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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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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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I watched some movies over the weekend, and by doing so some questions arose regarding the use of who and whom.

In the movie “Prometheus” one of the main characters is describing the reason of traveling to a planet so far away from earth, and a suporting character says: “We are here because of a map you two kids found in a cave?” - “Not a map, an invitation” - “From who?”

Now, I think the guy is asking for the object. Is he not? Also, I understand that whom must be used after a preposition. Then shouldn’t it be “from whom”?

In the movie “X-Men: First Class” two CIA agents are conversing and the following dialogue takes place: “A war is about to begin.” - “I know. But a war with who?” Same as the other one: Shouldn’t “whom” be used here? “with” is also a preposition, and he is also asking for the object.

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Does anyone know if there are rules governing the pronunciation of “a”? It’s either “AYE” or “UH”, depending on the word following. My preference is dictated by how it sounds and how it flows off the tongue, but I have never been able to establish if actual rules exist.

Americans and Australians tend to use “AYE” all the time and sometime it just sounds ridiculous, like...”Aye man driving aye car stopped at aye traffic light”

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I’m an English teacher in France. In this question I am seeking confirmation that the following use of “used to” is no longer in use. I’m willing to be enlightened.

“Where used you to live before you came here?”

The form that I would employ is:

“Where did you use to live before you came here?”

My source is “Pratique de l’anglais de A à Z” by Michael Swan and Françoise Houdart. In this book they say that you can use either with or without the auxiliary ‘did’. I would not have been shocked by “Where were you living before you came here?”

The book is really very useful and well organized, but occasionally I come across sentences that seem (to me) to be archaic. The version I have was published in 1983. And before any of you say it, no this is not my only source for my English lessons.

So I would be glad of your opinions.

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I saw this sentence in a text: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Should the comma be replaced with a semicolon because all three elements are independent clauses.  

Should the sentence be written, “I came. I saw. I conquered.” or “I came; I saw; I conquered.”?

Is the comma acceptable, because the elements are in a simple series?

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A colleague just asked me which of the statements below was correct:

“System A will be replaced by System B” or

“System A will be replaced with System B” 

Note that in this context System A and System B are competing software packages that are removed / installed by third parties. System B does not install or remove System A. 

I thought that either was correct - is this right? I could not tell her which was better or why or in what contexts I would choose ‘by’ over ‘with’ or vice versa. Can anyone propose guidelines for usage?

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Sequence of tenses requires us to use, for example, past tense if the verb in the introductory clause is in the past tense. For example:

All the members of the survey team said: “You have a beautiful library!”

All the members of the survey team happily acknowledged that we had a beautiful library.

NOW,

This holds true if the quote is a universal truth, quite obviously. But, what if the physical situation talked about in the quotation still holds true? For Example:

Ring Ring.

Sarah: Hello!

Sarah: Yes this is she.

Sarah: Oh really!

Sarah: Well, your ring awoke us.

Sarah: No, I have no laundry outside.

Sarah: Thanks, Bye!

Jeff: Who was it?

Sarah: it was Betty.

Jeff: What did she say?

Sarah: She said that it was raining / it is raining. (Now, here the logical sequence does not follow the grammatical sequence,)

Another:

The survey team said about Plymouth High School, “They have a beautiful library.” (in March 2012)

Subsequently talking to the principal of Plymouth school, Saba told her that the committee commented that (you had a beautiful library / you have a beautiful library). (May 2012, and the situation still holds true).

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Does one make a decision or take a decision? I favour the former but the latter seems to be gaining popularity, especially with politicians.

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I have a question to ask of you. A professor of English Usage said the next expression is incorrect:

(a) She is not what she was ten years ago.

He insisted that this sentence should be corrected like:

(b) She is not who she was ten years ago.

In my opinion, both sentences are correct but there is some difference between them:

(a) implies that she changed her habit or attitude, or lost her physical strength etc.,

but (b) implies that she became ill and lost her physical ability etc.

Do you agree with my opinion? I examined the following examples:

who he was

(1) ‘I believe he was a massive influence on the pitch when we played against them. He was United’s football brain, he was highly motivated and he was a quality player. At 34 he is not what he was in central midfield aged 28. But he is still a top Premier League player and a loss for United.’ — The Independent (London, England), November 19, 2005

(2) Mr Wolff added: “Murdoch is an 80-year-old man. He obviously is not what he was five years ago. He is in the midst of an enormous legal situation and lawyers have taken over. He is under an emotional strain as great as any in his life. This is incredibly painful for him.” — The Evening Standard (London, England), February 17, 2012

what he was

(1) All this is understandable. Arenas is returning from an interminable rehabilitation process. He is not who he was. And getting back to who he was will not be easy on him or his teammates, not when he has the ball in his hands so much of the time. — The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 23, 2009

 (2) Parkinson’s disease has kidnapped my wife. It is in the process of killing her. I hug and kiss what is left of her, hang photographs of the old, strong Milly throughout the house, and talk to her. We hold hands. We make love. But she is not who she was. She cannot walk, and now she can barely speak. She is being carried into an abyss, and I am helpless to rescue her. — Morton Kondracke, Saving Milly: Love, Politics, and Parkinson’s Disease (2001) p. xix

I am looking forward to your comment on this!!!

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When I first heard the lyrics, “Wake up to reality, use your mentality” I thought that Cole Porter was joking. You don’t use your mentality. You use your mind.

Here’s a list:

Medicine » Medication
Document » Documentation
Reason » Rationality
Mind » Mentality
Transport » Transportation

The list is seemingly endless when one starts looking. My point is that ‘document’, for example, is an official piece of paper. ‘Documentation’ is the furnishing or provision of that piece of paper. ‘Medication’ is the application of medicine.There are those who think it is classy to say “I took the medication” Oh dear me, no. Words have meanings.

Americans tend to believe that the British dislike of ‘transportation’ to mean ‘a bus’ is based on our guilty consciences about shipping convicts to Australia. Actually no, that was a pretty good policy. Where better to send them? ‘Transportation’ was the policy, not the ships.

No doubt there are, legitimately, grey areas but...no, I take it back. I’m not weakening.

So there we are, fellow-pedants. The battle-lines are drawn.

May I finally say how pleasant it is to find this forum, the only place I know of where one can sound of on such subjects without being told to take an aspirin and lie down in a darkened room.

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Latest Comments

your completely wrong

On Tomorrow

I live in the South and have heard this quite frequently. Funnily enough, the speakers who engage in this linguistic homicide are from the NORTH!

First annual vs. second annual

The eleventh year after the inaugural year..
is there a special adjective?

Word in question: Conversate

Once again, we have lowered our standard of grammar to accommodate those too lazy to learn usage!

agree the terms

Certainly does seem to appear only in British publications. American equivalent would be "agree on the terms" I think.

We have yet to agree the terms of your surrender.

Persian/Farsi

The reason we don't like the word "Farsi" I believe is: the actual word is Parsi and in Arabic language "p" doesn't exist so when Islamic Arabs attacked Iran and stayed for along time cuz they couldn't pronounce "P" they were saying Farsi instead of Parsi so after few hundred years of occupying Iran b4 they got kicked out, the word of Farsi stayed I hope the F word goes back to them to have fun with it

“Zen” as an Adjective

  • Dustin
  • April 23, 2017, 9:14pm

I also agree with Eliza. Pick a better adjective. Continuing to use "Zen" that way only commodifies and promotes misunderstanding about that religious tradition.

I live in a rural area, and do not get U.S. Postal delivery at my physical address. I have a P.O. Box at the local post office but when address verification is requested, like from UPS, the post office has no record of my physical address. This can be a huge problem. The solution is to install a mailbox on the main road a mile away. My husband has been reluctant to do this for safety reasons, even though I him that our mail will continue to go to the local post office. I actually purchased a mail box which my husband has been avoiding. I am over 70 so it's rather difficult for me, maybe I can get my neighbor to help.

As wet as ?

As wet as a well diggers ar**e!