Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with passion. Learn More

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.

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Latest Posts : Etymology / History

I had never thought I would ever wonder what “width” is until my 12-year old daughter came home one day and told me that her math teachers (not just one but two) told her that “width” in geometry is the vertical side of a rectangle. That to me was like saying up is down and down is up. How could this be?

It turns out that her teachers are not alone. Take a look at this page I came across while Googling on the topic. It says:

In the case of a square or a rectangle, the expression length (1) is commonly used instead of base and width (w) instead of height. In the case of a circle the expression diametre (d) is used.

“Width instead of height” is very much like saying up is down. Where did this come from?

And, what is even more disconcerting is that the teachers are not aware of this ambiguous nature of “width.” Two other teachers told me that width is always the horizontal side, and another told me that she has heard others call the vertical side “width.” So, apparently, each is teaching their students in an authoritative manner their own definition of “width.” If a 12-year old is told by her math teacher that “width” in geometry refers to the vertical side, why should she doubt it? Unless, of course, she was also told that “width” can be vertical or horizontal (i.e. direction neutral, like “length”). But that is apparently not what is happening at school in New York City.

If we teach our kids that a triangle has three sides, we don’t want them thinking that the definition of “triangle” could be flexible as if it could have four or five sides. If the definition of “width” is not universal, they need to know that. Here is a case in point. The following question was in 2016 Common Core Math Test for Grade 6.

“A carpenter built three bookcases, A, B, and C, to stand next to each other along a wall. The total length of the wall is 456 centimeters. The carpenter will build two more bookcases, D and E, along the same wall. These two bookcases will have equal widths. The widths of bookcases A, B, and C are shown in the table blow.”

Now, if you were taught that in geometry, “width” means the vertical side and “length” means the horizontal side, you would have to be confused reading this question. The correct response would be, “But why should the ‘widths’ of the bookcases have anything to do with the ‘length’ of the wall in fitting the bookcases?”

My daughter tried to figure this out by drawing a bunch of bookshelves with different heights, and eventually gave up because the question made no sense to her.

In Merriam-Webster, the word “width” has no ambiguity: “the horizontal measurement taken at right angles to the length.” After all, the word “height” has no ambiguity, so why should we think “width” would?

But looking at the Oxford dictionary gives us a slightly different answer: “The measurement or extent of something from side to side; the lesser of two or the least of three dimensions of a body.”

In other words, in a rectangle, “the lesser of the two” sides would be called “width” regardless of the orientation. So, it appears that this is an American-versus-British issue, or is it? (Note the spelling of “diametre” on the page from quoted above.)

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I have searched the forum and not found any reference to this matter. More and more, I’m hearing this kind of construction: “The fact of the matter is is that we need to...” or “The biggest problem is is that we don’t have...” I’ve even heard President Obama use it. At first blush, it bothers me. There’s no need for the second “is,” and no grammatical precedent. That is to say, I don’t know what it might spill over from. Furthermore, it seems like a fairly recent arrival. What do you think? Is this something we should eschew or embrace? Has anyone else heard and taken note of this?

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What is the origin of the phrase “I’m just saying”?

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Can anyone tell me when and how the adding of “ish” to the end of words got started? Do we lack such confidence in ourselves that we need to add “ish” like a disclaimer to our own words? When has the word become not word enough?

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When did “issue” come to mean “problem” ?

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When an why did “exactly the same” become “the exact same” and more recently “the same exact”?

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There exists a claim that the word “man” originally only referred to people of unimplied sex. To restate, “man” always refereed to both male and female people.

The claims I found were made by sources known by some to be categorically highly unreliable, so I turn to you.

There are claims that “wer” or “were” was used at least for adult males.

The most reliable sources I’ve found to support that are

What evidence can you provide of the use of “were” or “wer” in english and the use of “man” and whether “man” changed over time with respect to gender or whether there was always ambiguity?

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I just have the impression that the old proverbs that I heard as a child aren’t heard as much today. People just don’t seem to use them much anymore. 

Of course this is hard to prove: maybe I am not mixing in the right circles; maybe there are newer proverbs that have replaced the older (proverbs change with each generation); maybe the media and/or gurus have picked up some and ignored others; maybe few make into print outside the tabloids and popular magazines. 

As far as the printed word goes, of those I have looked at some seem to peak around the 1930′s and then trail off, only to recover somewhat over the last decade or two. “Actions speak louder than words” was the commonest one I found, 3:1 against “Beggars can not be choosers”.

What is your impression? Is proverb use declining or just new ones becoming popular?

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More and more lately I’ve been hearing and seeing a change in the prepositions used in common phrases.

I’ve already commented on PITE about the use of “deal to” instead of “deal with” in NZ, and of course we have the age old debate about “different from/to”.

Recently I noticed some others creeping in:-

“what do you make to....” instead of “what do you make make of .....”

“I have no intention on.......” instead of “I have no intention of......”.

I’m sure there are others.

While there may be nothing grammatically wrong in this, it does sound a little strange and raises the question of why and how such usage arises.

Does it stem from a desire to be different just for the sake of being different?

Is it down to some kind of narcissism?  

. when saying “what reading

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Will words like fæces, archæologist, fœtus disappear from our language or should they be preserved?

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Latest Comments

all _____ sudden

Yes, it is an idiom. However, those who say, "get over it" (i.e. do not read) do not understand how the misused idiom makes the speaker sound less intelligent and thus erodes their credibility.

Idea Vs. Ideal

My husband says ideal all the time. And I always ask tell him what do you deal? And then I ask him if he means idea. And that ideal does not mean the same thing as idea.

Actress instead of Actor

Actor is Male, Actress is Female. If you take the Male and turn it into a gender-neutral term, while keeping the Female-Specific term, what term are you going to use to replace the Male-Specific term? You are only confusing the issue when the words get used, making communication between people more difficult.

“hate with passion”

Omit a

Where are the commas?

I am a younger member of the administrative team and my writing is often corrected by an older gentleman who puts that extra comma after the second word in a list of three. Just wanted to make sure I was correct about what I was taught in college and what speech actually sounds like.

Which is correct:
She bought apples, oranges and pears.
she bought apples, oranges, and pears.
I was taught in college that the first one is correct and matches speech patterns.

Can't believe I'm not alone in noticing this. Bravo to those who feel obliged to comment. As much as I love her, Michelle Obama was the first person I heard it from. And here I thought it was my perfect ear detecting an otherwise unnoticed flaw.

On Tomorrow

  • G-Dog
  • August 15, 2019, 12:55am

I found this forum as a result watching Bible Study from my local church on TV with my wife, I finally asked her if she ever noticed “church folk” while speaking in church use the phrase ‘On Today’ or ‘On Tomorrow’ but the same people don’t phrase it that way anyplace else?
It’s been a curiosity to me for some time but I’d never inquired aloud about it. I’m no closer to an answer but I’m relieved I’m not the only one to wonder.

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

Thanks for the enlightenment.
This is better than working on my resume any day :)
SUMMARY (thank you for everyone's posts!):

[for context: i'm a native american english speaker]

1. In this post i learned the French pronounce as

2. i always heard it as

So thank you, now the
re'sume' spelling makes sense.

And somehow like so many loan words, the pronunciation changed in its english usage.

Like mentioned wind and wind cause no confusion IN CONTEXT (blowing wind or to wind a clock).
Same goes if we resume using resume for practical English usage.

4. Don't forget perhaps the most wisdom already mentioned:
Use resume without any accents in English for electronic postings (for less translation errors).

Hi there,

I've a question about where one should place an abbreviation that is inside brackets. I have students handwriting their text response essays and I have told them that when they reference the text title they are to enclose the title with single quotation marks. One of the titles is a little long so I have said they can abbreviate the title after they firstly introduce the whole name, and the abbreviation in brackets. One student asked if the abbreviation enclosed by brackets needs to sit inside the single quotation marks and I'm not sure.


a) The film 'Made in Dagenham' (MID) portrays the fight for equal pay in 1960s England.
b) The film 'Made in Dagenham (MID)' portrays the fight for equal pay in 1960s England.

Do you know which of the above sentences are correct?


Resume, resumé, or résumé?

If you are going to borrow a word from another language, you should spell it that way it is spelled in that language, not put your own interpretation on it because you pronounce it incorrectly or can't be bothered to even try to pronounce it correctly or because you have no respect for the other language.

You therefore either spell it the way it's spelled in French or you drop both accents entirely because English words have no accents. if you make it an English word, then you can't logically have an accent after the second "e". If you do, it is a non-word: neither French nor English, nor any other language.