Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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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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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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I run. I ran. I had ran. I had run.

I went. I had went. I had gone.

There appear to be localized aberrations where people insist on saying “had ran” even though they know “had run” is proper. They seem to be victims of conforming to local language.

This group of people seems to me to come from a region. I grew up in California, and I never saw this. I started seeing it in Colorado. It was a little more common in Kansas. It was very common in GA. It always showed up in people who had moved west from eastern locations like MA, KY, DE, VA, WV, NC. 

What is it that I am trying to say here? Peer pressure overrides language correctness? Is there a better way to refer to this?

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I’m reviewing a New Zealand scientific report which uses the word ‘equivalency’. This sounds to me like an Americanisation of the word ‘equivalence’, both being nouns but with the redundancy of an additional syllable in ‘equivalency’.

As we use British English (despite word processing software trying to force American English upon us) I’m inclined to use ‘equivalence’.  What do you think?

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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.