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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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A change that has happened in my lifetime is the use of ‘1800s’, ‘1900s’ and so on. When I was young they referred to the first decade of the century. They would be followed by the ‘1910s’, ‘1920s’ et al. Now they’re used to mean the whole century. I’m not whinging - just noting the changes that happen with the years.

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A colleague of mine claimed that you can say “In the long term” instead of “In the long run”. Is that correct?

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Could I use both a colon and semicolon in a sentence?

A college will provide help for students who are struggling in homework; the resources are: study skills that help students to be on top of coursework, counselors will give advices dealing with the workload, and the option to drop a class early.

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Does this
“The flu is going around. In order to keep from catching it, you should gargle and wash your hands regularly”
Make sense? I’ve never heard. “In order to keep from catching it.” used in a sentence before.

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I was in empty space in an elevator one day when it occurred to me that it’s actually “pains-taking”, the taking of pains to do something thoroughly. I’d never thought about it before.

But it’s too hard to pronounce “painz-taking”, because the “z” sound must be voiced; whereas the unvoiced “s” combines easily with the “t” to make “-staking”, so that’s what we say. That’s my theory, but BrE might be different. Is it?

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For example, “Every morning, I wake up at 6:00 am and then I make a cup of coffee.”

As a writing teacher for international students, I see this kind of sentence all the time. I know it is technically correct to use a comma before a coordinating conjunction, but I have found that so many Americans omit this comma that it has become extremely commonplace even among native English speakers. Is it socially acceptable in writing to omit the comma? How serious is it to mandate that my international include this comma?

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Could you please explain the difference in the following sentences?

1. The instruments used are very reliable.

2. The instruments being used are very reliable.

Are participle 2 “used” and passive participle 1 “being used” interchangeable in this context?

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I seem to be pretty fond of the adverb ‘pretty’ used as a modifier, so was rather surprised when one of my young Polish students told me that his teacher at school had said that this use was ‘OK with his mates’ (his words), but inappropriate in the classroom. Looking around I see that this is not an isolated objection, although people didn’t seem to complain about it much before 1900.

Why has this word, much used by eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, writers of prescriptive grammar included, attracted this opposition in more recent times?

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The New York Yankees

The Utah Jazz

The Orlando Magic

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I’m new here, and am wondering what all you experts think about the use of the word “leverage” as a verb. It seems it’s being used more often recently. Personally I feel that “leverage” is a noun, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s as “the action of a lever or the mechanical advantage gained by it”. However it seems that mainly financial and managerial types seem to like using is as a verb - “Hey, let’s leverage the unfortunate circumstances of these people that can’t pay their bonds, and get their homes for free”.

What does it mean? Although MW does give it as a verb as well, it’s interesting that investopedia.com gives it as “1 The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.”, i.e. it lists the verb first. Other sources give different meanings, suggesting that the meaning of “leverage” as a verb is not very clear. I wonder what these people do when their roof leakages, or the engines of their cars failure?

Just for interest, over the years I’ve bookmarked the following in my web browser (under info / language / English):

(please excuse the language there where not appropriate :)

Oh yes, and a quote from Seth Godin’s blog (although I’m not sure who he is quoting):

“leveraging” , - comment: i asked everyone on my team not to use those words. the frequency of use of words like “leverage” is inversely proportionate to the amount of original thought. the more you say “leverage”, the less you’ve probably thought about what you’re saying.

(Seth is an American marketer, motivational speaker and author)

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Latest Comments

Horizontal Stripes?

We just had this very discussion in the office which brought me here... the boss believes they are Hoops, however, 6 colleagues in the office, 1 of the colleagues wives and even the bosses 13 year old daughter all agree... definitely... Stripes. Some say that for clothing Stripes implies vertical and that they would call them Horizontal Stripes... but all agree that Hoops is not the correct term for it.

Might could

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 9:53pm

I am from all over, but my parents are from Idaho, so I'm not sure the regions identified in previous posts have a monopoly on the form. Anyway, I inherited "might could" from one of parents, and find it very useful. The way I use it, it deflates the less cooperative "might," alone as in "I might do that," which sounds like a teenager challenging an authority figure.

"I might could do that" suggests a willingness to try rather than an insouciant "I might," as in "if I feel like it."

I have a BA in English and an MA in teaching English as a Second Language. If one of my international students used "might could," I would be over-joyed. There are so many worse "infractions" with modals. Believe me, I see them every day.

all _____ sudden

  • vgb
  • June 29, 2016, 8:11pm

I hear "all the sudden" in interviews on NPR. I agree with asheibar that such colloquialisms emerge because they are heard and passed on, but not seen in written text. It reminds me of the occasion someone had written on the blackboard, "It's a doggy dog world." Clearly, whoever wrote this had never seen the written version, "It's a dog eat dog world." Well, marzy dotes and dozey dotes and little lambsy divey" !

It does not bother me that colloquialisms emerge and colonize the language; what bothers me is that it seems that reading is becoming a quaint, anachronistic habit performed by backward looking people who haven't caught on that it's all in the tweet.

The term "First" or "Second Generation", omits the obvious, first or second generation "American". If we say that those who immigrated are the 1st, then by definition their children are 2nd. But that poses a problem, not everyone who immigrates becomes an "American" (11 million are not even legal residents). Although a bit confusing because many of them (I am one of them) do end up becoming American, for clarity, we need to start calling only those who are born here the First Generation.

It's always been LEGO to me (caps or not). I see people who use "Legos" as casual consumers of the product, and should have no business writing about LEGO for public viewing.

Did I get an earful on a "Hey!" when I was in London!!

The concierge in my apartment really took offence when I casually greeted him - "Hey!"

I got something on these lines:
"That's very disrespectful of you. How dare you 'hey' me?!"

So I have been ever so careful when using "hey" over a "hi" or a "hello". I thought this was a very English thing, but quite surprising to find quite a few English folks on this page to be okay with "hey".

Hey, what the heck!

Might could

  • jeb
  • June 26, 2016, 3:08pm

I might could say something about snobby grammarians...bless their hearts...but I won't.

As a well educated native of southern Appalachia (BA in English; PhD in Education), I can say with confidence that might could is mighty useful modal construction that conveys nuance and a sophisticated appreciation of the historical English, at least as spoken by the Scotch Irish settlers who populated these parts.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_English

Indirect Speech?

Oops.
Forgive the extra line in my previous post.
A thought that died at birth.

:)

Indirect Speech?

We could call it "oblique speech", or even "roundabout speech", or we could use a derivative of euphemism, metaphor, or allegory.
I am sure there a a number of terms that could be used to avoid the inevitable confusion caused by the use of the term "indirect speech" in this context.
.
Perhaps a simpler solution would be to refer

Someone else’s

  • Don
  • June 25, 2016, 3:04pm

An adverb, such as else, cannot be made possesive. That is reserved for nouns and pronouns. Else cannot be made in a possesive form. If used, it is poor English.