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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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Latest Posts

Why do some people, especially pseudo eloquent corporate types, insist on substituting “I” for “me” under the misplaced guise of speaking formal English: “Between you and I, the meeting was substandard”, “Thanks for taking Julie and I for dinner”. I know there’s not much to discuss here. It’s simply wrong but it represents a deeper misunderstanding of the use of nouns/pronouns. Personally I tolerate the incorrect use of “me” as the subject to a much greater extent (“me and Geoff went to the beach”) because although grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable to many in colloquial English. The use of “I” as the object is neither grammatically correct nor colloquial or formal. It is in a sense a clumsy grammatical over compensation. Besides people who make this error usually (but not always) over rate their own eloquence.

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Many years ago using the prefix co- and co meant two different things. Now they are used interchangeably, but is this correct? I was taught if you used co- you were a subordinate and if you used co you were equals. An example. A co-pilot is subordinate to a pilot, however coauthors means both writers were equal in the endeavor. Once upon a time, a co-chairwas subordinate to the chair. Now co-chair and cochair are used flagrantly to mean the same thing, they are equally sharing the duties of chairperson. What are your thoughts on this?

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All of a sudden spectators are not “looking on” but “watching on”. Does that make them onwatchers?

They no longer say “welcome to” but “welcome along to”.

“Early on” has become “early doors”.

Players now “contest for” the ball.

They now “update you” with the latest scores.

To me all of that is rather more idiotic than idiomatic.       :-))

I’m sure there are many more examples that I have (thankfully) missed.

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The media in English speaking countries seems to be developing a tendency toward using a country’s name as an adjective.

eg:-

Syria crisis instead of Syrian crisis

France fullback instead of French fullback

Another is the anglicising of some country names and nationalities:-

Argentina becomes Argentine and Argentinians becomes Argentines.

Thoughts?

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In Britain the the winners of the Bad Grammar Awards have just been announced, and the prize has gone to Tesco, partly for a label on its toilet paper which said ‘More luxury, less lorries’, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the ‘fewer / less’ question.

According to the OED, people have been using less for countable nouns since the dawn of English, and it only seems to have become a golden rule after certain grammarians latched onto the observation of one Robert Baker, who in 1770 remarked that ‘No fewer than a hundred seems to me not only more elegant than No less than a hundred, but more strictly proper.’, while admitting that less ‘is most commonly used when speaking of a number’.

And it was used like this in at least two influential nineteenth century grammars - ‘less hopes’, ‘less parts or portions’ -  Lindley Murray’s English Grammar, Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners, and ‘No less than five verbs’ - William Cobbett’s A Grammar of the English Language.

It obviously annoys a lot of people. One woman wrote on Tesco’s Facebook page that she ‘was unable to purchase’.

But I can’t help wondering why. There is absolutely no danger of ambiguity, and many of us use ‘less’ with countables informally. (And for many of us ‘Ten items or less’ sounds much more idiomatic than ‘Ten items or fewer’). Does this rule really have any functional basis, (we don’t need any distinctions for ‘more’ - more luxury, more lorries) or is it simply a rule for the sake of having a rule and just another excuse for finding fault with others?

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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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In his entry on ‘try and do’, Fowler calls it “an idiom that should not be discountenanced, but used when it comes natural”.

What interested me was his use of ‘natural’ as an adverb. Oxford Online gives the example ‘keep walking—just act natural’, which sounds OK to me, if idiomatic.

There are examples from Dickens and Walter Scott of ‘comes natural’  in dialogues, where ‘natural’ is being used as an adverb, but Fowler’s use here sounds strange to me. Any thoughts?

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Will words like fæces, archæologist, fœtus disappear from our language or should they be preserved?

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When I was brought up in England we used to say things like “it’s the put-er-on-er-er” for the brush used to put the polish on, and the “taker-off-er-er”. Or later, the “mover-out-er-er” for the spouse who must move out. 

Is this “real” English? Why don’t we use it in writing? Why are there two “er” at the end? Is there any description of this in any grammar? How widespread is this construction?

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I should probably count myself fortunate that I almost reached my allotted three score and ten without having come across this dreadful word.

But alas my belief that a mentor has a protégé has now been cruelly shattered.

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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