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Maria Rainer – “Lay Down Sally” & Other Grammar Errors

This week we explore something very close to my heart, grammar. Grammatical errors were something my PhD Supervisor constantly berated me for. Here Maria Rainier discusses what you should think about before pressing ‘enter’. Maria is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online degrees, and what it takes to succeed as a student taking a bachelors degree program remotely from home. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

There’s little more embarrassing or discrediting than being caught with a grammatical error in an otherwise pristine paper being considered for—or has already undergone—publication.  The green squiggly lines in Microsoft Word are no help, and Spell Check can’t correct the misuse of words like affect versus effect (which will be discussed below).  Instead, you’re better off knowing in advance what some common problem areas are and how to tackle these grammatical mishaps.

Lay Versus Lie

I don’t think I’d have the courage to tell Eric Clapton to watch his grammar, but the fact is that he was wrong when he sang, “Lay down Sally.”

In present tense, you can lie down but you have to lay an object down.  In example, you can lay down Sally if Sally is drunk and passed out in your arms, but you can’t tell Sally to lay down because she might look at you with a scrunched up nose and say, “You mean, lie down, right?”

Unfortunately, things get complicated in past tense and past participle.

In past tense, lie becomes lay and lay becomes laid.  In example:

  • Sally lay down on the couch.  (She did it herself.)
  • I laid Sally down on the couch.  (You laid an object—Sally—on the couch.)

In past participle, lie and lay become lain, and lay and laid become (or rather, stay) laid.

  • Sally had lain down on the couch for the night.
  • I had laid Sally down on the couch for the night.

Affect Versus Effect

This predicament is somewhere between being a typo, a spelling error, and a grammatical error.  It doesn’t matter, really—what matters is that you need to use both words the right way.

When you affect something, you influence it.  When you throw a shoe at your sister, you affect her, right?  This use makes affect a verb.

An effect is a result.  The effect of you throwing your shoe at your sister was her throwing an umbrella at you.  This makes it a noun.

Sometimes, these rules are broken.

Affect can be used in the sphere of psychology as a noun.  For example: She displayed a happy affect.  This means she appeared to be happy, but psychologists can never know what someone else is feeling.  Unless you’re in the psychology field, you should probably steer clear of this usage.

Slightly more commonly used is the word effect as a verb.  When you effect something, you make it happen.  You effect change in the house by throwing shoes at people.

Who Versus Whom

In a sentence, there is a subject and there is also an object.  They sound the same, but they serve different purposes.

I laid down Sally on the couch.

In that sentence, I am the subject and Sally is the object.  The subject acts and the object receives an action.   The word whom can only be used as an object, and who is used as the subject.

When Sally wakes up with a hangover on the couch the next morning, she will ask, “Who laid me down on the couch?” and not “Whom laid me down on the couch?”  An easy way to remember when to use who or whom is to ask yourself if you can answer the question with he or him.

Who laid me down on the couch?”

He did.”

Whom do I have to thank for laying me down on the couch instead of leaving me at the bar?”

“You can thank him.”

Do you find yourself consistently tripping over a grammar rule or spelling error in the English language?  What other tricky areas do you have to think about before hitting the next key?

  1. I taught English as a Foreign Language for a year and was surprised just how much I learnt about my own language. Then I recently went to a writing workshop at my uni and was surprised at the number of students who wanted to do some grammar basics. No matter how many times I tell myself the right way to use affect and effect, I still get them wrong. Some errors you learn as a child just seem to stick!

  2. Thanks for this post – you’ve covered most of my main niggles. Soemtimes, however, mistakes get made. And, when they do, they haunt you for the rest of your life.

  3. “Grammatical errors wer something…”
    I know that’s spelling, not grammar, but you should probably fix it.

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