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

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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.

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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

Wonderful to find that I'm not alone in being annoyed by this silly use of "reach out". Like a lot of irritating Americanisms it has landed on the shores of England and unfortunately spread like Covid19. Apparently, when I contact my bank, I've "reached out" to them, as if I'm drowning. While I'm at it, another recent aberration is the pretentious use of "myself" for the simple "me". As in, "If you have any questions, please reach out to myself". That makes myself very annoyed!

She must have been a difficult woman when she was alive becasue she is causing mayhem now that she is dead...

I like the final version. My background is science and engineering. It's been a lifelong quest to achieve the most concise grammar which is also interesting. Hence the final version gets my vote.
I note that 'species' is both singular and plural. therefore both “species of butterfly” & “species of butterflies” should be correct.

most unique

  • Edword
  • January 19, 2021, 10:37pm

Having just had an argument about this here is a slightly different slant. Suppose one box has nine identical red icecreams and one blue one and another box has nine identical blue icecreams and one red one. We could say the first box is more red than the second box, meaning it has more red elements, not that the individual elements are more red. So a team might have more individuals who are unique than another team and for convenience we could say it is 'more unique' rather than laboriously stating that it has more members who are unique. I don't see a problem with this although my friend disagrees strongly.

It depends on what you exactly mean, and perhaps on the context.

“I’m just saying”

Its an instigators tool to shaken up the social statues qou among peers, all while trying to excusing himself from any and all responsibility of its possible negative outcome... at least thats what I use it for. :) ;)

Um i have a quetion can i get something to eat or may i get something to eat?


As If vs. As Though

I'm the same speedwell who originally answered this question, heh. I was pushed by a Singaporean colleague to sort this out, and they would not accept "forget it; they're both the same these days" as an answer. They were *interested*. So I spent some more time thinking about it, and I realised I do have an unconscious preference. (Oh, and I have code switched to British rules because I now live in Ireland.)

The difference is subtle but meaningful and has to do with *plausibility*. Imagine I were a chef in a restaurant, and I asked a server how a food critic liked the dish I cooked. They might say, with their thoughts in brackets:

- "Well, she ate it as if she liked it." (I am of the opinion that she liked it, since she ate it with enthusiasm.)
- "Well, she ate it as though she liked it." (I am of the opinion that she didn't, since it seemed like it was an effort for her to eat more than the first bite of it.)

In other words, I would lean toward "as if" if the conditional was plausible or likely, and "as though" if the conditional was implausible or unlikely or imaginary. A few more examples:

- I walked down Union Street as if Aberdeen was my new home. (I'm just a tourist, but it feels like a homecoming somehow.)
- I walked down Union Street as though Aberdeen were to be my new home. (I wanted to make myself look like a potential new resident, not just a tourist, but I'm not really going to live here.) Note the subjunctive, which, while dead as a dodo, is still used with "though" and not "if", as noted by others.

- The little Italian girl smiled as if she understood what I said. (She very well might speak a little English.)
- The little Italian girl smiled as though she understood what I said. (She didn't understand, but she was being sweet and polite.)

Writer or Author

  • Forenc
  • January 3, 2021, 3:00pm

These words are used according to the situation, but I have always had problems with this, because the grammar is quite difficult. That's why, to simplify this process a bit, I started using the AcademicHelp service, a review of which I read at It was very useful for me, because it was thanks to the review that I found professional and quality help.