If researchers are to be believed, kids lose up to an entire grade level each year to "summer brain drain," wherein recently acquired knowledge oozes out of their minds and melts onto the pavement while they participate in such pointless activities as "play."
This actually explains a lot. We here at Words Work have been out of school for 16 summers, which puts us back at around kindergarten, knowledge-wise. So it's really no surprise that we can't get the lay/lie thing down.
This summer will be different. This summer we will gain knowledge. This summer we will keep our transitives separate and distinct from our intransitives. Also, we will wear sunscreen.
You may feel compelled to do the same, in which case this handy grammar cheat sheet will be of use. We'll create more throughout the summer and share them freely. (You're going to have to buy your own sunscreen.)
Lay versus lie. To "lay" means to place. To "lie" means to recline. A common trick is to remember that lay has a long "a" sound, like place, while lie has a long "i" sound, like recline.
It gets trickier when you throw different tenses in the mix. Let's talk about our evening routines.
Present: "I lay my mail on the table and then I lie on my couch."
Past: "I laid my mail on the table and then I lay on my couch."
Present participle: "I am laying my mail on the table and now I am lying on my couch."
Past participle: "I have laid my mail on the table and I have lain on my couch."
i.e versus e.g. One of our favorite language enthusiasts, Grammar Girl (a.k.a. Mignon Fogarty, author of several writing manuals, including "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing"), says the misuse of these two abbreviations is one of the top five mistakes she witnessed in her previous life as a technical editor.
"There's so much confusion that in some of the drafts I got back from clients they had actually crossed out the right abbreviation and replaced it with the wrong one," she writes on her blog.
Both are abbreviations for Latin terms (i.e. stands for "id est"; e.g. is short for "exempli gratia"), and good luck remembering that. Translated, "id est" means "that is" and "exempli gratia" means "for example."
Grammar Girl offer's this trick: "From now on, i.e., which starts with i, means 'in other words,' and e.g., which starts with e, means 'for example.' I = in other words. E= example."
None. A friend (you know who you are, friend) used to delight in correcting our every treatment of "none" as plural. We would now like to say to this friend, respectfully, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You are wrong, wrong, wrong!
The Grammar Curmudgeon (grammarmudge.cityslide.com), has a slightly more eloquent take.
"A common misconception is that none must always be treated as singular," writes the Curmudgeon "The customary support for this view is that none necessarily means 'not one' (implying singularity). In fact, 'none' is just as likely to imply 'not any' (implying plurality). As noted in The American Heritage Dictionary: 'the word has been used as both a singular and a plural noun from Old English onward. The plural usage appears in the King James Bible as well as the works of John Dryden and Edmund Burke and is widespread in the works of respectable writers today.'
"The most sensible rule is the one that governs similar words designating a portion of something (fractions, percentages, and indefinite pronouns such as some, most, many, all, and more). Just as we write 'some of it is' or 'two-thirds of it is,' we would write 'none of it is. Just as we write 'some of them are' or 'two-thirds of them are,' we would write 'none of them are.'"
Which versus that. "That" is restrictive and essential to convey the meaning of a sentence. "Which" is non-restrictive and often introduces a non-essential clause. Consider the following example from World Wide Words (worldwidewords.org).
The house that is painted pink has just been sold.
The house, which is painted pink, has just been sold.
"The clause 'that is painted pink' is a restrictive clause, because it limits the scope of the word 'house,' indicating that the writer doesn't mean any house, only the one that has been painted in that particular color," writes World Wide Words' Michael Quinion. "In the second example the clause is non-restrictive: the writer is giving additional information about a house he's describing. The writer is saying 'by the way, the house is painted pink,' as an additional bit of information that's not essential to the meaning and could be taken out."
Literally. This is, literally, (sorry) the No. 1 topic we receive email about.
"My personal pet peeve is people using 'literally' as meaningless filler in their conversation," reader Bonnie Ernst recently emailed. "By that use, they have negated its meaning. If they need a word for 'actually,' it would be one thing, but they don't even mean that."
So trained are we to flinch at the word that we spent an entire coffee break recently engaged in an internal dialogue about whether the Love Crunch baked goods at the register (Motto: For Every Love Crunch You Purchase, Literally, The Other Half Is Given To a Starving Person) were honest or annoying.
If you are one of the "people" about whom Ms. Ernst writes, let this be the summer you clean up your act.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines literally thusly: "In a literal manner; word for word" and "In a literal or strict sense."
The dictionary also notes that "literally" is often used to mean "really; actually" and is sometimes used "as an intensive before a figurative expression." But this, says the dictionary, is a "usage problem."
"For more than 100 years, critics have remarked on the incoherence of using literally in a way that suggests the exact opposite of its primary sense of 'in a manner that accords with the literal sense of the words'" reads the "usage note" accompanying the "literally" entry. The following example is offered as wrong, all wrong: "The situation was especially grim in England where industrialism was literally swallowing the country's youth."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times