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

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

I thought you could put /s/ on a copy of a signed letter to indicate the original had been signed. Right or wrong?

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I have recently been seeing rejections of many phrases with ‘of’ in them because they are “less concise.” An example of this would be changing “All six of the men were considered dangerous” to “All six men were considered dangerous.” Recently, someone corrected a sentence I wrote and it just doesn’t sound right even though it may be concise. They changed “There are six species of snakes and four species of butterfly on the list” to “There are six snake species and four lizard species on the list.”

Bonus question: Is it “species of butterfly” or “species of butterflies”?

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In the following sentence, are both parts of the clause correct for a present unreal sentence?

“She would have wanted you to become a doctor if she were alive today”

In this sentence, shouldn’t it be this?

“She would want you to become a doctor if she...”

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Some authorities (such as IBM and Wikipedia) say that “big data” should not be capitalised, while others say it should be capitalised as “Big Data”.

Logically, it would be capitalised only if it were a proper noun, that is, if it identified a unique individual. For example, “the Internet” refers to the global internet, of which there is only one, so it is capitalised. Big data does not really seem to be like that. In any technical usage, it refers to the use of very large databases, and should therefore be a common noun.

In the popular imagination, however, all instances of big data coalesce into a monstrous global conspiratorial network of databases, called Big Data. It is akin to Deep State.

So, it seems to me that “big data” should be used in any sober context, and “Big Data” reserved for conspiracy theories untethered from objective reality.

But ... in a proofreading context I would have to correct “a Big Data-driven project” to “a big data-driven project”, which is ambiguous as it could mean either “a big project that is driven by data” or “a project that is driven by big data”. 

Any suggestions?

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I moved to the US from Japan when I was 16, and in the 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed the ease with which Europeans communicate with native English speakers even when they have heavy accents. In contrast, Asian immigrants seem to have a harder time being understood by the native speakers. Asians typically blame the problem on their accents and their pronunciation but Americans, particularly urban Americans, are used to hearing a variety of accents. It seems to me that there is something else at work causing the difference between Asian and European ESL speakers.

Compared to the Japanese language, some of the phonemes in English are very subtle (like the th sound). So, over the phone, when we are spelling a name, we provide contextual information, like, “M as in Mary. S as in Sam,” and so on. The subtleties are lost over the phone, and we cannot differentiate between N vs. M, S vs. F, and so on. The Japanese language does not have this problem. I believe English is a more context-dependent language because there is a constant need to fill in the information lost in the subtleties.

Even when two native speakers are talking to each other, often they can’t hear each other well (e.g., noisy bar, subway platform, poor quality phone connection, etc..) but they THINK they hear everything. They are actually filling in the missing information from the context.

The reason Europeans have an easier time even with heavy accents is that their cultures are still very similar. They are able to provide better contextual information as they speak. Because Asian cultures are so different, Asian speakers are not able to provide enough contextual information in their sentences and their body language. Even if they can speak with no accent, their sentences can come out sounding foreign, like the automatic translation provided by Google—grammatically correct but incomprehensible. This makes it hard for Americans to understand especially if the speaker has a heavy accent.

A friend of mine is a pilot for Japan Airlines. As long as he is communicating within the context of air travel (like speaking to the passengers on the plane about the delays and weather forecast), nobody has trouble understanding him. This is because the cultural context in this instance is very narrow and well-defined which allows everyone to fill in the gap easily. But he has trouble understanding and being understood outside of this context because of the wide range of contextual possibilities.

If a French person were talking to an American about how he was treated at a particular restaurant, neither would have any problem understanding the cultural context since the restaurants in France function very much like the restaurants here in the US. But the restaurants in Japan work very differently. In fact, their customs in restaurants are so different that some Japanese people take an etiquette class to be able to eat at Western restaurants. (You can see an example of this in the movie, Tampopo). When you are deficient in the cultural knowledge to this degree, accent becomes a secondary issue. Even with flawless pronunciation, you could still have trouble being understood because the listeners have no idea what you are referring to.

Many native speakers find Indian English speakers hard to understand, even those who have been speaking English all their lives. We readily recognize Indian accent like we recognize Southern and British accents. So, the problem is not lack of familiarity. I think it’s the lack of contextual information because the Indian culture too is very different. We mistakenly believe that the problem is their accent.

What do you think?

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Does “hate with passion” sound wrong to you? Should it be “hate with a passion” instead?

One of the visitors to Pain in the English emailed us and asked if “hate with passion” is grammatically correct or not.

Here are some other similar phrases we can consider:

Sing with passion
Sing with a passion

Sing with feeling
Sing with a feeling

Say it with feeling
Say it with a feeling

When we analyze these expressions, we begin to feel that the article “a” adds some sense of specificity, like:

Sing with a passion befitting Pagliaccio!
Sing with a feeling of remorse!
Say it with a feeling of malaise!

Without the article, the word “passion” and “feeling” both remain abstract concepts.

What do you think?

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In some recent fiction books written by American authors, I have seen the word “acclimated” as in “...she took a day to become acclimated to her new area.”

Shouldn’t this word be “acclimatised” or is this a case of American’s using one word and New Zealanders using another, both for the same purpose?

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Is anyone annoyed by “double words,” such as:  Were you happy happy?  Was it fixed fixed?  Do you know how to type type?  Now, here’s a doozy:  “He’s in his office office.”  What in the heck does that mean?  I’d appreciate your feedback.

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I cringe when I read (a million times a week), “I am so sorry,” “I am so happy”...

It feels like there is part of the statement missing, like “I am so happy I could cry,” or “I am so sorry, I don’t  know what to say.” Is “so anything” a legitimate phrase on its own? Or am I right in thinking it needs more?

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If a city and state (and full date) start a sentence in possessive form, would you consider the punctuation correct in the following three examples?

  • Frankfort, Kentucky’s crime rate has increased.
  • Paris, France’s breathtaking sights left us in a state of raptures.
  • September 11, 2001’s tragic events will forever be indelibly etched in the minds of everyone.

Please, no recasts. 

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Latest Comments

Excess vs. Excessive

My understanding is that excess means extra and unwanted and on the other hand excessive means too much or more than is necessary. Because excessive also means too much, I would say that has more of a negative ring to it than excess.

Plural s-ending Possessives

  • Apoole
  • November 12, 2019, 6:02pm

I want to order a gift for 2 families: The Schultz & The Fox family. How do I correctly put each name....would it be The Foxes or The Foxs and how do you spell The Schultz - would it have an s at the end?

It really should have it's own name. I believe the concept you are talking about is often called Satiric Misspelling ("so phuny") or Sensational Spelling for when it's more for impact (think Beetles as opposed to Beatles).

Computer mouses or computer mice?

Il problema nasce nel momento in cui devo comprarne due, uno per Francesco e uno per Rita, essendo ovvio che ogni pc ne ha uno!

“she” vs “her”

As many others have so aptly noted, the Administrator in your anecdote was correct. The point about subject vs. object has been so concisely explained that I won’t repeat it.

Try to think about it this way. “Her” is always possessive: her degree, her resume, her partner, her job, her kids. It explains or modifies the noun that follows. If you think about it that way, you can understand how illogical it is to say “her went with me on vacation.” Or “her & I” drove to the hospital. (Yet, it would be perfectly fine, however, to say “her sister & I went on vacation” since her is paired with a noun. In that instance, her is used as the possessive that makes sense of, or modifies the noun “sister.”

I hope that helps.

“I’ve got” vs. “I have”

Thank you!

"May you please..." literally equals "Might you allow yourself to..."

"This is she" is the only correct answer. "Is" is a linking verb (to be form), and linking verbs are equivalent to "equal(s)". Thus This and she are equals, i.e., this=she. The answerer is saying "This is I". After the linking verbs "to be" is a predicate nominative - nominative form, not objective in this case.

10 Head of Cattle

It is a form of measurement, a head is unit in a herd.
If you had 2 herds of cattle one bigger than the other, the count would be in head.

He was sat

  • Tbyfg
  • November 7, 2019, 9:42am

As an English teacher (from the South of the UK), I have a "Standard" accent, yet I realise I use features of non-Standard English. For example, today a (linguist) friend noticed I said, "is anyone sat here?" Instead of "is anyone sitting here?" In my opinion, it is more important to be authentic but also to notice that there is variation in language around the "Standard". It's good to draw our students' attention to this variation. Yes they should learn standard forms and the "proper" structures. But they should also recognise and be introduced to regional variation - how will their "Standard English" knowledge help them in real life situations? They will be lost in northern England, or Scotland, for example. Students are not stupid. You can point out these features to them, or they can notice when you use "non-standard" features, and you can have a discussion about it. I automatically say "yeah" and colloquial language in the classroom. It is authentic and the kind of language they'll be exposed to when they watch TV or when they talk to native speakers. It is therefore important to use and teach these forms. At the same time, we can point out the register and when it is appropriate to use them. You can simply tell them not to use yeah or hiya in formal writing. End of story.