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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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“What can I do besides complaining” sounds wrong to me but I can’t say why ... I think it should be complain.

“What can I do besides complain?”
“What can I do but complain?”

However, “Besides complaining, what can I do?” sounds ok.

Any thoughts? Or am I completely off base here?

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If a semicolon is used to contrast two sentences, we can omit repetitive words by using a comma, as in: 

“To err is human; to forgive, divine”

and

“The cat was orange; the dog, brown.”

However, if no semicolon is used, can we still do the same? For example:

“You’re our son, Heracles, and we, your family.”

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“If I was the Prime Minister. ...” said Ed Miliband, British Labour party leader, today, Sunday 24th September 2011. Is this not how to phrase it if it remains a possibility that he was once Prime Minister, or if he is not sure if he was, or is reluctant to admit it? 

“If I were the Prime Minister, ...”, using the subjunctive mood of the verb, would suggest that he is not Prime minister but is about to tell us what he would do if he were the PM. If the subjunctive is now defunct in UK Labour politics, as I suspect, how did he continue to tell us what he would have done, if he were the PM, without using the subjunctive? “if I was the PM, I ~~~~~ ???” It cannot be done.

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I never know whether to use “it” in the following sentence: “Just because ___, (it) doesn’t mean ____.” In other words, would you say,

“Just because I was mean to you, it doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR

“Just because I was mean to you, doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.” OR

“Just because I was mean to you, that doesn’t mean you should be mean to me.”

I hear people using the second variation all the time, but it seems that the third is preferable. Thoughts?

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I know that the proper order for a nominative series of nouns including the speaker is “John and I,” but what about for the objective? “Mrs. Smith taught me and John,” or, “Mrs. Smith taught John and me”? The same goes for prepositions, “Mrs. Smith taught chemistry to me and John,” vs. “Mrs. Smith taught chemistry to John and me.”

Also, does whether one uses the objective pronoun or the reflexive pronoun affect the order? “I taught John and myself,” vs, “I taught myself and John.”

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My teen-age daughter wrote a psychological thriller novella, “Keeping Her in the Light” last summer that Canada-based Eternal Press published last November.

She wants to finish another psychological thriller that she started writing 2 years ago. The setting is during the Victorian Era. She stopped writing this novella because she feels that the conversations in her novella should be in the style of the Victorian Era.

Kindly advise if there is a software or method of converting modern day English to the Victorian Era English.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jomel Fuentes Manila, Philippines

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How do I write out .25%

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When you link something in a quote, should we include the double quotes in the link? For instance:

I asked where to look, and John answered, “Wikipedia!

or

I asked where to look, and John answered, “Wikipedia!”

This is really a matter of style, but I’m wondering if any major sites have a style guide that specifies this.

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I’m still undecided on how to spell correctly: “Drum Track Recording Service” or “Drum Tracks Recording Service”. I’m personally voting for the second variant, but as I’m not a native English speaker, I’m not sure.

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I’ve noticed in the past that the BBC News Web site seems to be rather hit-or-miss with its use of acronyms and abbreviations. One I see repeatedly is its use of “Nasa” for “NASA,” and another I noticed today is “Farc” instead of “FARC” for the Colombian guerrilla group. At the same time, UK, TV, PM, US, and even BBC are treated as I would expect. Can anyone explain this beyond “the editors are twits”?

The abbreviation which prompted me to post this, though, is their habit of abbreviating “Sri Lanka” as “S Lanka.” Why would anyone think it necessary to drop those two characters?

By way of introduction, my name is Mike, and I was born and raised in southern California. I’m a survivor of public schools through high school graduation in 1978. I know full well that my command of the English language is far from perfect, and I do not attempt to correct errors in others’ informal writing or speech, but journalists, authors, and others who write for public consumption I hold to a higher standard, and are therefore considered fair game. :-)

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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.