primary school students, had me wondering whether the convention in this case has changed, or whether it might simply be a matter of choice with no one way being either right or wrong.

Which is correct, or doesn’t it matter?

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Latest Comments

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?

Past tense of “text”

Spelt: texed
Pronounced: texd or text... as one can't really hear the difference.
Easy way to get over that troublesome t thing.

Past tense of “text”

Spelt: texed
Pronounced: texd or text... as one can't really hear the difference.
Easy way to get over that troublesome t thing.

Past tense of “text”

So would you use text or texts for multiple text messages. For some reason it bothers me to hear/read "texts". What's appropriate?

No, it is NOT correct.

To say that the Eiffel Tower is as high as a giraffe's balls is NOT to state the situation accurately, nor to do justice to the Eiffel Tower's verticle dimension.

“Defeat to”

I suppose that "defeat to" has (reluctantly) become acceptable if spoken in an American or 'Northern' English accent (or on the BBC), but one hopes that it never becomes standard in the Home Counties ! * W I N K *