Pain in the English http://painintheenglish.com Forum for the gray areas of the English language Mon, 30 May 2016 00:07:10 +0000 daily 1 Small Talk—Countable or Uncountable? http://painintheenglish.com/case/5638 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5638 Fri, 27 May 2016 07:09:39 +0000 Dyske http://painintheenglish.com/case/5638 “I had a talk with so and so,” is a common phrase, so I would imagine that “I had a small talk with so and so,” is equally correct. But “small talk” appears to be treated as an uncountable noun most of the time. Is it countable or uncountable? If both, in what contexts does it become one or the other?

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“Friday’s Child” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5632 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5632 Sat, 21 May 2016 10:37:26 +0000 PhilippS. http://painintheenglish.com/case/5632 I’ve been listening to Van Morrison’s “Friday’s Child” for quite some time now because I love this song so much. I tried to look up the meaning of ” Friday’s Child” but onbly found a reference to an old rhyme. Can anybody tell me the meaning of the saying “Friday’s Child” and when and why it is used? Many thanks.

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“Changed the calculus”? http://painintheenglish.com/case/5626 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5626 Sun, 8 May 2016 18:21:25 +0000 Hairy Scot http://painintheenglish.com/case/5626 This sentence:

“By securing a permanent US commitment to the defence of all its members from 1949 onwards, Nato changed the calculus confronting potential aggressors.”

appeared in this Daily Telegraph article.

I think I grasp what the author is getting at, but it does seem a most unusual and perhaps incorrect use of “calculus.”

Or am I behind the times once again?

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History of “-ish” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5617 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5617 Mon, 25 Apr 2016 11:05:58 +0000 Philip http://painintheenglish.com/case/5617 Can anyone tell me when and how the adding of “ish” to the end of words got started? Do we lack such confidence in ourselves that we need to add “ish” like a disclaimer to our own words? When has the word become not word enough?

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Why do people feel it necessary to add “of” to some phrases? http://painintheenglish.com/case/5611 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5611 Sun, 10 Apr 2016 16:26:11 +0000 Hairy Scot http://painintheenglish.com/case/5611 Why do people feel it necessary to add “of” to some phrases?

For example:

How big of a problem.
How long of a wait.
How bad of a decision.

Seems rather a waste of time.

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Complete sentence in parentheses http://painintheenglish.com/case/5609 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5609 Tue, 5 Apr 2016 14:20:42 +0000 Max_Elliott http://painintheenglish.com/case/5609 When including a complete sentence in parentheses, what are the rules? For example, someone just sent me this in an email:

“I always change some of the readings from semester to semester (for example, I am trying out the book on migration for the first time this semester and am not sure if I will keep it in the Fall).”

But I could just as easily see it written this way:

“I always change some of the readings from semester to semester. (For example, I am trying out the book on migration for the first time this semester and am not sure if I will keep it in the Fall.)”

Are both acceptable? Is one preferred? 

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Correct use the adjective “key” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5599 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5599 Fri, 18 Mar 2016 20:49:44 +0000 Maria Cristina Vignolo http://painintheenglish.com/case/5599 I would like to know if it is correct to use the adjective “key” predicatively. I was taught that this word is like the adjective “main,” which can only be used in the attributive position. I’ve seen sentences like “This is key to the success of the plan,” but I remember typing something similar and the word processor marked it immediately as wrong. I think both “key” and “main” are special, (irregular, if you want) adjectives (in fact, they have no comparative forms) and feel they should be treated accordingly. I’ve never seen something like “This book is main in our course.” We will normally say “This is the main book in our course.” Thank you for your help!

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Proper usage of “as such” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5591 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5591 Thu, 3 Mar 2016 13:55:07 +0000 BJCF http://painintheenglish.com/case/5591 Could somebody please explain the problem with “as such”? I understand the frustration with its incorrect usage as a synonym for “therefore” or “thus”, but the response thereagainst wants to banish its usage entirely. I am confident that I am using it correctly, but I am constantly being directed to remove it from my papers nevertheless. Could you explain its proper usage?

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Is the following sentence using the word “yet” correctly? http://painintheenglish.com/case/5579 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5579 Mon, 8 Feb 2016 15:20:45 +0000 Amandaa 12 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5579 “We have to go to the store yet.”

I would just remove the “yet” all together; however, I keep hearing someone use the word yet in this fashion and I am wondering if they are grammatically correct.

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Quotation marks for repeated items http://painintheenglish.com/case/5577 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5577 Thu, 4 Feb 2016 10:02:21 +0000 Sherri Hall http://painintheenglish.com/case/5577 When making a list of the very same name of something, is it proper english to use one quotation mark in place of the same name or word after writing it a couple of times down the list? I can’t seem to find anything on it.

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Omitting the “I” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5576 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5576 Fri, 29 Jan 2016 02:54:49 +0000 Jane N http://painintheenglish.com/case/5576 Is it alright to omit the word “I” in some cases. If I have already been writing about myself and I slip in a sentence that says for example, “Will be in town next week.” Is this acceptable or should I write “I” at the beginning of each sentence?

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Subjunctive? Yoda speak? http://painintheenglish.com/case/5575 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5575 Sat, 23 Jan 2016 03:32:16 +0000 Breck http://painintheenglish.com/case/5575 I want to play a Star Wars video review as listening practice for an EFL student. However, it contains a strange construction that I can’t figure out how to explain: “Now, the question most likely on your mind, be you Jedi or be you Sith, is...”

I know that it would be easy enough to say, “It means ‘whether you are Jedi or Sith,’” but I wonder if there’s a better explanation.

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Predilection with “get” or “got” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5574 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5574 Sat, 23 Jan 2016 01:22:24 +0000 Hairy Scot http://painintheenglish.com/case/5574 Just how screwed has our language become?

Why do we hear phrases like:

“If he gets in contact with you”

when there are simpler and more meaningful phrases like:

“If he gets in touch with you”

or

“If he contacts you”.

Why do people have this predilection with “get” or “got”?

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Question mark placement for a quote within a quote http://painintheenglish.com/case/5573 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5573 Fri, 15 Jan 2016 13:48:19 +0000 Jean High http://painintheenglish.com/case/5573 Which ending punctuation sequence is correct for a question dialogue sentence containing a quotation within it?

a. ”Does the menu say, ‘no substitutions?’” asked Jo.

or

b. ”Does the menu say, ‘no substitutions’?” asked Jo.

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Is the suffix “ly” in danger of being lost forever? http://painintheenglish.com/case/5572 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5572 Tue, 5 Jan 2016 23:31:43 +0000 Hairy Scot http://painintheenglish.com/case/5572 Am I alone in despairing when I hear phrases like:

  • “We played brilliant.”
  • “He did it wrong.” (or more commonly “He done it wrong.”)
  • “He behaved stupid.”
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Comma in long date format http://painintheenglish.com/case/5571 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5571 Tue, 5 Jan 2016 16:38:23 +0000 charles1 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5571 My friend is sending an invitation, and she is using the date of:

January, 16th 2016

Is this technically correct, or at a minimum not considered barbaric? Where should the comma be?

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abbreviation for possessive and plural http://painintheenglish.com/case/5569 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5569 Wed, 30 Dec 2015 14:57:26 +0000 Jenny Holmes http://painintheenglish.com/case/5569 In a sentence, there is the name of a company followed by an abbreviation, the initials of the company, in parentheses. The company name is a possessive in this sentence. Where does the apostrophe go? I want to know how this would work, as I am having trouble finding anything but advice to restructure the sentence, and I would like an answer that gives me what to do with the sentence as it stands.

Example: This policy sets a standard for determining access to Introspective Illusions (II) resources.

Would it be Introspective Illusions’ (II’s) or  Introspective Illusions’ (II) or some other construction?

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Pronunciation of the letter “H” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5558 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5558 Tue, 15 Dec 2015 00:28:44 +0000 Hairy Scot http://painintheenglish.com/case/5558 I’ve noticed that “haitch” is becoming more common than “aitch” when it comes to pronouncing “H”. Why is this, and what is the thinking on which pronunciation is preferable (or even correct)? My mind goes back to my 4th year high school Latin teacher who was very fond of rendering what he obviously considered witty quotes about “Arrius and his haspirates“.

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Is the confusion of certain words a regional issue? http://painintheenglish.com/case/5557 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5557 Mon, 14 Dec 2015 01:58:14 +0000 Hairy Scot http://painintheenglish.com/case/5557 I have often noticed that in Scotland quite a few people tend to confuse words like:

  • amount / number: e.g. Amount of people
  • much / many: e.g. Too much eggs
  • less / fewer: e.g. Less eggs

There are possibly others in this category.

Has anyone noticed this in other areas?

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“go figure” http://painintheenglish.com/case/5551 http://painintheenglish.com/case/5551 Sun, 29 Nov 2015 09:54:27 +0000 Dyske http://painintheenglish.com/case/5551 The definitions of “go figure” that I found in various dictionaries do not match what I thought it meant. Is it just me?

Here are what I found:

“said to express the speaker’s belief that something is amazing or incredible.”

“used when you ​tell someone a ​fact and you then ​want to say that the ​fact is ​surprising, ​strange or ​stupid”

“Expresses perplexity, puzzlement, or surprise (as if telling somebody to try to make sense of the situation).”

I thought “go figure” meant the same as “duh!” or “just my luck”. That is, it’s obvious after the fact. It implies “I should have known.”

Let’s take some of the examples that appear in these dictionaries:

“The car wouldn’t start yesterday no matter what I did, but today it works just fine. Go figure.”

My interpretation of this is that, given how unlucky he is in general, in retrospect, it’s obvious that this happened to him again. It’s just part of being unlucky in general.

“She says she wants to have a conversation, but when I try, she does all the talking. Go figure.”

My interpretation for this is that she is already known to the speaker as a talkative person, but since she claims to want a conversation, the speaker gave her another chance, but again, all she does is talk not listen. Duh! The speaker should have known. It should not be a surprise to the speaker.

“The paint was really good, so they stopped making it - go figure, right?”

Again, what is implied here is not something surprising or unexpected; it’s the exact opposite. The speaker is being sarcastic. Because consumers have no appreciation for good products, they all fail, and bad products like Microsoft Windows thrive. “Duh! I should have known that they would stop making it.”

When people are genuinely surprised and puzzled about something, and they want someone to go figure it out. I generally hear people say, “figure that one out.” I find this very different from “go figure”. The latter has a sense of irony or sarcasm that the former does not have. It almost means the opposite. That is, “forget it, don’t even bother trying to figure it out because it’s just my luck,” or “don’t bother figuring it out because people are just stupid.”

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