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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’m stuck on the correct use of “un-” (as in “reverse action”) and “de-”. Specifically, I want to write that a student should change an incorrectly capitalized word to the lower case. Should he “uncapitalize” it or “decapitalize” it? It’s true that the word should be uncapitalized, but since he incorrectly capitalized it in the first place, must he now decapitalize it?

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“It has a great construction” sets my teeth on edge every time a writer I work with uses the phrase in written English. Is this correct/standard usage? It sounds so wrong to me, but I can’t point to the rule it violates.

Am I simply biased against... A perfectly acceptable construction?

These sound/seem so wrong:. My t-shirt has a durable cotton construction.

That house has a great construction.

With a construction of 100% cotton, her dress...

I think you omit the indefinite article.

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When using the word prohibits... which is correct?

...which prohibits fences 4 ft in height from being erected ... or ...which prohibits fences 4 ft in height to be erected

...which prohibits any fence from being constructed... or ...which prohibits any fence to be constructed

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Apart from the fact that convention is clearly “Table of Contents”, is there a grammatical reasoning for “Table of Content” vs “Table of Contents”?

I guess it comes down to whether the noun “content” is one that can be counted, i.e. several contents, or not.

My instinct is that in fact, content is not an enumerable noun, i.e. it should be Table of Content. But does that mean that MS Word, LaTeX and all other Desktop Publishers out there are just wrong?

YD

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Good Day All,

I live in Trinidad and Tobago and for the last 46 years there’s been an argument about a point of grammar in our National Anthem. The last line is (what we learn in kindergarden):

“Here every creed and race FIND an equal place”

Some say this is grammatically correct. Others argue that it should be, “Here every creed and race FINDS an equal place”. Thousands of Letters to the Editor have been written arguing about this issue. Anyone care to help us solve this dilemma?

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On the DC Metro, we are told: “The next stop will be X”.

When will the next stop be x?

I’m pretty sure the next stop *is* X!

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What about proper nouns as in team mascots? Our school mascot is a Grizzly. Would students be Grizzlies or Grizzlys? Since it’s a school’s mascot I’d like for it to be correct, but for the last 20 years it’s been spelled Grizzlies. I believe that spelling to be incorrect. Academic input please:o)

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I heard an ad on the radio recently for a company that performs medical procedures. At the end they said “We accept all major insurances.” That didn’t sound quite right to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the plural of the word “insurance”. If it were me, I would’ve said “We accept all major insurance plans.” Am I right that there is no plural form of the word?

On a related note, I’ve heard, mostly on TV news shows, “damages” a lot. I know that the word exists, meaning a monetary judgement awarded by a court, but they used it when they meant “damage”. For example, “Due to the ice storm, many damages were done to homes,” or “The car suffered severe damages from the accident.” This is improper usage, correct?

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I have a feeling I’ll look at this again in a while and find the answer screamingly obvious. Do these parallel the form of “independent” exactly? As “independence of” seems really wrong, though “independent of” seems ok. I’m confused.

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I heard this sentence on radio or TV and while it seems correct grammatically, I believe the verb be is in the subjunctive mode, somehow it did not feel colloquial. Any comments?

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Latest Comments

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’
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/agree

MW:
transitive verb
2. chiefly British: to settle on by common consent
e.g. … I agreed rental terms with him … —Eric Bennett
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agree

(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.

Word in question: Conversate

douglas.bryant

In your rush to discredit 'conversate' you're grossly misusing 'dialectical':

dialectical | ˌdīəˈlektək(ə)l |
adjective
1 relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions: dialectical ingenuity.
2 concerned with or acting through opposing forces: a dialectical opposition between social convention and individual libertarianism.