Sunday, July 29, 2007

16. LIE or LAY--What Do You Say?

Hey, Everybody! I hope you're all doing well and continuing to enjoy these long (hot) summer days. Thankfully, the frog strangler I hoped for last time finally appeared! Did we ever need it! More would be all right, too. :-)

Today's lesson will attempt to address a problem many grammarians say is the toughest one in our language and I'll have to say that I'm in complete agreement--at least my experience supports that. Let's see if we can get these verbs straight once and for all. There honestly is an easy way to figure it out and if you use this method, you should be fine and never make a mistake again.

The verbs LIE and LAY (and some of their forms) seem to give people trouble--big time! So what is the problem and why is this so? There are several possibilities and I'll go through them-- one step at a time--hoping things will be clarified for you.

First, let me remind you about something you already know: Verbs have many tenses and forms. What this means is that, depending on the tense, person, and number, verbs often change form. For example, in present tense, you know that the verb WALK would be conjugated the following way:

I walk (1st person)
you walk (2nd person)
he, she, it walks (3rd person)

we walk (1st person)
you walk (2nd person)
they walk (3rd person)

Here, only the 3rd person singular verb changes (S on the end of WALK) while the other five remain WALK. However, if you continued to conjugate this verb in past tense, future tense, etc., you would be adding "ed" and other words, such as SHALL, WILL, HAD, HAVE, and even ING in the progressive form. Now don't let this confuse you--only remember here that verbs change forms sometime!

Okay, so now let's take a look at the verb LIE. There are two very important things to remember about this verb:

(1) LIE (and all of its forms) means "to rest or to recline". This means not only people and animals, but anything.

A newspaper LIES on the floor. (not LAYS)
A coat LIES on the chair. (not LAYS)
A truck LIES on its side. (not LAYS)
The leaves (LIE) on the ground. (not LAY UNLESS you're using past tense)

See how many times you've heard (or said?) this incorrectly? When you're trying to decide whether to use LIE or LAY (or one of its forms), ask yourself, "What does the word in question --LIE or LAY--mean?" If it means" resting or reclining", then use LIE (1st and 2nd person singular or 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person plural, present tense) , LIES (3rd person singular, present tense), LAY (past tense), or LYING (progressive form).

Right here, I have to interrupt this lesson to call something to your attention that may have contributed to your confusion with LIE. Did you notice that the past tense of LIE is LAY? This is not the same LAY as the next verb we're going to study. Unfortunately, LAY here is not only the past tense of LIE, but it's also another verb with completely different forms in number, person, and tense. AARGH!! If only our forefathers had "invented" another past tense word for LIE! No wonder this is so tough! Don't worry, though. Just keep in mind the first rule above and ask yourself what the verb in question means --"rest or recline". If "rest or recline" is what is meant in the sentence, then use a form of LIE.

(2) The other very important thing to remember about LIE (and all of its forms) is that there is no direct object following LIE in any of its forms.

Do you remember what direct objects are? They are simply nouns or pronouns that answer the questions "What?" or "Whom?" after the subject and verb in a sentence.

Here are some examples:

John threw the ball.

"John" is the subject and "threw" is the verb. Now say the subject and verb to yourself and then ask the questions "What?" or "Whom?". If you have an answer that is a noun or pronoun, then you have a direct object in the sentence.

John threw what? "Ball" is the answer and it's a noun, so "ball" is the direct object.

Now, notice this sentence:

Susie lies out in the sun every weekend.

"Susie" is the subject and "lies" (not lays) is the present tense form of the verb.

Why? Try the direct object test:

Susie lies what? This doesn't make sense -- there's no answer to that. Some folks might think the answer is that she wants to lie in the sun... but remember that the direct object must be a noun or pronoun--not a group of words as seen in this sentence. Also lying in the sun doesn't answer "What?" but "Where?"

Next, let's take a look at LAY. Fortunately, we don't seem to have quite as much trouble with LAY and its forms as we do with LIE and its forms, but problems do crop up sometimes, so we'll review this also. Just as it is true with LIE, there are two very important things to keep in mind about LAY:

(1) LAY (and all of its forms) means "to put or place" something. It always names the thing that is put somewhere.

Please LAY the book on the table. (Not LIE)
Did you LAY the strawberries on the counter. (Not LIE)
I'm LAYING your News Reporter here so you can read it. (Not LYING)
I LAID your jacket on the bed. (Not LAY)

Again, if you're in doubt about which form of LIE or LAY is correct, ask yourself what the word in question means in the sentence. If it means "putting or placing something", a form of LAY is correct, and the actual verb LAY should be used in 1st and 2nd person singular and 1st, 2nd and 3rd plural, present tense or one of its other forms, such as LAYS (3rd person singular, present tense), LAID (past tense) and LAYING (progressive form).

(2) LAY (and all of its forms) always takes a direct object. Remember to ask "what?" or "whom?" after saying the subject and verb and if you have a noun or pronoun answer, then a form of LAY is the correct verb to use. Notice this example:

Did you LAY the straw where I wanted it?

"You" is the subject and "Did lay" is the verb. Now try the direct object test.

You did lay "What?" or "Whom?" Yes! There's an answer to "what?" and that answer is "straw", so you'd be correct to use a form of LAY, which in this case is LAY (not LIE). Try one more:

She LAID the baby next to the kitten for the photograph.

"She" is the subject and "laid" is the verb. Again, try the direct object test.

She laid what or whom? Yes, once more, an answer! This time the answer is "baby", so using LAID (not LAY) is correct.

So how are you doing? Ready to try a few sentences on your own? Here goes...

(1) Lake Waccamaw (lies, lays) in the heart of Columbus County, NC.
(2) The leaves have (lain, laid) in their yard for months.
(3) We have been (lying, laying) on this beach for four hours.
(4) The mail (lay, laid) on the dining room table.
(5) Grandma (lay, laid) her cares aside after hearing the good news about her grandson.

I hope this wasn't too tough. Here are the answers and explanations.

(1) " lies" is correct because it it is a present tense form of the verb LIE and means (in this case) "resting or reclining." Now, this might sound strange, but remember that in this context, not only people and animals do this--everything else does, too. The other reason is that there is no direct object in this sentence. LAKE WACCAMAW LIES "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There is no answer to the question.

(2) "lain" is correct because it is the past participle form of the verb LIE and means "resting or reclining." Once again, there is no direct object in the sentence. LEAVES HAVE LAIN "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There is no answer.

(3) "lying" is correct because it is the present participle form of the verb LIE and means "resting or reclining," and, as before, there's no direct object in the sentence. WE HAVE BEEN LYING "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There's no answer.

(4) "lay" is correct because it is the past tense form of the verb LIE and means "resting or reclining," and, again, there is no direct object in the sentence. THE MAIL LAY "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There's also no answer to the question.

(5) "laid" is correct because it is the past participle form of LAY and means "putting or placing something," and there is (finally!) a direct object. GRANDMA LAID "what?" or "whom?" This time there is an answer--"cares."

Wow! This has been a long lesson, and I'll have to admit that I've been worried I might lose some of you, but in case you're still here, I hope things have been clarified somewhat.

Here's it all in a peanut shell:

(1) Use LIE and its forms when the meaning in the sentence is "resting or reclining" and there's NO direct object

(2) Use LAY and its forms when the meaning in the sentence is "putting or placing something" and there IS a direct object.

By the way, the verb LIE meaning "to tell an untruth or fib" has nothing to do with the LIE in this lesson. As a matter of fact, some of the principal parts of this LIE are also different. They are LIE, LYING, LIED, AND LIED.

Practice thinking about the rules we've looked at today and you'll have this down pat faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. Also, do me a big favor and remember that you don't LAY out to get a suntan, you LIE out to get one. It's true!! Let me know if another practice on these verbs would be helpful.

Take care this week and enjoy all the good things life has to offer. Peace and happiness, GG

Monday, July 23, 2007

15. The Fewer-Less Mess

Hey, Grammar Bloggers! How are you all doing in this sizzling heat? What we need around here in Columbus County right now is a real frog strangler, but, so far, no luck.

Okay, to help pass the time today we'll take a look at a grammar problem suggested by one of my former English students (and a very good one at that!) who is also an English major. One of his pet peeves is the misuse of FEWER and LESS, especially seen in grocery store signs advertising items for sale, but most certainly not exclusively there.

So what is the problem with these two adjectives? It seems that FEWER and LESS are often used interchangeably when they should not be. Here's a very simple way to get this straight once and for all:

Simply put, FEWER should be used when you are referring to nouns that can be counted or that name a number of SEPARATE objects and are PLURAL. An example is shown here:

Buy FEWER apples than you did last week. (It would be easy to count the apples--whether there are two or twenty, so FEWER is correct. Also notice that apples are separate objects and they are referred to in the PLURAL form.)

LESS should be used when you are referring to nouns that cannot be counted easily or that name a WHOLE collection, quantity, or group and are referred to in the SINGULAR form. An example of this use is shown here:

We cooked LESS rice last night than we did the night before. (Here, counting the rice would be pretty hard to do. We are referring to a WHOLE "quantity" of rice and notice that the word RICE is SINGULAR.)

Pretty easy, huh? Let's see how well you do with the following sentences:

(1) The rent was (fewer, less) than $400.

(2) Grandpa tells (fewer, less) funny stories than Grandma.

(3) Our new neighborhood has (fewer, less) children than our old one had.

(4) My lawn has (fewer, less) weeds now than it had last summer.

(5) My new car cost me (fewer, less) money than my neighbor's car cost him.

The correct answers are

(1) less
(2) fewer
(3) fewer
(4) fewer
(5) less

In sentences 1 and 5, LESS is correct because the rent and money are being referred to as a group or quantity, and both nouns are SINGULAR.

In sentences 2,3, and 4 the opposite is happening. The stories, children, and weeds can be counted, (although it's true that it might be a little difficult to count the weeds--especially in my yard). Notice, though, that all three nouns are plural. Therefore, the correct answer is FEWER. This is a great way to double check the use if you have any questions.

Okay, I'm signing off for today. Enjoy your week and thanks a bunch for visiting. GG

Sunday, July 15, 2007

14. The Wacky Wasn't - Weren't Error

The Wacky Wasn't/Weren't Error

Hello, Everybody! I hope you've all had a great week and have been able to relax and enjoy the summertime. Have you noticed any grammar errors on signs, in newspapers, on TV, and from people you've heard speaking? I'd love to hear about them. (No names, please!) Maddeningly, for me, a day doesn't go by without some mistake rearing its ugly little head! Since I've been writing this blog, I'm amazed to hear from so many people that feel as I do. We can do better! And nearly everyone has pet peeves about our language.'s lesson will address one I used to hear in school all the time! I don't know if this is mainly a Columbus County boo-boo, but it surely is heard around here enough to belong to us.

Groan...What's up with the misuse of WASN'T and WEREN'T? Here's the kind of thing I've heard way too many times:

Lewis WEREN'T going to the lake today unless Ann went with him.

I WEREN'T the only one who failed that test.

It WEREN'T me who wrecked that car!

Now, please tell me that none of you would ever say anything like these examples!!

What's going on in these sentences is that one of the wrong past tense forms of the verb "to be" (WEREn't) is being used instead of the correct one (WASn't). By the way, for some reason, this problem doesn't seem to appear very much unless the negative part of these words--the n't--is added. ( For example, it's rare to hear someone say, "Lewis WERE going to the lake today unless Ann went with him." Whew...Thank goodness.) The verb "to be" is probably the most irregular verb in our language and we do have lots of different kinds of trouble with it. However, for now, we're going to focus only on this part of the problem.

This is all you need to know: Just remember that the use of WEREn't is only correct when it is used with 2nd person singular and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person plural subjects. Now for anyone out there who may have forgotten what this means, just think about conjugating verbs. Did you ever do that in school?

The conjugation of verbs simply means the arrangement of verbs by tenses, number, gender, case, etc. Here, we mean tense, number, and gender. If you've ever studied a foreign language, you've very likely been introduced to this, since being able to conjugate a verb can be an important part of learning the language. Nevertheless, if you haven't studied a new language, never problem. Let me show you.

Here's the conjugation of the verb TO BE in the past tense:


I was (first person)

You were (second person)

He, She, It was (third person)


We were (first person)

You were (second person)

They were (third person)

Did you notice that WERE is shown only beside "You" (second person singular), "We" (first person plural), "You" (second person plural), and "They" (third person plural)? Now how does this relate to the three sentences above? In the conjugation, only PRONOUNS are used, but they "stand for" the subject that the verb agrees with in the sentence. the first sentence, "he" would stand for "Lewis." You can see that "he" is third person singular, so the correct verb is not WERE, but WAS. (Or WASN'T in this case.) Incidentally, this is the only time when the gender issue applies -- if a female or "it" is the subject, both would also use WAS.

In the second sentence, "I" (the pronoun) is actually used, so you can see above that only WASn't is correct (first person singular)

In the third sentence, "It" is, again, third person singular, so WASn't is correct. I must say here that this example sentence is not a good one at all because there is no antecedent for "It" in the sentence -- that is, there's no word that stands for "It." The sentence would be much more agreeable if it read "I'm not the one who wrecked that car," but because this error is heard so often in conversation, I have reluctantly included it. Try your best to avoid this type of weak sentence, but if you must say this, at least get the verb right! Use WASn't!! Thank you.

I hope you all have a great week! Thanks again for visiting. Peace and happiness, GG

Sunday, July 8, 2007

13. The Bring/Take Confusion

Hey, Y'all... Once again, I hope you're all doing well and enjoying those delicious veggies and fruits that are coming in from the garden right about now. There's nothing like our Southern corn, tomatoes, butter beans, field peas, strawberries, watermelons, blueberries, peaches, boiled peanuts, etc. Ah, joy!

Now, after that reminder that we live in a blessed locale, we'll tackle today's lesson. This one has been inspired by a former colleague of mine, another English teacher, who suggested that we address one of her pet grammar peeves heard all the time: The misuse of BRING and TAKE.

These two verbs shouldn't be much of a problem for any of you if you'll just keep a few thoughts in mind:

First, let's begin with the definition of each word. BRING simply means "motion TOWARD someone or some place." If you can associate COME with BRING, use BRING--COME to the picnic and BRING some fried chicken.

TAKE means "motion AWAY FROM someone or some place." If you can associate GO with TAKE, use TAKE -- GO home and TAKE your loud-mouthed friends with you.

In other words, just ask yourself which way something is moving. Is it COMING or GOING? If it's COMING, someone's BRINGING it. If it's GOING, someone's TAKING it.

Now sometimes you can get into a foggy area where you're not sure which one of these two verbs should be used. The best way to determine which word is correct depends on your perspective--on which end of the journey you're talking about, the ORIGIN or the DESTINATION. For example, say you have been invited to a friend's home for dinner. "What should I BRING?" you ask your friend. "BRING dessert," she answers. In this case, both you and your friend are speaking of the dessert at its point of DESTINATION. A few minutes later, you ask your brother, "What kind of dessert should I TAKE?" Your brother says, "TAKE peach cobbler." Now you are both speaking of the dessert from its point of ORIGIN.

For a little practice, try the following sentences to see how well you understand these rules:

1. In the afternoon Shirley Jo will (bring, take) the children to the exhibit.

2. (Bring, Take) your bathing suit with you to the beach.

3. Bill wanted his wife, Samantha, to (bring, take) him his bedroom shoes.

4. Samantha told him to (bring, take) them himself.

5. You should (bring, take) that extra watermelon to our next door neighbors.

Okay, I'm hoping this was pretty easy. Sentences number 1 and 5 should be TAKE. (Think "moving away from" or "going.")

Sentences 2,3,and 4 should be BRING. (Think "moving TOWARD" or "COMING TOWARD.")

So, how did you do? Pretty easy, I hope. The misuse of these two little verbs can be very annoying, so be careful and be sure you know which one is correct to use. Maybe if more of us use them correctly, we can influence others -- including some newscasters, speakers, and anyone else who (especially) speaks to us through the media.

See you next time and let me know about more of your pet grammar peeves. Meanwhile, enjoy the scrumptious bounty from our fields! Have a great week. GG

Monday, July 2, 2007

12. Hanging Around

Hey, Y'all! I hope you're all enjoying your summer! While you're "hanging around" the beach, pool, or enjoying a vacation to some exotic locale, keep in mind today's topic--one that we seem to hear quite a bit. Which past tense verb is correct to use: HANGED or HUNG? This one really shouldn't be difficult at all if you'll just keep a couple of things in mind.

First, though, try these sentences to see if you know the difference between the two uses:

1. The criminal was (hanged, hung) at high noon.

2. The mourners (hanged, hung) a weath on the family's door.

3. The mob (hanged, hung) its enemy in effigy.

4. My boyfriend got mad and (hanged, hung) up on me.

5. Robert (hanged, hung) out with his friends all weekend.

So, how did you do? HANGED is correct in only two sentences: 1 and 3. HUNG is correct in 2, 4, and 5. Now, as you may know, the main problem we seem to have with these two past tense verbs is illustrated in the use of HANGED in sentences 1 and 3. We often misuse this verb and use HUNG instead.

Here's all you need to remember: The verb HANG has two correct past tenses: HANGED and HUNG. The only time you need to worry about using HANGED is when the sentence is referring to THE EXECUTION OF A PERSON OR PERSONS . When you use HUNG, you are generally referring to the placement or suspension of an object on a wall, ceiling, hook, or elsewhere.

Therefore, except at the gallows, HUNG is the correct past tense of HANG: He HUNG loose...HUNG out...HUNG around...HUNG laundry, etc.

I hope you see how easy this one is! Enjoy your week and thanks for visiting. GG