Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

Pain in the English offers proofreading services for short-form writing such as press releases, job applications, or marketing copy. 24 hour turnaround. Learn More

Warsaw Will

Joined: December 3, 2010
Comments posted: 1371
Votes received: 797

I'm a TEFL teacher working in Poland. I have a blog - Random Idea English - where I do some grammar stuff for advanced students and have the occasional rant against pedantry.

Questions Submitted

fewer / less

May 3, 2014

Natural as an adverb

April 13, 2014

tonne vs ton

January 25, 2014

Tell About

October 18, 2013

“reach out”

May 25, 2013

Recent Comments

@jayles - Or that the mother knows something the ostensible father doesn't:

"It is not entirely clear why this fascinates Stephen except that if his ostensible father Simon Dedalus was a cuckold, perhaps he, Stephen, has another “real” and unknown father"

"Many others are instances of 'cuckoldry' in which the young in question are indeed those of their ostensible mother but have been sired by someone other than their ostensible father"

Warsaw Will June 29, 2014, 11:08am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@jayles - "Perhaps that explains why "brains" in the plural is increasingly used when referring to women"

According to Ngram, the increase since 1970 has been less than 100% and the current level is less than it was in 1930, historically having been pretty flat. Meanwhile the instances of "her brain" have increased over the same period by about 400%, and outnumber "her brains" by about 10 to 1, so I'm not quite sure what you're saying here.

It's the same story at the British National Corpus - "her brain" - 268, "her brains" - 23, "his brain" - 230, "his brains" - 44. I don't think you can really draw any conclusions based on gender here.

Warsaw Will June 28, 2014, 7:14pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

There does seem to be a key difference between 'putative' and the other two: if something is putative, it is generally believed, but not usually openly stated (yet), as far as I can see. Whereas the other two refer to something which has been openly stated, but which leave some room for doubt.

In the first three examples, the person named is presumed to be going to take the position named, but no announcement had yet been made at the time.

"The first thing to ask about any real contender for British Sunday glory is who's editing it: the putative editor here is Dominic Mohan, aka the Monday to Saturday editor of the Sun." The Guardian

"Renzi remedy? For all his charisma, Italy’s putative new Prime Minister is far from sure to deliver on his promises " The Independent

"Newt Gingrich, a putative Republican candidate next year, has thrown his weight behind the idea." - The Economist

Here the person presumed to be the founder is not saying:

"Putative Bitcoin Founder Categorically Denies It" - The New York Times

And here it is used in its legal sense, to mean the presumed father.

"If the putative father isn’t at the birth and the unwed mother is on welfare or seeking child support, she must identify the man she thinks is the father. He is then served with legal papers. If he doesn’t respond, judges usually name him the father by default. " - The New York Times

In fact 'presumed' could be used in all the examples above. On the other hand, in the next one, from the Economist blog, "putative" is being used more like "supposed" or "what was ostensibly":

"A recent study found that 25% of putative cod or haddock bought from fishmongers and take-away restaurants were not even the right species."

Warsaw Will June 26, 2014, 2:32pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

There seems to be a slight difference in how true you believe something to be. All definitions from Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

putative - "believed to be the person or thing mentioned", synonym - presumed (no element of doubt seems to be involved here - Oxford Concise says "Generally considered or reputed to be") - "the putative father of two" - most commonly used with "father(s), author, parents", in fact there's something called 'The Putative Father Registry'.

ostensible - "seeming or stated to be real or true, when this is perhaps not the case (or not necessarily so - Oxford Concise)", synonym apparent - "The ostensible reason for his absence was illness." - seems to collocate especially with "purpose, reason, cause"

supposed - "used to show that you think that a claim, statement or way of describing somebody/something is not true or correct, although it is generally believed to be" , synonym alleged - "When did this supposed accident happen?"

Ostensible and supposed do seem to be quite close, however, but supposed seems to be used with a far wider range of words than the other two.

@jayles - I think something got left off your graph - add 'power' to 'putative' and the picture changes somewhat. If you want to compare frequency, I suggest this might give a more accurate picture (avoiding supposed as a past form) -

Adding an asterisk to each item will give you common collocations.

"the supposed" seems to be the most common - 253 at the British National Corpus, as opposed to 50 for "the putative" and 36 for "the ostensible"

Warsaw Will June 26, 2014, 2:42am

1 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Hi - this seems a particularly North American custom and as a Brit I probably shouldn't be commenting, but the answer to your question can easily be found by searching for "family plaque established" at Google Images.

It would seem that in this sort of plaque (with est. + date) the word 'family' is usually added to the surname, so "The Myers Family" would be standard. But if you don't want "family", just use the plural - "The Myers" or possibly "The Myerses" (whichever you usually use) - one website suggests that we don't add -es to names where the final s sounds like z, but in Britain we talk about 'keeping up with the Joneses', so I'm not convinced by that one. On the other hand, Myers does indeed seem to be the most common plural form - Googling "life with the Myers" gets eleven hits, "life with the Myerses" - three. And there are a few blogs (well, three) which include "life with the Myers" in their titles.

But what seems clear is that a possessive apostrophe isn't used in this case: you are talking of your family as an entity, not as possessing anything.

Google oddities again - when I Googled "life with the Myers", it showed 1,190,000 hits, but then I noticed there were only two pages, and 1,190,000 turned out to be 11!

Warsaw Will June 25, 2014, 4:51pm

1 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Subwait , sub-wait and sub wait all seem to be used, either for an area where you wait for test results, or small waiting areas away from the main one. I thought it was a purely American term, but I've just found it used on the website of an NHS hospital in Wales (and on a closer look, there are quite a few British instances, at Guy's and St Thomas'for example).

This is from the Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust:

"Patients book in at a central reception desk where they are given a numbered ticket, all patients wait in one area until they are called through to the next "sub wait" area of the speciality they are waiting for. This ensures confidentiality as the announcement states only a number and an area. Finally they are then called from the sub wait area to a consulting room."

What do you mean 'what other words' - I'm confused, as sub in subwait is surely a prefix, differentiating various subwait areas from the main waiting area, and there must be hundreds of words with sub as a prefix - More Words list 1044 words starting with sub, mainly as a prefix: submarine, subdominant, subeditor etc.

But I presume that's not what you mean, even though I would say 'subwait area' falls into the same category. So do you mean simply as one word?

"Can you give me a sub" or "Can you sub me" - give me an advance on my wages

Or is it that you felt it was mainly limited to use in latinate words, such as subatomic? So how about these (all listed at More Words) - origins according to Online Etymology:

subgoal - goal is 'of uncertain origin'
subbreed - breed is from OE
subclan - clan is from Gaelic
subcooler - cool is from OE
subfield - field from OE

So the answer to your question is probably lots. And as to your wondering, I don't think the derivation of prefixes and suffixes matters much: they quickly get taken up for words with all sorts of derivations. As early as the 16th century, people were adding -ize (Latin, taken from Greek) suffixes to all manner of verbs already established in English, and not just those that had come from Latin. And think how 'pre' and 'post' are used - 'precook, pre-wedding jitters, postgraduate' (graduate may have come from medieval Latin, but the word postgraduate is of American origin).

This is from the Online Etymology Dictionary entry on 'sub':

'The prefix is active in Modern English, sometimes meaning "subordinate" (as in subcontractor); "inferior" (17c., as in subhuman); "smaller" (18c.); "a part or division of" (c.1800, as in subcontinent).'

These words were all coined in English, not taken from another language. Its use in 'subwait area' doesn't seem to me that different (apart from the dropping of 'ing') , and would seem to match that in 'subcontinent'.

Warsaw Will June 25, 2014, 4:09pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Lance - "In the UK I only ever heard these phrases ..."

As a few of us know, Hairy Scot no longer lives in the UK, so here he is correctly using past simple, not a slang version of present perfect, as in your examples. If we add "When I was" all becomes clear - "When I was in the UK I only ever heard these phrases ..."

Warsaw Will June 23, 2014, 10:53am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Ivorian Salomon Kalou, in the short My World Cup Dream, on BBC World News, calls it Ivory Coast.

Warsaw Will June 22, 2014, 4:32pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Chris B - The only other one I can find is Gibraltar, and a few island or island groups with 'island' in the name. Some single islands have the same adjectival form as the name, eg Pitcairn Island; some plural groups, such as the Solomon Islands can take a singular form for the adjective - the government there refers to itself as the Solomon Island Government, for example, but also seem to be used in the plural.

Warsaw Will June 22, 2014, 5:34am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Some commentators may be following the FIFA guidelines, but the print and online media certainly aren't. A site search of BBC Sport returns 9130 for Ivory Coast, with a mere 9 for Côte d'Ivoire, at Sky Sports it's 43,200 to 167, and the picture at the rest of the British media seems pretty similar. Google Search gives:

"Colombia beat Ivory Coast" - 165,000
"Colombia beat Côte d'Ivoire" - 9720
"Colombia beats Ivory Coast" - 196,000
"Colombia beats Côte d'Ivoire" - 2010

Warsaw Will June 22, 2014, 5:09am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Correction - perhaps not so obscure, and colloquial would be a better description than slang.

NB context is everything:

"More than 100 mph" = better, if speed is what you want
"More than 30 mpg" = better in terms of fuel economy
"Less than half price" = better for the buyer

Consider how "better than asking price" can mean "more than" or "less than", depending on context (these are all from the first page at Google Search)

"I think it will do better than the asking price - if there are two collectors it could sky-rocket." = more than
"My aim as a professional photographer is make your property look $50K-$100K better than the asking price" = more than
"I bought mine on ebay and only paid about $95 for it which is much better than the asking price" = less than
"I asked one of the sales people if they could do better than the asking price of $30 on the tag, which they could. ($20)" = less than

Warsaw Will June 20, 2014, 7:44am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Skeeter Lewis - I still don't know why you assume advertisers have picked up 'better-than-half-price' from a relatively obscure piece of American slang and 'got it wrong'? This expression makes perfect sense on its own, and there's no need at all to attribute it to the misunderstanding of anything. Except perhaps it allows you to get in a dig at 'the sort of people who write advertising copy'.

Warsaw Will June 20, 2014, 7:23am

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

An afterthought: couldn't these expressions be referring both to intelligence and the physical organ? I don't think the difference is so clear cut.

Warsaw Will June 17, 2014, 2:22pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@jayles the unwhateverwillitbenext - as a general idea, I'd agree with you:

"She's the brains of the family"

But Wiktionary gets it wrong when it says plural only for British English to mean intelligence. Oxford and Longman have 'usually plural', Macmillan 'often plural'.

And there are quite a few exceptions:
"She has an amazing brain" (more likely than "amazing brains")

"to blow somebody's brains out"

I don't see much difference in the meaning of brain(s) in the two expressions Dyske is talking about, yet in British English "rack your brains" is much more common in books than the singular version (according to Ngram) , whereas "use your brain" is marginally more common than the plural in BrE, and much more common in AmE .

What is also evident is that there is a movement towards the singular for "intelligence", especially in American English, where "use your brain" is nearly three times as common (in Ngram books) as the plural version, and even "rack your brain" is overtaking the plural version in AmE. In fact over the whole history of this idiom "rack your brains" and "rack your brain" have jockeyed for poll position.

@Hairy Scot - Ngram agrees with you, about two to one, in both BrE and AmE.

Warsaw Will June 17, 2014, 2:06pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Skeeter Lewis - As Brits, there are some who run writing courses who might disagree with you, in line with one of the definitions of 'mechanics' at Oxford Dictionaries Online - "The way in which something is done or operated":

"Postgraduates today, at least in the UK, experience increasing pressure to publish in ... These can range from issues to do with the mechanics of writing for publication." - Glasgow University

"The mechanics of writing"- University of York Computer Sciences Dept

"Mechanics of Writing a Literature Review"- uk-student.met

"Style and the Mechanics of Writing" - University College London

"Introduction to Mechanics of Writing (3 credits)" - City College Norwich

"on the mechanics of writing (e.g. spelling, punctuation and grammar) " - the Centre for Academic Writing at Coventry University

"Other students require specific assistance with the mechanics of writing." - Royal Literary Fund

The reason we don't hear much about it is that we don't have the same tradition of university writing schools that America has. That's partly why the MA course in Creative Writing at UEA, set up in 1970 and led by Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson, was so revolutionary. It was only really in the nineties that British universities started to introduce writing schools.

American university writing school websites, such as the OWL at Purdue University, currently celebrating its 2oth anniversary, can be a great resource for anyone wanting to do any kind of writing, not just creative writing, or to check grammar, punctuation rules etc.

Warsaw Will June 16, 2014, 2:41pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

@Dyske - some five years later I bet your daughter has got them sorted now. At the age of four, children are still mastering the basic rules, and the whole beauty of language acquisition is that they do indeed learn logical patterns, not in a piecemeal way - see Stephen Pinker's 'The Language Instinct'.

At that age this is nothing to worry about as by about the age of eight most of then have sorted out the most common irregularities.

It's different for ESL students, incidentally, as they learn the irregular forms at the same time as learning the rules for regular forms.

Warsaw Will June 15, 2014, 2:12pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

An infinitive without "to", also known as the bare infinitive, is used after modal auxiliary verbs (amongst others), for example:

"can do, will do, must do" etc

The verb "need" is a semi-modal, which means it can be used like a modal auxiliary verb or an ordinary verb:

"He need not wait." - modal with bare infinitive
"He doesn't need to wait." - normal verb with "to"-infinitive

The modal use "need" really only occurs in negatives an questions "Need I do it right now?", and normal verb use is probably becoming more common, and the modal use .

As far as I'm concerned "He needs not wait."is ungrammatical: it is neither modal nor normal verb use, but is trying to mix the two. At Oxford Online they say "he need not worry, not he needs not worry": (see Usage Note)

Warsaw Will June 15, 2014, 1:57pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

I'd never heard of mechanics being used in this way before (I think it's mainly American - actually the whole idea of writing schools is pretty American). But a quick look around suggests that some good writing websites, such as, and The Owl at Purdue University do indeed distinguish between the two. For them, mechanics seems to refer to things like like sentence structure, spelling and capitalization, the use of numerals and other symbols such as italics, etc. Incidentally, apostrophes and hyphens seem to belong to mechanics rather than punctuation in this definition.

Other websites, however, such as, and the University of Minnesota, include punctuation under mechanics.

You pays your money and you takes your choice!

Warsaw Will June 15, 2014, 1:39pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Seinfeld may well have popularised it, but it was around well before that. Earliest example at Google Books is from a comedy from 1924, but it really seems to have taken off in the 1960s. This is from "Sex and the Office", by Helen Gurley Brown, from 1964 - "He helped out in the rose garden at home — not that there's anything wrong with that", and this is from 1967 - "... question of tolerance, disgust, hate, nor anything else, but lechery (not that there's anything wrong with that). " ("Anything goes", by Bine Strange Petersen, 1967)

Warsaw Will June 15, 2014, 1:05pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse

Looking again at the original question, I've noticed that, apart from the fact that strict grammarians wouldn't allow "her" as the subject, there is an inconsistency here, in that "her" is objective and "I" subjective.

In neutral to formal English, we would indeed say "She and I travelled to Kansas together", but in Britain, at least, in informal conversation it's becoming quite common to use objective pronouns when there is a compound subject as in this example (but never with a single subject) - and in this case the "stand alone" rule doesn't apply. But when this happens, in the majority of cases "me" comes first, so "Me and her travelled to Kansas together" is probably more idiomatic than "Her and me travelled ...". But I stress, this only happens in informal, conversational English.

Warsaw Will June 15, 2014, 12:49pm

0 vote    Permalink    Report Abuse