Tag Archive - lay and lie

Writing Mechanics: Avoiding the “I” Trap and Other Irritants

In today’s post editor Linda Clare continues our look at Fatal Flaw #12: Flawed Writing Mechanics. We’ve taken a look at scene structure, and now we’ll cover some of the smaller bits that jam up the gears of writing mechanics.

This week we’re discussing how poor writing mechanics can lead to dull writing. Let’s examine how repetitive pronoun/proper name use and other small mistakes can weaken fiction and what we can do to strengthen our work.

Get Out of the “I” Trap

In the Julia Roberts/Brad Pitt movie The Mexican, Roberts leans out a window, hurling all Pitt’s possessions on him. He protests, “But I . . . I . . . ”

She yells back. “I, I, I, I, I. It’s always about you, Jerry.” She then throws something else onto his head.

When writers overuse pronouns in their fiction, I think of this scene. Every writer faces the same challenge: how to communicate the story without boring readers by repeating pronouns at the beginning of sentences. Continue Reading…

To Lay or To Lie—That Is the Question

If I were asked to vote on the verb that causes the most confusion and is invariably conjugated incorrectly more often than correctly, lie would win hands down. If you Google “to lie” or “lay/lie” you can find enough websites discussing these seemingly unobtrusive, simple words to fill volumes. How can a three-letter word cause so much grief? I think there are two reasons. 1) the word lay has two completely different uses and 2) we use these verbs incorrectly in speech as well. I am guilty of often saying something like, “The dog’s laying on the couch.” I often hear people using lay instead of lie. But what’s even more “off” to me are the “creative” conjugations some people come up with like:

  • I lied on the couch for six hours (wow, your voice must have gone hoarse talking for so long!).
  • I layed down when I got tired.
  • The chicken layed an egg.

Really, there are only six words you need to remember. If you recite them a bunch of times, you might just be able to recall them when you need them. And two of them repeat, so you really only need to know four words. How hard is that? Here they are:

  • Lie, lay, lain
  • Lay, laid, laid

If you’re not sure when to use lie, think of recline (Hear the long i sound in both words). Lie (not the verb discussing whether you are telling the truth or not) is something you do to yourself—you lie down. I lie down today. I lay down yesterday. I had lain down every day for a week.

Lay is something you do to something else (in grammar-talk this verb takes a direct object. Lie never does). When you think of lay, think of place (Hear the long a sound in both words). I lay the book on the table. I laid the book on the table. I had laid the book on the table every day this week.

So just repeat after me: “Lie, lay, lain. Lay, laid, laid . . .”

I think I need to go lie down now.