This is "wings down" the most mind boggling word trio around. Period. If you're confused, rest assured, you're in good company. But I aim to clear that confusion, so pour yourself a beverage and grab your glasses. I'll do my best to LAY the rules on you straight!
Perhaps the biggest cause for confusion has to do with the mixed up present and past tense forms. So I'll take them one at a time.
LIE is an action YOU DO FOR YOURSELF. It typically means to stretch out on the floor, bed, or couch. It's also appropriate to command another person or animal to do it, as long the ones you command are in control. (LIE is also the opposite of TRUTH, another topic entirely.) Here are two examples:
1) "It's bedtime, Spike, so LIE down," you say in your firmest voice. But Spike grabs his ball and runs circles around the kitchen table instead.
2) Oh boy, I'm feeling sleepy. I think I'm going to LIE down.
LAY is appropriate when YOU'RE ACTING ON SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ELSE. Even a part of one's own self qualifies as "something else" where LAY is concerned! You can LAY a book upon a table, LAY your hand on your heart, or LAY your hand on someone else's arm. Here's a two-for-one example:
When I LAY my book on the ottoman, my dog LAYS her head on top of it.
Now for PAST TENSE:
LAY IS THE PAST TENSE OF LIE! Now you know the root of your confusion!! Here are two examples:
1) When I LAY on my bed last night, I got the worst pain in my lower back.
2) I asked Spike to LAY down, but he ran in circles instead.
LAID IS THE PAST TENSE OF LAY! At least this seems to make sense. Here's an example:
When I LAID my tower of books on the table, I made triply sure they didn't fall.
I'll leave you with this handy chart, courtesy of Grammar Lunchbox.
Thanks for reading my humble blog. If there are any word pairs that especially vex you, let me know! I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.
Laura Fineberg Cooper
If you think LESS and FEWER mean the same thing, you're more or LESS correct. But they aren't inter-changeable! Why? I'll tell you as simply and sweetly as possible. It's a question of COUNTABILITY!
1) Use FEWER when you CAN count the nouns in question:
goats, dogs, balls, chairs, boxes, teachers, lamps, calories, spoons
2) Use LESS when you CAN'T count the nouns in question:
sand, milk, rice, gas, oatmeal, sugar, water, love, honesty
Do you notice another difference between the two lists? Noodle that question before you look at my answer!
My answer: the nouns in the FEWER list are all plural. The nouns in the LESS list are considered singular and never change form.
So candy uses LESS and Hershey Kisses use FEWER, though you'll never catch me saying, "Please, give me FEWER Kisses!" However, it would be accurate for me to say, "I eat LESS candy now than I did in my youth."
What about "10 items or LESS?" I'm sure you've all seen a sign like that, as they appear in most grocery stores. 10 items are definitely countable, and the word "items" is plural as well. It seems pretty clear that "10 items or FEWER" would be more accurate. I concede, however, that "10 items or LESS" sounds better. You be the judge!
Thank you for reading and sharing "A Spoonful of Grammar." Tune in next Sunday for another tricky word pair. Or sign up to receive my posts directly in your inbox.
Laura Fineberg Cooper
HOMOPHONES sound the same but have different meanings, commonly creating chaos and confusion. If you're familiar with the Thomas the Tank Engine series on PBS, you can think of HOMOPHONES as the Troublesome Trucks of vocabulary! As the title suggests, the goal of Spoonful #26 is to stop PAST and PASSED confusion in its tracks.
PAST refers to a time gone by. The opposite is PRESENT, as in an event that's happening right now or ongoing.
#1: If you're reading this post in the PRESENT, I thank you very much. If you've read many of my PAST posts as well, I'm tickled pink.
#2: Essays for English class are standardly written in PRESENT tense, while novels may be written in PRESENT or PAST tense.
When is PASSED appropriately used? First, PASSED is the PAST tense of PASS.
#3: When I worked at my former job, I PASSED the YMCA every day on my drive to work.
#4: Whoo-ee: John just PASSED gas again!
#5: I'm open! PASS me the ball! In the last game, you PASSED the ball to everyone but me.
PASSED can also mean "rejected", "turned down," or "skipped."
In this case, it will be followed by "on" or "over."
#6: Wilma PASSED ON Jane's offer to drive her home.
#7: Roger PASSED ON the camping trip because he had a family commitment.
#8: Skippy was PASSED OVER for a promotion once again.
The third way PASSED is used is when referring to a person or pet who has died.
#9: After her goldfish Goldie PASSED away, Gretchen sobbed for a solid month.
#10: After her beloved Grandma Greta PASSED, Mariana slept with her Grandma's favorite teddy bear.
That's a wrap! I wish students a wonderful new school year and grownups a fantastically fulfilling Fall. Happy Labor Day, everyone!!
Laura Fineberg Cooper
P.S. Spoonful #25 offers a summary (with links) of #1-#24
I can't believe this is my 25th Spoonful of Grammar!
If you missed one along the way, don't fret. Below is a listing of Spoonfuls #1-24, with hints about what each one covers. Click on a blue title, and you'll be linked to the corresponding Spoonful.
To allow everyone a chance to catch up, A Spoonful of Grammar will take a hiatus until after Labor Day. But I always welcome your comments on my existing posts and suggestions for future ones.
Thank you so much for reading and sharing my blog!
Spoonful #1: WELCOME!
Welcome to A Spoonful of Grammar. This includes a fun, snappy refrain.
Spoonful #2: VERBS
Action verbs vs. forms of "To Be." Plus, a comment on passive vs active sentences.
Learning how to identify the subject of a sentence
Spoonful #4: SUBJECT-VERB AGREEMENT
Hear ye, hear ye, calling all SAT students: this is one of grammar's most important rules!
Spoonful #5: INDEFINITE PRONOUNS
A list of indefinite pronouns, split between singular and plural forms
Spoonful #6: USING INDEFINITE PRONOUNS
Sentences using indefinite pronouns. Useful for everybody.
Spoonful #7: SEMICOLONS SPEAK OUT
You'll never get semicolons confused with colons again! I promise.
Spoonful #8: COLONS TAKE A STAND
Formal vs. informal colon usage. Here's a hint: this is the formal way, but the informal way is used frequently in this post.
Spoonful #9:MEET THE FANBOYS
Comma Rule #1: When FANBOYS stand between two independent clauses
Spoonful #10: FANBOYS STRIKE AGAIN
Comma Rule #2: When FANBOYS stand between an independent clause and a fragment
Spoonful #11: AND TAKES CENTER STAGE
Comma Rule #3: Using commas to separate items in a series
Spoonful #12: THREE CHEERS FOR PARALLELISM
This is my favorite grammar rule. Using parallelism will make your writing and speeches sing! The SAT likes this rule, too.
Spoonful #13: AND DESERVES A BREAK
Comma Rule#4: When multiple adjectives describe the same noun
Spoonful #14: COMMA, COMMA, DASH, DASH
Comma Rule #5: Comma usage with appositive phrases. Learn how to identify an appositive phrase, and dare to use one yourself.
Spoonful #15: DON'T EAT GRANDMA
Comma Rule #6: Comma usage with direct addresses. Avoid tragedy and embarrassment by learning this rule!
Spoonful #16: HE SAID, SHE SAID
Comma Rule #7: when dialogue tags come first. This is the first of a three-post series on dialogue tags, helpful for writers of all ages.
Spoonful #17: TAG, YOU'RE IT!
Comma Rule #8: when dialogue tags come last
Spoonful #18: "SAY WHAT?" FINALE
Comma Rule #9: when dialogue tags appear in the middle
Spoonful #19: COLLECTIVE CONFUSION
Learn when to treat collective nouns as singular or plural.
Spoonful #20: HOMOPHONE FUN
The trickiest homophones concern contractions, like its vs. it's.
Spoonful #21: THE GREEK ROOT PHON
12 words rooted in SOUND, plus a fun fact.
Spoonful #22: ALL ABOUT TIME
The Greek root CHRON - a great post for summerTIME.
Spoonful #23: THE MOST HELPFUL LATIN ROOTS
Let's hear it for BENE (good) and MAL (bad). They have my vote!
Spoonful #24: BON APPETIT!
The French influence behind many of our favorite food words.
I wish you all a delightfully sweet summer break.
Laura Fineberg Cooper
How to contact me:
My website: laurafcooper.com
Facebook: Laura Fineberg Cooper
It should come as no surprise that many words derived (or borrowed) from the French concern good food!
So grab a fresh, flaky croissant and pay homage with me.
Next up is my favorite dessert: a warm chocolate soufflé. (You may be interested in learning that "chocolate" hails from Spain, courtesy of Hernan Cortes and his Aztec discovery.)
After watching all these cooking shows, you might be tempted to add alcohol to a hot pan and watch it flambé. But here's a tip: sautés are easier and usually don't require a backup fire extinguisher.
Have you noticed how many cafés and bistros there are in the U.S.? They serve the best warm, crusty baguettes. Ironically, we went to a bistro on Saturday night, and yes, the baguettes were wonderful.
I'm sure many of you have attended events that served food à la carte instead of serving pre-selected menus. Regardless of which way the main course was presented, I hope your hosts passed around tasty hors d'oeuvres and offered vinaigrette dressing for the salad.
Do you prefer a picnic? Or going out to a restaurant? Either way, please invite me along.
Bon appétit!! Make sure you check in next Sunday for a review of Spoonfuls #1-#24 (with helpful links).
Laura Fineberg Cooper