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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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Why is the term “attorneys general” correct? It used to be “attorney generals” ... There are multiple attorney generals.

If I was describing a group of Army generals, I wouldn’t say “Armies General” ... would I?

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“What can I do besides complaining” sounds wrong to me but I can’t say why ... I think it should be complain.

“What can I do besides complain?”
“What can I do but complain?”

However, “Besides complaining, what can I do?” sounds ok.

Any thoughts? Or am I completely off base here?

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I have an ear for when people use bad grammar, especially the use of prepositions at the end of a clause. I was recently watching a show, however, and a character said “Toys are meant to be played with.” What is the correct wording of this phrase? It is killing me.

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“Under urgency”? I recently came across this phrase for the first time in my life. The context was:- “Parliament passed the Copyright Amendment Act into law under urgency last night” Can’t really put my finger on why, and I can’t at the moment come up with an alternative, but it just doesn’t sound right. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

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Why does sports media persist in the use of the phrase “hone in” instead of “home in”. Traditionally, a missile homes in (not hones in) on a target. Hone means “to sharpen.” The verb home means “to move toward a goal” or “to be guided to a target.”

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Are “whensoever” and “whenever” really the same? 

In some of the dictionaries I checked, “whensoever” is defined “whenever”; but I disagree.

For instance, I think “The students may leave whenever they so choose” can be written “[...] whensoever they choose” because “so” is already part of “whensoever”.

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If a semicolon is used to contrast two sentences, we can omit repetitive words by using a comma, as in: 

“To err is human; to forgive, divine”

and

“The cat was orange; the dog, brown.”

However, if no semicolon is used, can we still do the same? For example:

“You’re our son, Heracles, and we, your family.”

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“If I was the Prime Minister. ...” said Ed Miliband, British Labour party leader, today, Sunday 24th September 2011. Is this not how to phrase it if it remains a possibility that he was once Prime Minister, or if he is not sure if he was, or is reluctant to admit it? 

“If I were the Prime Minister, ...”, using the subjunctive mood of the verb, would suggest that he is not Prime minister but is about to tell us what he would do if he were the PM. If the subjunctive is now defunct in UK Labour politics, as I suspect, how did he continue to tell us what he would have done, if he were the PM, without using the subjunctive? “if I was the PM, I ~~~~~ ???” It cannot be done.

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I never know whether to use “it” in the following sentence: “Just because ___, (it) doesn’t mean ____.” In other words, would you say,

“Just because I was mean to you, it doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR

“Just because I was mean to you, doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR

“Just because I was mean to you, that doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.”

I hear people using the second variation all the time, but it seems that the third is preferable. Thoughts?

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Can “box turtles can live for 80 years” be written “box turtles can live 80 years”? What about “I ran 13 minutes” instead of “I ran for 13 minutes”? Are the foregoing examples still proper English?

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@gary Curiously, translating English into French usually makes the text at least fifteen percent longer:

http://www.media-lingo.com/gb/faqs/will-the-tra...

The use of 'got' in a clause describing possession of something, such as 'I have got a pen', is superfluous. 'I have a pen' is just fine and indicates a brevity and clarity of thought that eludes many people. It may also indicate the influence of other languages. In French 'I have' is normal. I'm not sure how you would say 'I have got' in French. In fact in French you don't need the addition of 'got' to convey meaning or emphasis. French does seem to have a brevity that English has lost over the years. Around 60% of the English vocabulary originates from French. The Norman invasion of 1066 established French as the language of nobility and government, Latin was the language of the Church and Anglo-Saxon was for the commoners. 
I am an Englishman who has spent many years learning English so I feel I am entitled to criticise the language and especially those who use it badly. Perhaps it's the Germanic influence on English that has caused the gradual creep of 'got'. American English has certainly been a big influence  on the language. A good example of how American English has been a positive influence eludes me at the moment but I do know they exist. The German language had a big influence on American English and in my opinion this comes through in expressions such as 'gotten'. It's a natural progression on the word got but it definitely grates on the British ear. 
The next time I watch a British movie of the 1930s or 1940s I will note the use of the word 'got', although the scripted dialogue may not be a good indicator of common usage. 
Grammar is the set of rules used to govern the use of spoken and written words. As with all rules, some are so rarely enforced that they wither on the vine of principles until extinct. 

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • Nana2
  • August 24, 2016, 3:46pm

The accent is called an accent aigu and is usually put on both e's so the reader does not confuse résumé with resume - meaning to start working again on what you were doing previsously

I would call it "native speaker error"

It seems to me that the natural way to write figures as words would be the same way as we say them. So 65.25476% would be sixty-five point two five four seven six percent. If the decimals only go to two or three places then we might talk about hundredths or thousandths but rarely beyond that.

Writing out percentages correctly

10% or ten percent (in a legal contractor)? Not at the beginning of a sentence.

Over exaggeration

Over-exaggeration sounds like taking a sweet cute dump in the deep end of the pool or something. Seems to much like not manning up to your sins or errors.

The fact of the matter is is that

  • JLC
  • August 22, 2016, 4:14am

is is simply redundant

Over exaggeration

This is as egregious as "exactly right." It's either right or wrong with no gray area.

Past tense of “text”

  • Debe
  • August 18, 2016, 6:42pm

I used to use "texted" but it sounds all wrong, so I went to "text", and i do believe for me the explanation from Tranaut suits me just fine.