Common Grammatical Errors by Roseann Armstrong
When my daughter decided to take freshman Latin, I cleared my throat and smiled. Latin, huh? Not the ever-popular Spanish. Nor the romantic French. No. My daughter wanted to study the language of the ancient Romans.
Latin may be as dead as a Coliseum gladiator, but English is alive and flourishing. In fact, sometimes our mother tongue can be a bit too peppy. During the next several weeks, we’ll cover many of those trickier grammatical questions, starting with the comma splice and the lay/lie confusion.
A comma splice occurs when two complete sentences (independent clauses) are joined by a comma alone. The comma’s pause is too brief to provide the strong separation needed between two independent clauses.
Incorrect: Her heel caught on the rug, she stumbled forward.
How do you fix a comma splice? You can:
1. Insert a coordinating conjunction after the comma: Her heel caught on the rug, and she stumbled forward. 2. Replace the comma with a semi-colon: Her heel caught on the rug; she stumbled forward.
3. Change one of the sentences to a dependent clause by using a subordinating conjunction (when, in this case): When her heel caught on the rug, she stumbled forward.
4. Substitute a period for the comma: Her heel caught on the rug. She stumbled forward.
Note: Some comma splices are intentional, but we’ll save that for another time.
Lay or Lie
For many writers, the lay/lie choice is a real dilemma. And it’s no wonder. Lay is the present tense of one verb, and the past tense of the other (lie). Here are a few tips that may help you the next time you’re confronted with the lay/lie decision.
If your heroine is putting or setting something down, use lay or one of its forms (lay, laid, laid, laying).
Remember: Lay is a transitive verb. The action of a transitive verb is transferred to the direct object. In other words, lay requires a direct object to express a complete thought.
She laid a manuscript on the editor’s desk.
The transitive verb laid (past tense of lay) tells us what the subject (she) did to the object (manuscript). Hint: You can find the direct object by asking what or whom after the verb. She laid what? She laid manuscript.
Lie, on the other hand, is an intransitive verb. The action of an intransitive verb isn’t being transferred to something or someone. In other words, the intransitive verb never takes a direct object. The sentence is complete without one.
The dog lay on the grass.
The intransitive verb lay is the past tense of the verb lie (lie, lay, lain, lying), meaning to rest or recline. Dog is the subject, and nothing receives the action of the verb. By the way, the on the grass is an adverbial modifier telling where (but not whom or what) the dog lay.
I lie under a tree on summer days. Again, the action of the verb ends with lie. (I can’t lie what or whom.) Under a tree and on summer days are modifiers telling where and when.
Finally, don’t confuse either of the verbs above with the second lie, also an intransitive verb. Against the advice of her attorney, she lied on the witness stand. Here, lied is the past tense of lie (lie, lied, lied, lying), meaning to make an untrue statement.
Answers will appear in the next installment.
1. Yesterday she (lay, laid) in bed all day.
2. He likes to (lay, lie) in the hammock.
3. Before they arrived, she had (lain, laid) the dishes on the table.
4. “(Lie, lay) down,” she said to the toddler.
5. You can (lay, lie) the hamburgers on the grill.
Roseann Armstrong is the Senior Editor for the Champagne Rose line.