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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. 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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While/among/amid vs whilst/amongst/amidst 

Which of the foregoing variants is older?

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I have seen to-day and to-night used in literature up to the 1920′s. When and why did this become obsolete?

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How popular is the word stymie? Is it possible that it derives from the word stifle?

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Has anyone come across “Anglish”? Anglish or Saxon is described as “...a form of English linguistic purism, which favours words of native (Germanic) origin over those of foreign (mainly Romance and Greek) origin.”

Does anybody have an opinion or thoughts on “Anglish”...

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I’ve noticed the phrase “oh wait” being used insincerely/sarcastically, to make a point. For example: “DOW 10,000!!!! Oh Wait, Make That 7,537.” What is the origin of this sort of usage of “oh wait”?

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I hear people make the word “mine” plural as in, “The book is mines.” This drives me crazy! Has anyone else had this experience and where did this word come from? I have been teaching for over 20 years and it seems to have surfaced in the last 6-8 years or so. Is it just people being lazy?

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My 4-year old daughter haven’t learned about irregular verbs and nouns yet, so she often uses the regular versions like “hided”, “breaked”, “mouses”, “fishes”, etc.. Obviously kids learn the rules and try to consistently apply them instead of learning the usage of every word case by case. So, they face the same exact frustration that ESL students do, which was a bit of a surprise to me. I thought kids learn in a more empirical, case-by-case manner, rather than relying on logical patterns.

This lead me to look up the history of irregular verbs and nouns. If native speakers of English have a hard time learning it at first, how did irregular verbs and nouns come into existence in the first place? It’s as if some sadistic English teacher invented them so that he would have more things to test his students on.

I found this entry on Wikipedia about Indo-European ablaut which explains the history of it. Not being a linguist, I didn’t quite get some of the things explained there, but I understood that the irregular verbs and nouns came from different linguistic systems within which they were perfectly regular. In other words, the English language has incorporated different systems of inflection, and now we are stuck with them.

But I feel that this is something that we could all agree to change, just as the whole world (except for the Americans) decided at one point to adopt the metric system. We just have to deal with the grammar Nazis cringe and squirm uncontrollably for several years until they get over it. We would have one less thing we have to study at school, and the same time and effort can be used to learn something more meaningful and useful.

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I have now found the phrase “pi the type” in two different books and have an idea of the meaning from the context. I would hope to learn more about the meaning and how it might have originated.

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Can anyone explain why the short forms or the nicknames for Robert and Richard are Bob and Dick?

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Ass

Why is the word “ass” considered a curse word inappropriate for children? “Fuck” for instance is understandable because it refers to an act inappropriate for children to engage in. (I personally don’t care, but I understand why other parents would care.) For similar reasons, I understand why any words that refer to our sexual organs would be considered inappropriate for children. “Bitch” is also understandable because it degrades women by associating them to dogs.

When I look up the etymology of the word “ass”, all I see are references to buttocks and rear end. So, who decides or decided that “ass” should not be used by children?

It appears to me that some people at some point in history started using “ass” to mean a sexual object, and the usage gained in popularity. Suppose some famous comedian or writer starts using the word “buttocks” to mean the same, and it gains in popularity. Are we then to classify it as a curse word and prevent children from using it? Does it make sense to give into that kind of arbitrary forces?

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Latest Comments

On Tomorrow

  • jayles
  • January 18, 2018, 4:10am

KING HENRY
We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.
March to the bridge. It now draws toward night.
Beyond the river we’ll encamp ourselves,
And on tomorrow bid them march away.
Henry V Act 3, Scene 6, Page 7

So Shakespeare used "poor grammar and .... stupid."

http://nfs.sparknotes.com/henryv/page_132.html

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.nz/2014/...

It is perfectly normal to say "until tomorrow", "for tomorrow", "by tomorrow", "after tomorrow", so "on tomorrow" is not that much of a stretch.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=on...*%2C*+tomorrow%2C+and+on+tomorrow&year_start=1960&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Con%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ctomorrow_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ctomorrow_ADV%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ctomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2C_START_%20Tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2CTomorrow_NOUN%20%2A%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20%27s%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20I%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20we%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20morning%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20you%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20night%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20the%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20he%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20will%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2C%2A%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bof%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bfor%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Band%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Byou%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bafter%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Buntil%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bthat%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bby%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bback%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bit%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cand%20on%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0

On Tomorrow

  • kadrn
  • January 17, 2018, 12:11pm

It is not correct to say on tomorrow, on yesterday, or on today. These words are adverbs and do not require the preposition "on". Prepositions require an object. Since days of the week are nouns, they are objects for prepositions. It is incorrect to assume it is OK to use 'on' with all expressions of time. The redundancy is not that the word 'to' is in tomorrow. The redundancy is that tomorrow, is an adverb that already designates a place in time, and does not require a preposition.

Although it has become common usage in some parts of the county to say 'on tomorrow (yesterday, today), it is poor grammar and makes even the most educated person sound stupid.

eg, e.g., or eg.

  • jayles
  • January 13, 2018, 12:48pm

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=e...

E.g. or e.g. is at least twelve times more common in the book corpus used by Google.
"Eg" or "EG" is sometimes an abbreviation for "electrogram", or "elliptical galaxy". For some reason, a few German texts are included in the Google books results, and these use "EG" to mean "Eingriff" and so forth. I have only sighted one valid example of "eg" being used to mean "for example" in this corpus.
From all this I would conclude that "e.g." is the norm.

eg, e.g., or eg.

I have used eg and ie for a long time. Why waste space or time?
We don't write p.c. for a personal computer, l.e.d. of light emitting diode, etc. (yes, not e.t.c.). I also a agree with Peter X, we say e g, not e dot g dot. I am involved in writing Australian technical Standard, and always drive for efficiency and simplicity.

On Tomorrow

  • scylla
  • January 9, 2018, 4:43pm

Thank you for this reference. As others have said, I have mostly heard this as Black usage in the South and find it a charming idiom, but I needed a discussion to reference about why I would leave "on" out when transcribing for reports.

It is a shame. There's an endless supply of self-satisfied fools in charge of education, and in charge of testing that education. The goal appears to be to ask the question is the minimum number of words, as though "question space" on the printed page is something of supreme importance.

Another illustration of the confusion is with bathroom sinks. Some online vendor of sinks will call the front-to-back distance the width; others, the left-to-right distance.

First of all, you can't say "the U.S. total"; the proper phrase is "the entire U.S." The two numbered sentences should read:

1. The graphs above show the rates of electricity generation of Kansas and of the entire U.S. in 2010.
2. In 2010, the rate of electricity generation by nuclear power plants in Kansas was about the same as the rate for the entire U.S. [outside Kansas.]

In sentence 2, I've moved the date to the front of the sentence because otherwise it's too far from what it modifies.

That second sentence does not seem plausible, with or without the bracketed phrase. Do you mean "about the same as the rate for all other sources of energy in the entire U.S."?

In any case, I'm not tempted to use "that of" or "of that" in these sentences

“It is what it is”

I teach a high-school equivalency test prep class for adults who didn't finish high school. Recently, I was reading over a student's essay in which she used "it is what it is". I'm so sick of hearing this empty, vague bit of bullshit that I circled the phrase and replied:
WHAT is what WHAT is?.

I know that my response was just as vague and unhelpful as this bit of trite street wisdom has become. I just wish that someone, anyone, would have the courage to step out from behind these empty words and state clearly what the "it" is that he or she is talking about.

Otherwise, they can shove "it" up their ass(es).

Pronunciation: aunt

There’s only one way to say it. PERIOD.
The sister of your mother is pronounced exactly the same as if she was a tiny creature living with a million others in a dirt hill