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Discussion Forum

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 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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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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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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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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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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Should a rhetorical question end with a question mark?

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I have a question about “;” and “—” as used in sentence structure. I prefer using — i.e. “He did not expect to meet anyone—the house had been empty for years—and was surprised to hear whistling from the upper floor.”

Now, as I wrote a line in my story, as sentence ran away from me and I ended up using a ; at the end, as well as the — and I got the feeling that maybe it had to be one or the other all the way through and not a mix. Anyway, the sentence (racial slur warning)

Rod had not let her buy the beer herself at first—not until father had gone down there and cleared up some misconceptions from that sneaky pool-digger—and hadn’t that been a fun day to be alive; now he just gave her sympathetic looks whenever she came to get beer for her father.

So, in such a sentence, is it right to use both the “—” and the “;”? I can always rebuild it, but it felt right to me somehow, even though I got uncertain about if it would sting in the eyes of others.

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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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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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I imagine everyone uses an apostrophe with expressions of distance or time when the number is one:

It’s only an hour’s drive from here.
They live a mile’s walk away.
A stone’s throw away.

It follows that an apostrophe should also be used in the plural version, as stipulated by, amongst others, The Guardian and Economist style guides:

It’s three hours’ drive from here.
They live two miles’ walk away.

I notice the apostrophe is often dropped here, so my question is this - do you think the apostrophe:

is always optional?
is only necessary in formal writing?
is always necessary?

or that there is some other grammatical explanation that makes the apostrophe unnecessary?

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Latest Comments

As a full stack developer who speaks/writes several coding languages with direct consequences for syntactical errors, I will say that I appreciate the more liberal view of how to apply rules to human language. Also, somehow, I got here after being curious about hypercorrective phonetic overcompensation vs overregularization. (What a mouth full.)

If we approach this philosophically, the rules of language are helpful for standardizing communication in order to create clarity and reduce mistakes. When they are overly formal or held too tightly, they seem to do the opposite. While I will certainly concede that, "this is she," is correct based on the consensus of today's experts I would simply like to point back to the valid arguments of context describing English as a largely Germanic language greatly impacted by the French and Victorian English and thus take a slightly more fatalistic perspective. If the exact evil powers of colonial imperialism which conquered the west didn't envelop and permeate so much of modern academia, the technically right mode could very easily be, "this is her." The language is a mishmash, mutt of a thing anyway.

Please ask yourself why the rules "need" to be upheld. Are they moving us towards a beautifully absolute linguistic truth? I think not. They have been forged and derived, refined and convoluted by a lot of people with a lot of opinions and experiences over a lot of time. When viewed with actual humility and a little bit of perspective, these debates are interesting, but their importance is a bit over-inflated. It really is lovely how language evolves with us as a dynamic aspect of animal interaction.

Besides considering all the chance that went into the correct rules, might you also ask yourself how so much pedantry drives socioeconomic polarization and then reassess how the rules are impacting clear, error free communication as well as the oppression of entire communities of human beings. If the dominant results are derision and confusion instead of clarity, maybe further revision is in order. Are your lingual loyalties based in the fear of societal decline or simple change. Are you afraid of not being able to distinguish yourself socially or economically by the content of your character and quality of your thoughts? Essentially you're ferociously defending a system that was created by other imperfect humans. Have some flexibility and please refrain from the slippery slope arguments about complete deconstruction. That is the most absurd bit I I read in this long list of comments. I dislike the word "conversate" as much as the next girl, but the fundamentals of language suggest that if enough people use a word or phrase, it will become part of vernacular and then proper diction. It will creep up on some scholar and start popping into peer reviewed articles and everyone will stop caring and it will be normalized...

By the way, for bruschetta, how many of you say brew-shedda and how many of you say brew-skate-ah? The second one is correct...at least according to formal Italian. I can't tell you how many intelligent people I meet who just don't know what they don't know.

In the end, if you're too attached to your high horse, do some reading about the theory of multiple intelligences and expand your understanding of the human experience in order to breed empathy and better guide your heart in these situations. Being ruled by your ego, insecurity, fear, and even sense of tradition makes you sound far more infantile than any simple colloquial telephonic reception.

Be well,
Eliza

As a full stack developer who speaks/writes several coding languages with direct consequences for syntactical errors, I will say that I appreciate the more liberal view of how to apply rules to human language. Also, somehow, I got here after being curious about hypercorrective phonetic overcompensation vs overregularization. (What a mouth full.)

If we approach this philosophically, the rules of language are helpful for standardizing communication in order to create clarity and reduce mistakes. When they are overly formal or held too tightly, they seem to do the opposite. While I will certainly concede that, "this is she," is correct based on the consensus of today's experts I would simply like to point back to the valid arguments of context describing English as a largely Germanic language greatly impacted by the French and Victorian English and thus take a slightly more fatalistic perspective. If the exact evil powers of colonial imperialism which conquered the west didn't envelop and permeate so much of modern academia, the technically right mode could very easily be, "this is her." The language is a mishmash, mutt of a thing anyway.

Please ask yourself why the rules "need" to be upheld. Are they moving us towards a beautifully absolute linguistic truth? I think not. They have been forged and derived, refined and convoluted by a lot of people with a lot of opinions and experiences over a lot of time. When viewed with actual humility and a little bit of perspective, these debates are interesting, but their importance is a bit over-inflated. It really is lovely how language evolves with us as a dynamic aspect of animal interaction.

Besides considering all the chance that went into the correct rules, might you also ask yourself how so much pedantry drives socioeconomic polarization and then reassess how the rules are impacting clear, error free communication as well as the oppression of entire communities of human beings. If the dominant results are derision and confusion instead of clarity, maybe further revision is in order. Are your lingual loyalties based in the fear of societal decline or simple change. Are you afraid of not being able to distinguish yourself socially or economically by the content of your character and quality of your thoughts? Essentially you're ferociously defending a system that was created by other imperfect humans. Have some flexibility and please refrain from the slippery slope arguments about complete deconstruction. That is the most absurd bit I I read in this long list of comments. I dislike the word "conversate" as much as the next girl, but the fundamentals of language suggest that if enough people use a word or phrase, it will become part of vernacular and then proper diction. It will creep up on some scholar and start popping into peer reviewed articles and everyone will stop caring and it will be normalized...

By the way, for bruschetta, how many of you say brew-shedda and how many of you say brew-skate-ah? The second one is correct...at least according to formal Italian. I can't tell you how many intelligent people I meet who just don't know what they don't know.

In the end, if you're too attached to your high horse, do some reading about the theory of multiple intelligences and expand your understanding of the human experience in order to breed empathy and better guide your heart in these situations. Being ruled by your ego, insecurity, fear, and even sense of tradition makes you sound far more infantile than any simple colloquial telephonic reception.

Be well,
Eliza

We use the plural of the animal from which they were named. Mice is no less awkward than calling it a mouse in the first place.

equivalency

  • jayles
  • July 21, 2017, 1:27pm

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

Even in American books, equivalence is far more common.

equivalency

I think 'equivalency' is mostly used in America. Even the ngram view of 'equivalence' and 'equivalency' makes it clear that the use of the former is widely prevalent. There is no specific reason to add 'equivalency' to the existing 'equivalence'.

February 10-16, 2014

or . . .

. . . from the 10th to the 16th of February, 2014.

We may SAY ordinals, but we do not WRITE them.

Past tense of “text”

Just say 'texd' sounds like text but when written denotes past tense.

Past tense of “text”

Past tense should remain the same as present tense. "Text" is much more smooth since the "t" sound at the end can have a "d" sound...almost redundant to add another.

I text you today. I text you yesterday.

Past tense of “text”

Text past tense stays the same. He text mr today. He text me yesterday.

10 Head of Cattle

  • chris1
  • July 19, 2017, 8:41am

Have you tried counting the hooves of cattle? Easier to do a head count .... ergo head of cattle! 3 cows is 3 cows 1500 head is a herd of cattle.