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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 speaking about wish statements, why is it okay to give the short answer form for an action verb (e.g. snow), but not for be + adjective (e.g. to be sunny).

For example, we say “It won’t rain tomorrow, but I wish it would.”

But, “It won’t be sunny tomorrow, but I wish it would be.”

What is the distinction we make here, or is it just an arbitrary rule that we use be?

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There are two questions associated with this. The first one is: Should it be “Not just I who think...” not “Not just me who think...”?

The second question is: Should the subject be considered singular or plural in this case? That is, should it be “Not just I who thinks...” or “Not just I who think...”? After all, if it is not just just me (or I?), there are other people, which makes it plural.

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In the sentence “It is a highly unusual form of melody, one that occurs only in this composer’s work”, what is the referent of the pronoun ‘one’? Is it ‘melody’ or the entire prepositional phrase ‘form of melody’? Or, perhaps the referent is the subject of the sentence, ‘it’? I frequently hear the rule that the referent has to be the prior proximate noun.

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We often hear sentences like:- “Your teen is more at risk while on their restricted licence” where “their” appears as a means of combining “his” and “her”. Although there may be nothing wrong in this, it does sound a bit strange.

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Is it grammatically correct to say “It had impacts on...”? If the singular form is correct (it had an impact on), I would imagine that the plural form would have to be also correct.

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Is it proper to use the word ‘Floorings’? (Plan to use it as a website name since ‘flooring’ is a noun)

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From my experience, about 95% of english speaking people (even educated people) employ this grammar (which I believe is incorrect, based on my school training in English, many moons ago, and which I hence detest and just cannot and will not adjust to !):

e.g.: “I wonder THAT this is correct”, rather than: “I wonder IF this is correct”, or:

“I wonder WHETHER this is correct”.

“I wonder THAT that is a fact”, rather than: “I wonder IF this is a fact” or:

“I wonder WHETHER OR NOT this is a fact”.

“I don’t know THAT it was cleaned much…” (from a radio personality this very evening)

IF or WHETHER must be used when there is uncertainty or doubt.

THAT should be used when there is certainty. E.g.: “I know that this is true.”

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Can “Fine.” be considered a complete sentence?

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One grammar guide teaches that if two modifiers of similar kind refers to the same noun (thing or person) only the first is preceded by an article, while the noun is in the singular (The black and white dress she had on was very becoming); but if they refer to different things the noun is in the plural, with an article preceding each modifier (The black and the white dresses were very becoming). This, as I have understood it, means that, for example, the phrase a/the political, economic, and social sphere implies that the sphere is at once economic, political, and social. But how should I understand (if the above rule really governs the structure) an example where the noun is in the plural but only the first modifier is preceded by an article as it is in a sentence you can read in the CollinsCobuild dictionary--We are doing this work in the context of reforms in the economic, social and cultural spheres. The use of the plural noun means that the three spheres are considered different things by the writer, and thus, the article the would have to stand before each adjective like here-- the economic, the social, and the cultural spheres. Via the Internet, you can find a lot of examples being much like the former structure one but almost nothing resembling the latter one. Does this mean that the rule is wrong or incomplete, or I have misunderstood something?

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For the phrase (idiom?) “to make [something] work,” what part of speech is “work” functioning as?

My initial instinct is to say verb, since the something is actively working now.

As a follow-up, why don’t we conjugate “work” or keep it in the infinitive? For instance, why are the following sentences wrong?

Jane’s boss makes the schedule works for everyone.

Jane’s boss makes the schedule to work for everyone.

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Latest Comments

“went missing/gone missing”?

  • annie2
  • October 19, 2017, 9:50pm

I dislike the use of this phrase as a replacement for any phrase which implies blame or responsibility. It is easier for someone to say "my purse went missing" than "I misplaced my purse", etc. It is similar to a person choosing to say "The glass broke" as opposed to "I broke the glass". We are so very good at denying blame or responsibility.

eat vs. have breakfast

  • Rukfas
  • October 17, 2017, 5:16pm

I have another question, but related to this: is the word breakfast a verb? That is, can we say 'I breakfasted eggs this morning.'? Or for that matter, can we say '- What are you doing? -I'm breakfasting,' instead of 'I'm having a breakfast.'? Thanks

Complete Sentence

Is asking "John Smith?" a full sentence?

agree the terms

Finebetty's research seems to settle the question. But as an American user of the language I will not be saying "agree the terms" anytime soon.

The reason the verb "to be" is an exception is that its meaning makes it equivalent to an equal sign. "It is I." means: It = I.

Both "It" and "I" are co-equal subjects of the sentence. There is no object. The subject of a sentence, in this case both subjects, require the nominative case.

Contrast this with the sentence : "It hit me." The subject "it" acts upon the object "me," so the objective case is required.

Another example of the exception with the verb "to be", which may be surprising, is: "It was we." This is the correct usage for the same reason, however in common usage, most people say, "It was us," which is technically incorrect.

agree the terms

'Agree' can be used intransitively and transitively. According to Merriam Webster, your example is "chiefly British" - which I guess means it does come up but is rare in the US whereas it is standard in British English (and not "bad form" at all, please note that 'agree to the terms' changes the meaning, 'agree on or upon' is the only option here).
Oxford dict:
2.1 with object Reach agreement about (something) after negotiation.
‘if they had agreed a price the deal would have gone through’
no object ‘the commission agreed on a proposal to limit imports’

transitive verb
2. chiefly British: to settle on by common consent
e.g. … I agreed rental terms with him … —Eric Bennett

(the 'before' in your example does not belong to 'agreed' of course - i.e., it means 'must be agreed upon before...')

Worst Case or Worse Case

  • Eric F
  • October 11, 2017, 2:39pm

"worse-case" is a comparison between TWO degrees of tribulation. Which one of the TWO options is worse than the other?
"worst-case" implies that there are many degrees of tribulation, and it is the worst of many options.

For LaurenBC: I find it's useful to read previous comments before posting. For example, Warsaw Will on June 6, 2014, contributed a lengthy discussion of the idiom's history and defense which included the fact that it's been seen in British written texts as early as 1859.

So the phrase is not of recent origin and is now widely accepted. I think fewer folks are bothered by it than by, say, the use of multiple question marks (or exclamation points in declarative sentences) in online posts.

“went missing/gone missing”?

This expression (and its variations) drives me crazy. It’s right up there with “the reason being” instead of “the reason is” or, more simply, “because “!

The English language is getting slaughtered ????

Lego (the bricks) should be lego in both singular and plural, like fish or sheep.