Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #1

From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The tenth of a ten-part series.

#1. Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps

 Drum roll please . . . the error I see most often when editing manuscripts concerns the use of the confounding verb lie, which is often confused with the related verb, lay.

Lay vs. Lie

The confusion lies with lay, which has two related yet distinct meanings:

1. lay: to put or place or set something (i.e., an object) somewhere.

Please lay (put) the book on the table.

Please lay (put) the dog down; she doesn’t like to be held.

2. lay: past tense of the verb lie,  to be or remain in a flat or horizontal position, to recline.

He laid (put) the book on the table, and it lay (remained) there for three days.

After laying (putting) the book on the table, he tripped on the dog and fell, hit his head and lay (remained) on the floor, unconscious.

The manuscripts I get from dogs never make the lay vs. lie error.

lay-down2

The problem dogs have is that when a human says “lay down,” the dogs hear “put down” and fear they are about to be euthanized. So, I implore you, do not terrorize your dog, say lie down, not lay down. (And remember, let sleeping dogs lie.)

Conjugation of lay and lie:

                   Present    Participle   Past    Past Participle

  • Lay                  lay          laying        laid          laid
  • Lie                   lie           lying          lay           lain

As you can see, the present tense form of lay is “lay” and the past tense form of lie is “lay.” Therein lies the consternation. They are homonyms. (Again, don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger.)

People complain that the correct usage “doesn’t sound right to me.” That’s probably because they have heard/seen it used incorrectly so many times.

Here’s a way to remember and discern the difference:

  • When using lie: substitute “recline” and see if the context still makes sense.

I’m tired; I will lie on the sofa. I’m tired; I will recline on the sofa.

  • When using lay: substitute “put” or “place”  or “set” and see if the context still makes sense.

I will lay the book on the table. I will put (or place or set) the book on the table.

Examples of usage:

incorrect:       Inside the box, the pizza laid stiff and hot.
incorrect:       Inside the box, the pizza lied stiff and hot.
incorrect:       She told her dog to lay down.
incorrect:       He laid on the bed.
incorrect:       She lied down on the bed.

correct:          Inside the box, the pizza lay stiff and hot.
correct:          She told her dog to lie down.
correct:          He lay on the bed.
correct:          He laid his head on the pillow.
correct:          She lied to the policeman.

Clarity, not confusion.

A hen lays an egg; your mom lies down because you’re giving her a headache.

The hen laid an egg; your mom lay down because you gave her a headache.

The hen had laid an egg; your mom had lain down because you had given her a headache.

Old prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep . . .

Q: Correct or incorrect?
A: Correct, because it includes the object “me.”

grammar_girl_christmas

Contender in the Verbal Abuse Ring

I have spotted a contender on the move: Comprise

  • Comprise vs. Compose: the verb comprise stands alone, unlike compose or consist, which need the preposition “of” to prop them up.
  • Comprise vs. Include: comprise implies every component within the object in question—the whole shebang, as it were—whereas include implies a partial list.

The whole comprises the parts, and the parts compose the whole.

— Jonathon Owen

Examples:

    • The deluxe cheeseburger comprises seven layers: bun, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and condiments.
    • The deluxe cheeseurger is composed of (consists of) seven layers: bun, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and condiments.
    • The deluxe cheesburger includes the bun, meat, and cheese, as well as optional items.

I’m not alone in this seeing this. Jonathon Owen, in his blog Arrant Pedantry, cited this example from Wired magazine:

It is in fact a Meson (which comprise of a quark and an anti-quark).

Correct usage:

It is in fact a Meson (which comprises a quark and an anti-quark).

grammar_police

Also-rans in the court of public discourse:

  • Lead vs. Lead—the past tense of the verb lead is led, not lead.

incorrect: They hiked up the mountain, lead by a park ranger.

correct: They hiked up the mountain, led by a park ranger.

As a verb, “lead” is pronounced “leed.”

As a noun, the metal “lead”—as in lead bullet or lead pipe—is pronounced “led,” rhymes with dead.

Seems simple enough, yes? Yet, I see this periodically and have spotted it in books by best-selling authors, published by the biggest houses in New York. (I will save them embarrassment by not revealing the authors’ names or their publishers—for now.)

  • Hanged vs. Hung—a criminal is hanged by the neck until dead, pictures are hung on the wall.
  • Pleaded vs. Pled—the defendant pleaded not guilty, not pled. (Yeah, yeah, I hear lawyers use “pled.” I rest my case.)

Resources

grammar_girl_tips

Rewind:

Introduction
#10 They’re, Their Now: Contractions & Homophonic Convergence
#9. Commagain? Oxford Comma, Comma Splice & Dialogue Punchuating Bag
#8. Word Contortion: Homophonic Trip-ups
#7. Three Dots and Out: Give Your Ellipsis Elbow Room
#6. A Tense Moment: Word Context, Past & Present
#5. Dash It All! Part A: Hyphen and En Dash
#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash—The Separator
#3. Pronounflagration: Pronoun Profusion, Confusion, and Contusion
#2. Apostrophic Calamity: Apostrophe vs. Dumb Quotes

Still to come:

Extra: (A Few of) My Language Pet Peeves

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About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.wigeonpublishing.com
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7 Responses to Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #1

  1. Pingback: From the Editor’s Eye: The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers | Polishing Your Prose

  2. Why are people using the word are when they should be saying our?

  3. Reblogged this on San Diego Writers/Editors Guild and commented:
    And the #1 common error is. . .Verbal Abuse: Lie Down with Lay & Related Verb Warps

  4. Pingback: Ten Most Common Errors Made by Writers: #0 | Polishing Your Prose

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