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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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I am playing rooster in a production of Annie and I need some terms of endearment that were used in the 20s and 30s. I use the term “blondie” but the woman I say it to isn’t blonde. How about “sweet cheeks”? Any help?

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Is it actually correct to use “American” when referring to residents of the United States? I was traveling in Peru last summer and to my surprise realized for the first time that people down in South America consider themselves to be “Americans” too. After all, South America is as “America” as North America, right?

So to be clear, for a technical publication I’m working on, what’s the best way to refer to residents of the US? Is “American” still acceptable? The study I’m quoting uses “US residents,” but there are times when that phrase becomes unwieldy.

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Is there a grammatical difference between saying “I walked down the street backwards” and “I walked down the street backward” (without the “s”)? Is one of them incorrect, or are they interchangeable? Does the same go for “forward(s)” and “toward(s)”?

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Is separating two coordinating-conjunction-linked sentences, the former having a comma(s), with a semicolon instead of a comma logically justified?

In GrammarBook.com’s Semicolons category, Rule 5. reads:

Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

Examples: When I finish here, I will be glad to help you; and that is a promise I will keep.

If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.

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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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It is important to understand the change in English teaching in the UK in the 1960s which meant that children were no longer taught the structure of the language. From then on understanding of usage was gained passively. This meant that the next generation of teachers did not know the correct use of English and this has had a knock-on effect over the intervening years. Reading internet posts shows the low level of literacy in English.
I have found that those who use English best are the people who learned it as a second language and were taught the rules formally.

Walking Heavens

  • ron2
  • December 9, 2016, 8:02am

It would be "the doctor's woods" for one medic and "the doctors' woods" if there were more than one.
So, given that Heaven is singular, it is "Walking Heaven's woods with her daddy."

Capitalizing Directions

@Marilyn If "west" here simply means to the west of the city, then no. However if you mean a specific region of the country such as the Rockies, then you could imply this by capitalizing given the right context. See :
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/west

Capitalizing Directions

I love skiing out west. Would west be capitalized? Out?

This would suggest -ies is more common:

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=th...

could be avoided by: ".... you will receive four issues of the SGS Quarterly this year."

Plural of name ending in Y

The glass collecting club I belong to has a quarterly publication called the SGS Quarterly. I am continually seeing it in various articles in the publication referred to (for example) as ".....you will receive four Quarterlies this year." I contend that since it is being used as a proper noun, it should only have an "s" rather than changed to "ies." Which is correct?

Plural of name ending in Y

The glass collecting club I belong to has a quarterly publication called the SGS Quarterly. I am continually seeing it in various articles in the publication referred to (for example) as ".....you will receive four Quarterlies this year." I contend that since it is being used as a proper noun, it should only have an "s" rather than changed to "ies." Which is correct?

Might could

  • Dwaro
  • December 6, 2016, 9:27am

I see nothing wrong with this term. Normal daily expression. How about Used to could as an expression. We use that also.

Resume and CV are far more common than the rest in print. There are keyboard issues with entering accents for many users.

Copy this to your browser address line for the evidence:
http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=re...

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

  • Brus
  • December 5, 2016, 2:16pm

My English dictionary, which has the word with both accents as in French, nevertheless gives the pronunciation as res- as in bet, and the emphasis on the first syllable, which is more natural. Someone suggested emphasising the final syllable, which would be like doing so to the English resumED which would be hard to do, indeed, and frankly quite daft.
I say that if you choose to use a French word as in this case, then pronounce it as in French, or why use it at all? Or use curriculum vitae, much better.