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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 fao.org 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

http://www.etymonline.com/...

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/...

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

I'm no expert, but I'm guessing that the rule of thumb is to use similar moods and tenses in each part of the sentence.

If we rearrange these sentences with the the "If-statements" first, it might be easier to analyze them:

1.) If she were alive today, she would have wanted you to become a doctor.

2.) If she were alive today, she would want you to become a doctor.

Both of these rearranged sentences start by using the past subjunctive (simple-past tense): "If she were alive today...." I would expect a similar use of the past subjunctive in the second half of the sentence to match the first part. The second sentence seems to do just that: "If she [were alive] today, she [would want] you to become a doctor."

Brian Garner's "The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation" says that the past subjunctive really refers to the present or future even though it uses the past tense. This seems to fit #2 because it seems to be making a statement about the present.

If the first part of the sentence were making a statement about the past, you would have used the past-perfect subjunctive: "If she had been alive in the 1900s, she would have wanted you to become a doctor." Because the first part of the sentence uses the past-perfect subjunctive (had been alive), the second has a matching past-perfect subjunctive (would have wanted).

What do others think?

eat vs. have breakfast

Eat breakfast has another meaning, too. So to have is more neutral!

You: Hey teacher did you eat breakfast today?
Teacher: Why yes I did and it was quite delectable!
You: Lul
https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Eat%20Breakfast

The closest thing that comes to mind is "[sic]". In literary works, it follows words that are intentionally misspelled, usually used when quoting another source verbatim.

On Tomorrow

  • debmcc
  • September 4, 2018, 11:07pm

I just had this conversation with my husband a few days ago. He has never heard it but I have been hearing the phrase “ on tomorrow “ frequently. I was born and raised in the Baltimore area and never heard it until about 8 years ago. It makes me cringe when I hear it. I never hear it 50 miles away on the shore.

“had ran”

"this is surprising", "it is common", "the topic", "it is very", "i", "i","i", "you", "you". Dear pedantic Ashley, you have merely proven you are superior to me in every possible way. Have you answered my question? Surely you of all people know the answer.

“had ran”

To be honest, I am surprised that this is surprising to you. I have worked and traveled around the world and it is common in every language that I have encountered, even British English. ( I do hold a US and UK passport and I speak, write and teach in both versions of English.) There should be tons of linguistic research on the topic if you just search for it, but it is a very common for phrases or incorrect verbs such as this occur in languages.

By the way, I am originally from North Carolina. I have never said had ran nor would I say it. I never heard it in North Carolina. You can't judge everyone in a state or location by what you have heard one or a few people say.

In actuality, actually

  • zmbdog
  • September 3, 2018, 5:28pm

underink's comment pretty much says it all. I think the problem for most people is just that 'actuality' is, in its own structure, kind of awkward. I was actually very surprised to find that 'actuality' is, in actuality, a legitimate word. I expected it to be a bit more iffy in that respect, much like 'ubiquitesness' or, perhaps, 'iffy'. Whether 'iffy' is a word or not, I can't say. But it feels like it shouldn't be. It seems very iffy.

This is an internally consistent theory, but does not really connect with my own personal anecdotal observations.

I have very poor hearing, and I really a great deal on context, and contextualising speech, to work out what people are saying, and that's the same whether they are native English speakers, Europeans, or Asians. I certainly haven't noticed Asians employing less contextualisation.

What I have noticed is that the recognition of English words relies a lot on stress patterns. Our unstressed vowels turn into schwas or obscure vowels so the stress pattern also affects which vowels get pronounced in their true colours. (One example: a group of European ESL students told me they had dined at "mAk-dun-ahlds" and it took several minutes before I twigged they had been to "mək-DON-əlds". A change of stress can make an English word unrecognisable.

I understand that the Japanese language is unstressed, whereas the European languages tend to be stressed, albeit not as irregularly as English. So ... I don't know, but I'm wondering, if there is a lasting difficulty for Japanese users of English, whether this might be due to the need to acquire the habit of using stress patterns?

Exact same

If 'same' means identical then do we say ' exact identical'?
I don't think so.

Or if exact means precise do we say 'precise same'?
I don't think so.

This use of exact same seems to have its origins in America.

"Went missing"

I've never liked the phrase.
It seemed to come out of nowhere (2000?) and, like some other expressions today (Awesome!), gets run into the ground.

Worse yet, 'went missing' can connote a too casual feeling, highly inappropriate when you consider the often troubling, sad circumstances in which its used. Not so bad when it's a favorite pen, but when it's people, W-M is a bad play on words.