Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: Tricky Words that Trip you up, and How to Get the Best of Them

Here we go, Indians, here we go! (woo woo)

Up 3 games to 1 over Boston...can a girl dare to dream??

Okay, okay, now that the celebration is over with, welcome to another Writers' Wednesday! Today, I thought I'd pass along some tips for keeping track of easily-confused words...

Lay vs. Lie - The first can be used as the past tense of "lie" (as in, "Today I lie down to take a nap, but yesterday I lay down to take a nap."), or as a verb in which you are actively placing an object somewhere. This means that the sentence "Peter lay his map on the seat" is correct, but "Peter wanted to lay down on the seat" is not. Use "lie" if you are talking about assuming a prone position: "The dog lies at his master's feet at night," NOT "The dog lays at his master's feet at night." You could say "The dog lays his bone at his master's feet at night," but unless there is an OBJECT being placed somewhere, DO NOT use the word "lay" in present tense.

Farther vs. Further - Use the first word to describe distance, and the second one to describe degree of comparison. Example: "Shirley lives farther away from work than Martha does." (Hint: the word "far" is in the word "farther," to remind you that you're talking about a measurable distance) In any other case, use the latter: "Max went further in his education than Elmo did."

Fewer vs. Less - Use the first word if you're talking about items you can count, and the second one if you're talking about items you can't. For example, "The ball team with fewer errors won the game" is correct, since you can count actual errors. Don't say "The ball team with less errors won the game." In the grocery store, the express lane should say "10 Items or Fewer," since you can look into your cart and actually count the items. A store that has an express lane sign reading "10 Items or Less" is committing a grammatical error. Yes, really :) When to use "less?" Anytime a quantity cannot be individually counted: she had less experience than he did, we got less rain this summer than last summer, I have less anxiety today than I did before, etc...

It's vs. Its - It's ALWAYS means "It is" or "It has" or, rarely, "It was." Since it's (ha ha) a contraction, you can test your use of the word in this manner. "The cat found it's favorite toy" really means "The cat found it is favorite toy." Use its (with no apostrophe) to show possession (and yes, this is opposite of the way you show possession in the English language for almost any other word): "The vine attached its leafy fingers to the side of the house" or "The team lost its first game in over a month."

Effect vs. Affect - In most cases, effect is a noun: "The effect of global warming on the earth is a frightening one." Affect is a verb: "The movie affected me profoundly. " Now, effect can be used as a verb in a very limited sense, to show the creation of change: "Teachers can effect change in the future by shaping young minds." But for the most part, use the "e" word if you're talking about a noun, and the "a" word if you're talking about action/using a verb.


Make sense? Or are you more confused than ever?? Are there others that trip you up? Let me know, and maybe I can help (or just commiserate)...


Marianne Arkins said...

Go Indians! LOL... stuck, as I am, in Sox territory, I'm enjoying this. DH, OTOH, wants the Sox to win so the Rockies can cream 'em.

I'm afraid he'll feel the same about your Indians.

And, DD and I are going over some of those words in her language arts right now. Also: bad(ly) vs. well and some others.

They're hard! Thanks for sharing.

Dru said...

I just heard..woo hoo Indians.

Thanks for the tips, I always confuse effect and affect.

Have a good Wednesday.

Diane Craver said...

Great news about the Indians!

Like your tip about farther and further.

Fred Charles said...

I just participated in a technical writing course at work and it covered all of those and more. It's always good to be reminded of those sort of tricky words