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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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We’re arguing in the office. Help us get this straight once and for all.

You could boil the question down to this: how would you write this title?

“email Is Destroying Our Children”

email or e-mail?

Do you capitalize the E if it’s at the beginning of a sentence or part of a title?

Do you capitalize the M if it’s at the beginning of a sentence or part of a title? If so, do you only do this when it’s hyphenated?

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How do I correctly write YES as a plural. Example: # of Yes’s.

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While on vacation during the first week of summer, I came across an advertisement for the H1N1 Vaccine on the back of a coach bus. It stated “Get your ‘free’ H1N1 vaccine today!”

This begs the question, does putting quotation marks around “Free” (but not as a quotation, of course) serve any function or purpose? Such as:

All these hot dogs are “free”.

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i wonder why english has capital letters? as a non native english speaker, i could not understand the logic behind it. it also increases key strokes on typewriters, computers, and makes it difficult for non natives. i am sure that if puritans of english would be mild, it could be reduced.

similarly i find the use of THE very problematic. why it cant be reduced to a minimum?

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I am in media relations and sent a story pitch to an editor telling him I could send him more information if he was interested and added a question mark to ensure some kind of response, e.g.,

I can send you more information if you are interested?

Is this grammatically incorrect? I just like doing this because it’s not as forceful as Are you interested?

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Why is “page” abbreviated “p” while “pages” is “pp”? Of somewhat less interest to me, I also wonder whether “p” or “p.” is the correct notation?

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Talking about the concept of the afterlife in Catholicism, would you capitalize Heaven? Moreover, what about Hell?

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According to my research, punctuation is part of “mechanics”. If so, is it redundant to say, “punctuation and mechanics”?

I do see many instances of people using “punctuation and mechanics”. For instance, I came across an article written by an English professor entitled “Common Mistakes of English Grammar, Mechanics, and Punctuation”. If punctuation is indeed part of mechanics, then this title itself would be a mistake ironically.

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When referring to “French” and “English” bulldogs, the geographic part of the breed will always be capitalized. What are the rules about capitalizing the stand alone word “bulldog?”

From what I understand, AKC dropped the requirement to use “English” in front of the word “bulldog” (or so I’ve been told....) so I am left with the word “bulldog.”

Should I capitalize or not? I referred to the AKC site to see how they were handling the capitalization and they begin by capitalizing the word then use a non-capitalized version throughout their article.

Thoughts?

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Is “someone else’s” grammatically correct? Every time I type, the spell-checker reminds me that it’s wrong.

There are a lot of discussions online about “passers-by” vs. “passer-bys”. The general consensus, from what I saw, is that the former is more correct. If this is true, shouldn’t it be “someone’s else”?

I personally feel that “passer-bys” is more correct, especially when you remove the hyphen (”passerbys”). It’s more consistent with other words like “blastoffs” and “playoffs”.

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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’
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.