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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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As a kid in the ’50s I pronounced the word ‘often’ with the ‘t’ sound until I looked it up and found preferred pronunciation ‘of-en’. Now I always hear it with the ‘t’ pronounced. Did I imagine the change?

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Selfie becomes a word!

The selfie – defined as ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself’ – has taken off to such a degree in 2013 that the term was last week named Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Progress indeed!

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The Latin plural for neuter nouns ends -a  (in the nominative case which is the case we use when adopting Latin nouns into English). The singular ends with -um, in many examples, but not all (caput - capita as in per capita which should really be per caput as it means ‘per’ head, not heads). In English we follow this rule with words we realise are borrowed from Latin, so we have errata for plural erratum, data for plural datum (given ‘thing’, but no one seems to notice that even data is used in the English singular), crematoria for plural of crematorium, corrigenda for things which need correcting, gerundive of obligation of corrigere = to correct. One error needing correcting: corrigendum. These, when they were born, were of course Latin words. 

Sometimes not -a, however, for no particular reason. This was mentioned in a recent Daily Telegraph letter to the editor, by a James Wraight of Kent, mentioning mausolea (or mausoleums?). Apparently students at the Royal Military College of Science told their tutor “we have finished the experiment with pendula, have done the sa and are sitting on our ba sucking winega”. 

Why pendula? Not pendulums? Pendulum is neuter Latin. Just usage? The other plurals here are of course facetious, (as they are not from Latin), but make the point that the students thought pendula was a bit over the top. Like the story of the charabanc parking spot by Magdalene College at Oxford, signposted “charsabanc”, because technically it was the chars not the banc which were plural (although there were more than one row of bancs in each vehicle the term banc here was used adjectivally, describing how the chars were arranged - in a row, or rows. But the chars in each vehicle were plural too, so perhaps each vehicle should have been called a charsabanc, leaving the pedants nonplussed when it came to pluralising it, as the good bursar’s department of the college must have been doing. So they renamed the vehicle an omnibus, Latin meaning “for all” (ablative masculine/feminine neuter plural) soon abbreviated to ‘bus, as it is spelled in books published up to the Second World War, now just bus, plural buses, not busses because that means kisses. 

English isn’t hard, is it?

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Where or how did the term “my bad” originate? I hear it more frequently all the time and it really annoys me. Bad is an adjective, not a noun or verb.

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How can backwards be a word if backward is as well? Forwards and forward? Beside and besides?

I can’t turn a light switch ons, can I? Go outs the door?

Nouns can be plural, and verbs have tense, but prepositions? 

When did we start pluralizing those?

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Hey

Why, in English, do we say ‘hey’ as a conversation starter? Why not hello? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, hey is “used especially to call attention or to express interrogation, surprise, or exultation”. It does not mention any connection to the word hello. Why then, do we so often hear hey substituted for hello? Whether talking on the phone, texting, or just trying to make small talk in person, everyone always seems to begin with hey, even when you are already talking to the person and you don’t need their attention. My best guess is that is probably another development in our ever-changing language that came about over time, but does anyone know how this connotation came to be?

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If you’re over a certain age, you will probably be familiar with the expression - ‘If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming’. But if you’re a bit younger than me, you might well have heard it as - ‘You’ve got another thing coming’, especially if you’re a heavy metal fan. While I can understand that the saying could have changed through mishearing (an eggcorn?), I am puzzled as to how people who use the newer version understand it’s meaning. The original has a perfect logic to it (if not perfect grammar) which seems to me to be completely lost in the newer version.

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What’s the difference in meaning between ‘-ic’ and ‘-ical’, for example, as in ‘horrific’ versus ‘horrifical’, ‘comic’ versus ‘comical’ ‘fantastic’ versus ‘fantastical’, ‘Eucharistic’ versus ‘Eucharistical’, ‘feministic’ versus ‘feministical’, ‘ecclesial’ vs ‘ecclesiastic’ vs ‘ecclesiastical’, etc? 

The more informative the answer(s), the better.

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The word “hack” has two distinct definitions. One means “to cut or sever with repeated irregular or unskillful blows.” This must be the origin of the word “hack” as used in the world of computers, i.e., to “hack into” a computer. You keep trying different tactics and passwords until you succeed.

But the word “hack” also means to cope with something, to make do with what you have and forget about the details, even if it’s not the proper way to do it, as in a “hack job”. This is a very different definition from the first but the two are often used interchangeably in a confusing way.

“Hackathon” for instance does not mean what many people assume it does. It’s not an event where a bunch of computer hackers try to hack into a system. The term “codefest” better describes what “hackathon” really is, where a bunch of computer programmers get together and collaborate on software applications. They are using the second definition, not the first.

I’m wondering which definition came first. And, where did the second definition come from? Did it exist before the days of computers?

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I am playing rooster in a production of Annie and I need some terms of endearment that were used in the 20s and 30s. I use the term “blondie” but the woman I say it to isn’t blonde. How about “sweet cheeks”? Any help?

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Latest Comments

Neither is or neither are

  • Edinrin
  • February 17, 2018, 10:42am

'Neither are' is correct
For example: neither are to blame for the damage done.

well, actually, grammar rules themselves don't exist. there has never been any set rules, because the "rules" depend on how a majority decides to speak, and they change as the years go by. "ain't" used to be considered grammatically correct and was used by rich English folk, but when "commoners" started using it, they decided it wasn't proper English. this fact won't change how society treats grammar (like it's friggin LAW), but I feel like we should all be more lax and just use whatever feels right to us. I mean, soon, "I did good on my test" will be considered proper grammar.

On Tomorrow

It’s a church thing. I’m willing to bet that the people heard saying “on tomorrow” are heavily influenced by the church. Church folk are the people I’ve ever heard say it.

There is a male coworker that when ever he speaks to the females in our office always starts with "Heyyy name, how's it going?" Is it just me, i feel it is so disrespectful and annoying. What are your thoughts?

Past tense of “text”

  • Monocle
  • February 15, 2018, 7:06am

The past tense of Text is Text.

Past tense of “text”

Just hard for me to believe,"texted" would be proper. Just saying ????????????????????

gifting vs. giving a gift

  • marina1
  • February 14, 2018, 11:12am

I'm so glad to read that others are annoyed at this shift of "gift" to an unnecessary verb!
I am also irritated by the ubiquitous use of " no problem" to every request in the service industry. When was it considered a problem to ask a sales person, or wait person question? It's a double negative. Wouldn't a simple, "happy to help," be more positive?!

“Liquid water”?

Modeling of Coupled Water and Heat Transfer in
Freezing and Thawing Soils, Inner Mongolia

One article for your reference. I am having atleast 100 other examples. Best Wishes

“Liquid water”?

Your observation is very correct. That is a question which I have been looking answer for.

It is not only cosmology, please check articles on Planetary science, Crystallography, Geophysics, Glaciology, Permafrost, Ice crystals in soil etc. everywhere they use the term liquid water. Probably it is in order to differentaite the state of water but it is not required as water is actually liquid, else we refer it as crystal, ice, snow or vapour. Thanks for asking this question and to all others please read before answering. Just google it or preferably search it on researchgate or google scholar..best wishes

There are many who have ancestors of European descent in North America and Britain who've known this for thousands of years. Personally, I've never heard any white people pronounce 'street' as 'schreet' but I cannot dispute this either nor will I do this. There are two answers to this concerning the white people who pronounciate certain words as so. 1) Some are deliberately 'mispronouncing' certain words that they know they can pronounce correctly. 2) Some actually have the tongue to pronounce these words as such beyond their control. I won't post the reasons why numbers 1 and 2 is possible (in the case of both, black people are included as well), you'll just have to think about it.