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 a 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 a passion. Learn More



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August 11, 2009

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Latest Comments

A piece of irony

  • June 29, 2010, 9:04pm

They might believe that. Or they might think you a noodge.

Seriously, there are few situations, other than parent-child or student-teacher or editor-writer, where correcting another persons grammar is welcomed. (Not that it's especially welcomed in these.) If you have understood the speaker then the grammatical gaffe has not been deleterious. If the speaker's grammar is so bad as to hinder comprehension, the polite action would be to ask for clarification, not to torch his car. (I speak metaphorically, of course. You brought up the "radical" thing.)

The purpose of language is communication. Interruptive nit-pickery hampers that.

A piece of irony

  • June 29, 2010, 6:56am

Merriam-Webster Online defines 'ignorant' as: "lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified." Which sounds pretty close to the usage of the word in your soccer example. The word may be being over-used; this happens. But it's just slang.

I think 'ignorant' is a vogue word, to use Garner's appellation. It, like 'random' and 'radical,' will pass. It is not "ever-persisting." Resist the "compulsion to correct." People will think you random.

Conciseness should not trump clarity. The construct "following is" risks what Bryan Garner calls a "miscue:"

"A miscue is an inadvertent misdirection that causes the reader to proceed momentarily with an incorrect assumption about how—in mechanics or in sense—a sentence or passage will end." (A Dictionary of Modern American Usage)

In the phrase "the following is" the word "following is clearly a noun: it owns an article. But when a sentence begins "Following is..." the reader might expect the sentence to be about the nature of following. The common phrase "the following is" (or are) avoids this possibility.

But "the following is/are" is a hackneyed phrase, like "enclosed please find," and should be avoided. In the interest of conciseness write "Here is a complete list of tags..." Then follow with a complete list of tags.

Jim M is correct. "[A] pen and three pencils" is the compound subject, and takes a plural verb.

Nobody has addressed Sunil Kumar's second question:

"Similarly I find the use of "the" very problematic. Why it can't be reduced to a minimum?"

That the questioner's native language is one without articles may be inferred by the fact of the question itself.

Naturally the existence of articles in a new language would seem problematic for one used to none. But keep in mind the function of the word the: it establishes definiteness in a noun phrase. (For example, "the good book" means the Bible, while "a good book" could be Harry Potter.)

In languages without definite articles, definiteness still exists. However, it is established in other ways, such as by inflecting the noun or by employing an adjective that acts on the noun. Amongst languages with definite articles, English may have the simplest system: many European languages have three or more definite articles, English only one.

So as for reducing the use of "the," it already has been reduced to a minimum. (Prior to Middle English there were three definite articles.) To eliminate it altogether would require structural changes to the language itself.

Everybody vs. Everyone

  • May 19, 2010, 3:29pm

The distinction in meaning between "everybody" and "everyone" does not exist. Lucas' answer would be correct for "everyone" versus "every one." But AO was correct: "everyone" and "everybody" are synonyms. Fowler does not distinguish between them. Nor does Garner. who says:

"Because the terms are interchangeable, euphony governs the choice in any given context."

Neither word is inherently more formal than the other. I have seen opinions elsewhere that one or the other is more formal—or more polite—but I have seen no real substantiation either way. I have found documentation that "everyone" is used more frequently than "everybody" in formal writing, but "everyone" is used more frequently overall, so I don't see this as definitive.

On Tomorrow

  • May 13, 2010, 2:06pm


What I said was "And as such, it is not a 'southern thing,' as you point out." In other words, I acknowledged that you pointed out that "aks" is not a southernism. Perhaps I could have been clearer.

On Tomorrow

  • May 11, 2010, 3:35am


Actually, I didn't quote Chaucer. The reference was in the cited passage from Random House, which is signed "Heather." I don't claim a "vast knowledge of the English language’s history," but I do know a little about factual research.

The fact is that the pronunciation of "ask" as "aks" is ancient. It predates the discovery of America. And as such, it is not a "southern thing," as you point out. But it is not a "black thing" either. It is a relatively common variant which crosses social and cultural boundaries.

The point I was trying to make is this: non-standard English is not the same as sub-standard English. Simply that.

On Tomorrow

  • May 7, 2010, 2:09pm


The pronunciation of "ask" as "aks" is not an ordinary mispronunciation. It is indeed a Metathesis, but a very old one. It is non-standard, yes, but widespread. I agree that cultural background influences the way we all speak. But in the case of ask/aks the cultural factor is not merely race-based.

On Tomorrow

  • May 1, 2010, 4:19am

I have addressed the ask/axe issue elsewhere, but it seems to bear repeating.

The pronunciation of "ask" as "aks" is sometimes seen as a sign of ignorance or poor education, but it is not. Nor is it a race-based variant. I found the following explanation online:

"While the pronunciation /aks/ for ask is not considered standard, it is a very common regional pronunciation with a long history. The Old English verb áscian underwent a normal linguistic process called metathesis sometime in the 14th century. Metathesis is what occurs when two sounds or syllables switch places in a word. This happens all the time in spoken language (think nuclear pronounced as /nukular/ and asterisk pronounced as /asteriks/).

Metathesis is usually a slip of the tongue, but (as in the cases of /asteriks/ and /nukular/) it can become a variant of the original word. This alternative version in Old English was axian or acsian, as in Chaucer's: "I axe, why the fyfte man Was nought housband to the Samaritan?" (Wife's Prologue 1386). Ascian and axian co-existed and evolved separately in various regions of England. The ascian version gives us the modern standard English ask, but the axian variant ax can still be found in England's Midland and Southern dialects.

In American English, the /aks/ pronunciation was originally dominant in New England. The popularity of this pronunciation faded in the North early in the 19th century as it became more common in the South. Today the pronunciation is perceived in the US as either Southern or African-American. Both of these perceptions underestimate the popularity of the form.

/aks/ is still found frequently in the South, and is a characteristic of some speech communities as far North as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Iowa. It is one of the shared characteristics between African-American English and Southern dialects of American English. The wide distribution of speakers from these two groups accounts for the presence of the /aks/ pronunciation in Northern urban communities.

So in fact, ... /aks/ [is] a regional pronunciation, one with a distribution that covers nearly half of the territory in the United States and England."


Perhaps instead of making fun of your principal behind her back—hardly a professional thing to do—you should consider that she is merely quoting Chaucer.