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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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Isn’t “agree the terms” simply bad form? The following is taken from today’s online Guardian in a quote from Theresa May: . . . the prime minister said she believed it was “necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union”. Then as the article continues, the same usage appears in the Guardian’s own words: “The EU institutions and 27 remaining member states, however, have long said they were determined the divorce settlement, such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the continent and the size of Britain’s exit bill, must first be agreed before substantive talks on a future relationship could begin.”

Agree to the terms, yes; but agree the terms?

Be agreed upon, yes; but settlement be agreed before?

I have not run across this usage in US English, so is it something happening in British writing/speech?

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Consider the following sentence: “Last year, the rent was $500, but now it’s risen to $1,000. The rent is two times higher than it used to be.”

To me, this sentence is misleading, since “two times higher” would mean starting with a value of $500 and duplicating it, twice (in other words, $500 + $500 x 2 = $1,500). It seems the correct sentence should read:

“The rent is two times as high as used to be.”

Are both forms acceptable? Unfortunately, it seems that the more confusing form (”two times higher”) has become more common.

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Whilst I appreciate that it is increasingly less common to write or receive a letter these days - and that traditional usage has been Dear Sir/Madam->Yours truly/faithfully or Dear Mr Smith ->Yours sincerely - the few letters rarely follow these “rules”.

I have had (1) Dear Mr Smith without any closure from the UK Pensions Service, (2) Dear Mr Smith->Yours sincerely from the local power board, and (3) Hi Mr Smith->Until next time from my bank. Personally I have never used ‘Yours faithfully’ (which smacks of subservience) since the turn of the century, even when applying for a job. I do still use “Sincerely” in a few emails (particularly when making a complaint). 

For the life of me, I cannot see why bygone formalities are still required for examinations such as the International English Language Test. 

As to emails, it seems more difficult to be formal. Mostly I use “Hi + first name” and end with “Cheers”. 

My question is what are  other people in English-speaking countries experiencing? Is stuff like “Yours faithfully” “Yours truly” now passé? If so is there any reason to teach them?

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This sentence:

“By securing a permanent US commitment to the defence of all its members from 1949 onwards, Nato changed the calculus confronting potential aggressors.”

appeared in this Daily Telegraph article.

I think I grasp what the author is getting at, but it does seem a most unusual and perhaps incorrect use of “calculus.”

Or am I behind the times once again?

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The definitions of “go figure” that I found in various dictionaries do not match what I thought it meant. Is it just me?

Here are what I found:

“said to express the speaker’s belief that something is amazing or incredible.”

“used when you ​tell someone a ​fact and you then ​want to say that the ​fact is ​surprising, ​strange or ​stupid”

“Expresses perplexity, puzzlement, or surprise (as if telling somebody to try to make sense of the situation).”

I thought “go figure” meant the same as “duh!” or “just my luck”. That is, it’s obvious after the fact. It implies “I should have known.”

Let’s take some of the examples that appear in these dictionaries:

“The car wouldn’t start yesterday no matter what I did, but today it works just fine. Go figure.”

My interpretation of this is that, given how unlucky he is in general, in retrospect, it’s obvious that this happened to him again. It’s just part of being unlucky in general.

“She says she wants to have a conversation, but when I try, she does all the talking. Go figure.”

My interpretation for this is that she is already known to the speaker as a talkative person, but since she claims to want a conversation, the speaker gave her another chance, but again, all she does is talk not listen. Duh! The speaker should have known. It should not be a surprise to the speaker.

“The paint was really good, so they stopped making it - go figure, right?”

Again, what is implied here is not something surprising or unexpected; it’s the exact opposite. The speaker is being sarcastic. Because consumers have no appreciation for good products, they all fail, and bad products like Microsoft Windows thrive. “Duh! I should have known that they would stop making it.”

When people are genuinely surprised and puzzled about something, and they want someone to go figure it out. I generally hear people say, “figure that one out.” I find this very different from “go figure”. The latter has a sense of irony or sarcasm that the former does not have. It almost means the opposite. That is, “forget it, don’t even bother trying to figure it out because it’s just my luck,” or “don’t bother figuring it out because people are just stupid.”

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Is it really correct to say such  a thing as, “We are waiting on your mother,” when referring to the anticipation of the arrival of someone’s mother?  It would seem to me that it would be more appropriate, if not more comfortable (at least for the lady), to “wait for your mother.”

One can wait on the corner, and one can wait on a table (if that is his profession), but does one really want to wait on his dinner? 

It seems to me that the preposition “from”  has been replaced by “on” when used in conjunction with the word “wait.”

It makes me cringe! Lately, I’ve heard it so often, I must look like a victim of St. Vitus Dance!

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Does this
“The flu is going around. In order to keep from catching it, you should gargle and wash your hands regularly”
Make sense? I’ve never heard. “In order to keep from catching it.” used in a sentence before.

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One hears this phrase more and more from sports commentators. A typical example would be a commentator at a sports event referring to an injured player or perhaps some celebrity as “watching on from the grandstand”.

Makes one wonder if, and why, “looking on” has suddenly become passé; or is it just an affectation started by someone trying to be different for the sake of being different and which has then been adopted by those who are inclined to participate in fads? Shall on-lookers now be known as on-watchers? Somehow it just doesn’t sound right.

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I have recently received a number of emails where the phrase “Thank you for reaching out to ___” is used instead of what I would expect to be the normal expression “Thank you for contacting ___”.

These emails are from companies in the USA.

Is “reaching out” now the in vogue expression for the simple act of contacting someone?

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Googling for “use my brain” (singular) returns 16 million results whereas “use my brains” (plural) returns 11 million. “Rack my brain” returns 792,000 results, and “rack my brains”, 312,000.

Why do we even consider using “brains” (plural)? What are we trying to say by adding the “s”? Is there any difference in connotations?

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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.