Lay or Lie

This is a repeat of a post from three years ago, so apologies to those who have seen it, but maybe it won’t hurt to have a refresher.

You wouldn’t believe how often, as a copy-editor, I see “lay” and “lie” misused.

Do you have trouble knowing the correct form of lay or lie to use in your writing?

Why not copy and paste this chart? Print it out either with your printer or by hand, onto a piece of paper that you can keep handy by your desk for a quick reference.

A quick version of how “lie” and “lay” are used with the pronoun “I.”

To Lie (down)

I lie (present)

I lay (preterite)

I have lain (present perfect)

I am lying (present continuous)

To Lay (to set an object down)

I lay (present)

I laid (preterite)

I have laid (present perfect)

I am laying (present continuous)

To Lie (tell an untruth)

I lie (present)

I lied (preterite)

I have lied (present perfect)

I am lying (present continuous)

Good work! Now have a cookie.

More Commas in the Air

I know I’ve done a post about apostrophes before, but I thought I would focus on the most troublesome cases once again.

Most of the time, apostrophes show that one or more letters have been left out. This should help you to decide on the spelling, if you keep in mind which letters are missing.

You are = you’re (the “a” is missing)

Your just signifies that something belongs to you.

Here’s (here is) and example with both.

You’re going to miss your train.

Another way to think of which word (your or you’re) shows ownership is to think of the spelling. Your contains our, another ownership word. If it’s not our car, it might be your car.


there, their, and they’re

They are = they’re (the “a” is missing)

There, as in over there, should be easy to remember because it has here in it. If it’s not here, it’s there.

Their (which shows that something belongs to them) gives a lot of people trouble with spelling. Is it i before e? Not if it sounds like “a” as in hay and weigh. Easier yet, is to think of the word as the with ir tacked on. You’ll never spell it thier again.


Then there is who’s and whose.

Who is = who’s (the “i” is replaced).

Who’s going with me?

But to show ownership, it’s whose.

Who’s coming with me to confront the man whose son is a bully?


Let us go to the movie together. Yes, let’s. (the “u” is missing).

I’ll go if my mom lets (allows) us. No letter missing. No apostrophe needed.

Also if it means to rent out a place. She lets (rents out) the apartment upstairs. No apostrophe needed.


If you are just trying to write the plural form of a word, no apostrophe is needed.

A lot is an amount, a group, or a bunch. If you have many groups or bunches, you have more than one lot. You have lots. No apostrophe needed. And by the way it is “a lot” with a space between the two words. Not “alot.”

All the years in the decade from 1970 to 1980 are the years in the 1970s. It is a plural number (more than one year). There is no ownership and no letters are missing, so no apostrophe needed. So years in any decades are written without an apostrophe, e.g. the 1950s, the 1890s and so on.

Before you put an apostrophe in a word, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it taking the place of a letter? Is it showing ownership? If not, then maybe it doesn’t need the apostrophe at all.

Like, You Know

I’ve been posting about writing tips – things to avoid in writing, correct grammar, and word usage. But what about the way we speak? Writing is just another way of recording our speech, just another form of communication. The two forms often overlap.

Young writers, especially, are guilty of letting their chatty colloquialisms and bad language habits creep into their writing. The two are closely related, but today I want to talk more about oral language than written.

Probably one of the first things people learn when they take lessons in public speaking is to get rid of the habit of filling dead air with “ah … er … uh ….” Listen to one of our top politicians speaking and you’ll find it hard to concentrate on whether he is saying anything worthwhile between the many “ah”s.

Filler words allow the speaker to keep control of his turn to speak, a subconscious ploy to prevent someone else from interrupting, while he buys time as he searches for words or ideas. My own preference would be for the dead air.

When I listen to an interview on the TV news or a podcast, I often hear meaningless words interjected as fillers.

One of the speech habits that drives me crazy is the use of “like” when it doesn’t mean “like” at all. This word is thrown into every second sentence whether it needs it or not, thus saving the speaker from having to think of other words to explain what he really means. When I hear, “I was like, wow!” I think, “What does that mean?” Grammatically, it’s nonsense.

We expect some stupid language habits from teens, but it seems to me, that adults are beginning to get lazy too. It’s not unusual to hear a person use “like,” hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of times in an hour-long interview.

“You know” is another meaningless expression thrown into conversation far too often. Just listen to any interview on the news and you’ll hear it repeated.

I had a history teacher who basically lectured, and had little interaction with the class once she began to speak. I didn’t learn much in that course. I was so focused on her habit of interjecting, “of course,” and “of course you know,” that I whiled away the time making tally marks every time she said either. One day, at the end of a one-hour lecture she had used “of course” 137 times. I was torn between wanting to help her by letting her know, and making sure I passed the course. “Of course” I chose the passing grade.

And then there is profanity. We each have our own level of tolerance for the use of the F word, but I think I speak for the majority who realize that once in a long while, it is the only word that fits the situation. However, it is not a word that should have a place in our regular conversation.

Excessive use of the F word seems to be more popular with men who work in jobs requiring physical labour. Maybe they run into more injuries. I think most people who hit their thumb with a hammer might say F—! But it has become the norm for some segments of society to throw in the F word as if they are punctuating a paragraph. I do admire their knowledge of grammar though. I would find it a difficult act to follow, to tell a story with the addition of the F word in front of every noun and every verb. How do they do it? It is also often placed in front of the word “right.” So just remember that. It goes in front of every noun and every verb, and usually when you are agreeing with someone you say, F’n right. Do all of that and you will be admired by others of your ilk, ye of little brains. This includes that group of 15-year-old girls who were waiting for the school bus outside their high school, swearing as loudly as they could, to show that they were all grown up now. Lord help us!

Other habits of language we may have, include the use of certain words that we use to wrap up a conversation. You’re telling the other person, often on the phone, that it’s time to wind it up. You put on a singsong voice and sing, “Anyway,” or worse yet, “Anyhoo,” or “Well,” or “So.” Be sure to sing it in a wavy “up, down, up” sequence.

Lastly, there is the kind of speech that requires reassurance every few words. You’ll find insecure people telling their story with each phrase rising at the end as if they were asking a question.

“I was driving into town?… and there was this man?… he was standing on the corner?…” By this time I’m already going mad! No question mark needed here.

I think we all have some language habits that we should probably work on correcting. It helps if we’re aware of them. Then we can catch ourselves and eventually break the bad habits. If you happen to be Canadian, you might want to check if you use “okay” a lot, “eh?”

Gimmicks that Work

Let me begin with farther and further, since these were mentioned in a comment recently. I’ve struggled with these myself, but when I have trouble remembering something, I find that a gimmick works well for me.

Farther is used for distance, so I think of “far.

Further is used for expanding on an idea, so I think of the word “furthermore.” You wouldn’t say “farthermore” so that narrows it right down.

Desert and dessert

I like to have my dessert in the desert. That’s all very fine, but how do I know which one has one “s” and which has two?

I think of a resort in a desert. Both words have one “s.”

Once I’m in the desert, I think of what a blessing it is to have a dessert there. Two “s”s in each of these words.

Ah, but there is trouble on the desert horizon. A disgruntled soldier is going to desert (pronounced like “dessert”). All I can think is that he is going to leave the resort (one “s”) and if he does that, he will NOT get dessert (two “s”s).

Bear and bare

For a start, my gimmick is for “bare,” and I think of part of the word (bare), because if you are bare, you ARE naked.

All the other meanings are spelled bear.

Bear is an animal. Bear means to carry or to withstand an ordeal. I imagine a big strong bear who can carry the load and put up with a lot. He can bear it. You can even have him marching along on two feet with a shotgun over his shoulder and a sign that says, “The 2nd amendment says we have the right to keep and arm bears.”

Stationary and stationery

These two words gave me trouble in elementary school already. I came up with a gimmick way back then and it has worked for me ever since.

The spelling difference is the “a” and the “e.”

Stationary means not moving from a place, so I think of the “a” for “at” a place. Stationery means letter-writing material, so I think of the “e” in “letter.”

I would bet that you have gimmicks that work for you. If you care to share them, please do. It might make someone else’s writing life easier.

Troublesome words

Some words give us more trouble than others.

This group seems to belong together in the troublemaker group. I will try to use each example in a sentence to help explain how they should be used.

altogether or all together

The child received altogether too much attention for her own good.

Altogether it was a good weekend.

It was a wonderful time because the family was all together at Thanksgiving.

anytime or any time

Please visit me anytime you like.

Do you think you will have any time to do that mending?

anyplace – colloquial, better to avoid it

Use anywhere instead.

anyway or any way

I know you don’t want to take the gift but I want to give it anyway.

Is there any way you can make it work?

anyplace and someplace – use anywhere and somewhere instead. Putting “s” on these words to make anywheres and somewheres, is a no-no! Bad, bad, bad! Same goes for anyways, everywheres, and nowheres.

everyday, every day, everyone, every one

Everyday means ordinary. Every day tells when.

Sunshine was an everyday occurrence. It happened every day.

Everyone means all people in a group or category. Every one means each person.

Everyone came out to hear the actor reciting Dickens’ work. It ended with “God bless us every one.”

Sometime and sometimes or some time and some times.

I will visit you sometime in February, but sometimes it snows and the roads can be bad. I hope we can spend some time together. We’ve had some times together, haven’t we?

someday or some day

Someday we’ll have a picnic in our backyard. We did it once before, some day in July, I think.

maybe or may be

Maybe it’s not a good idea to drive the car on icy roads like this.

It may be that you’re a good driver, but that may not be enough.

Two Misuses That Drive me Crazy


This one drives me crazy.

Two of the main uses for this word are when it means “about” and when it means “greetings.”

You can correctly say, “I haven’t seen your aunt for a long time. Please give her my regards.” (Notice the “s” on the end of the “regards”?) Used in this way, it means to tell someone that you are thinking of them.

When you are referring to some topic, you can correctly say, “With regard to (the topic)…” or you can say, “Regarding (the topic) ….” But you should NEVER say, “With regards to (the topic)…” unless you are asking someone to say hi to the topic or to give the topic your greetings.

Several news anchor people on CTV News regularly say, “With regards to …” when they mean, “With regard to….” The anchor person says, “With regards to the rioters…” and I immediately roll my eyes, groan, and say, “Yes, please give the rioters my regards too, while you’re at it.”

Many people make this mistake in word usage, and that is not so bad in personal speech or in emails or private communications, but I draw the line at publishing. By that, I mean anything that you write for the public to read. I include signs in the grocery store that tell you the price of broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower, for example. They are not brocolli, pepers, and callaflower.

Especially, if you are publishing a program on TV, it is your duty to use the correct form. Otherwise we would soon have news anchors reading the news with all sorts of bad grammar habits. (I fear it may be too late already).

While I’m ranting about news anchors and their mistakes, here is another one that I hear frequently.

Amount/number, less/fewer

This one drives me almost as crazy.

News Anchor: “The amount of people who came to the meeting was overwhelming.”

Me: “So about how many pounds of people would you say were there? Three thousand pounds? Four?”

It should be the number of people.

News Anchor: “There were less people at the meeting this year.”

Me: “Oh? About how many pounds less would you say?”

It should be fewer people, not less people.

If the quantity is something you can count individually, you say, the number of people or fewer people.

If those people were just so much hamburger all in a lump, you could say, “The amount of hamburger  was overwhelming,” and “There was less hamburger at the meeting.”

Amount and less are words used for measuring something that could be a mass or something that could be weighed as a whole (if necessary).

Now I’m shaking in my boots that I’ve made a typo in this post. After all, I’m publishing it, and to the best of my ability, it should be correct. I should probably hire a copy-editor.

More Troublesome Words

Troublesome words fill the English language. Here are some more to add to your list of words to watch for.


She preferred the pear to the apple. She loved pears so much that she took two from the bowl and ate the pair of them. They had some blemishes so she decided to pare them first.


Just as she took the peel off the pears, the church bells began to peal.


Her aural senses told her that the church bells rang twelve times. Since that meant it was lunch time, she gratified her oral senses by biting into the pears.


“I must get the recipe for that pear cake,” she thought. “But is it too expensive to make pear cake? I’ll check the receipt from the store to see how much I paid.”


The sound of phones ringing was continual in the call center, but when the fire alarm rang, the shrill sound of it was continuous for several minutes.


The principles of gravity are fundamental truths. Isaac Newton learned of one of them in 1666 when an apple hit him on the head as he sat under an apple tree.

He went to the principal’s office to report this revelation about gravity. No one believed him at first, but he was determined and stuck to his principles as he minded his manners and insisted that he would be famous one day.


We walked for miles through the forest, and although weary we kept our eyes open and were wary of any strange rustling sounds in the bushes.


I was conscious of the subtle pressure from my employer, but my conscience would not allow me to go along with his suggested illegal action.

At this point I think you have all been very conscientious if you are still with me.

Common Word Usage Errors

Most writers mix up a word or two now and then. Some writers mix up a lot of words a lot of the time. In novels that have not been copy-edited, I find a disturbing number of errors and those of word usage are some of the most glaring.

They are also the easiest for the writer to fix and to avoid in the first place.

Here are some examples of words and phrases that are often confused or misused.

I shudder when I see lay and lie misused, but it is such a common error that I have devoted a whole post to it. You can visit it here.

raise, rise

You rise when you get up, but when you lift something else up, you raise it.

The past tense is rose, or if you lifted something you raised it.

loose, lose

A knot could come loose, and then you might lose something you had tied up with it.

breath, breathe

When you take a breath, you breathe.

loath, loathe

You might be loath to do something that you loathe.

peek, peak, pique

Let’s take a peek out the window at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Oh, no, not now. Maybe later. But you have piqued my interest.

But later, she was piqued by his rudeness, and huffed around the house in a fit of pique.

horde, hoard

A horde of people pushed their way towards the speaker.

During the Covid crisis, some people were hoarding toilet paper.

hang, hung

The picture was hung on the wall, but the man was hanged from the gibbet.

ensure, insure

You ensure (make sure) that something happens, but you insure (buy compensation) against losing money in case of an accident.

less, amount, fewer, number

Less and amount are used with quantities that cannot be counted individually, while fewer and number are used for things that can be counted.

There has been less cloud this week, but we have had fewer cloudy days.

A number of people have said that the amount of meat a person eats has a direct effect on their health.

affect, effect

What he said does not affect me directly, but the overall effect of his way of talking is that people like him less for it.

The list of word usage errors is quite long and I may post another list at a later time. For now, this is a start.

Trouble Times Four

Over the years I have found that having a gimmick to remember things works well for me. I’d like to share some of them to help you choose the right form of these four sets of words that cause many people grief. 

  1. their, they’re, there
  2. your, you’re
  3. its, it’s
  4. lets, let’s

First the three kinds of their/there/they’re.

They’re = they are. We use they’re when we mean the short way of saying “they are.”

They’re my best friends.

They’re is correct because you could say, “They are” in place of they’re.”


Their = owning something

That is their new red car.

This word is often misspelled, so remember that it has the word the at the beginning (THEir).


There = Not here, but over there, farther away. The word “there” has “here” in it.

If you think of it as “not here,” you will always remember how to spell there and which one is the correct form of “there/they’re/their.

There is a plant in the pot.

The plant is over there, in the pot.


You’re = you are

You’re the one for me. Use you’re if you can replace the word with you are.


Your = ownership. Think of our (belongs to us), and so your (which has “our” in it) belongs to you.

Your mother loves you.


It’s = it is

If you can replace it’s with it is, then you have the correct form of its/it’s.

It’s a beautiful day.


Its – belonging to “it”

The car stood with its door open. (The door belongs to the car.)


Let’s = let us (the apostrophe takes the place of the letter “u.”

Let’s go to the dance.


Lets – allows

I’ll come if my mom lets me.


Let’s hope that this post helps make life easier for you and lets you write with more confidence.

It’s easy to see its benefits once you start using the correct words.

You’re going to feel your confidence boosted.

Your friends over there will be proud to know that they’re going to have a good writer as their friend.

Three Sets of Troublesome Words


penProbably everyone who ever wrote anything has some words they find troublesome. Here are a few that many people struggle with.

  1.  passed or past

Passed is used when you mean the past tense of the verb to pass (go by, or beyond something).

Past refers to a time that has gone by.


I passed a car that was traveling too slowly on the highway.

My great-grandmother passed away when I was a baby (in the past).

She passed (handed out) the exams papers to the students. We all hoped we had passed the exam (passed  beyond the required grade).

Neither of us wanted to talk about our past (time gone by).

It was already past the hour (the time) when we usually went to sleep. We hadn’t realized how quickly the time had passed (gone by).

It does get tricky. You can be in a car that has passed a bicycle. That means you have gone past the bicycle. Yikes!!! Hang in there. It does make sense. Your car did the action of passing the bicycle and you went past the bicycle (to a point beyond it).

That was a tricky one. The next ones should be easier.

2. advice or advise, and

3. affect or effect

Advice is the noun and advise is the verb. I will also add the use of affect (a verb) and effect (usually a noun, but can be used as a verb).


Long ago when the Captain and I were in a pub and a couple at the next table invited us to play shuffleboard with them, I said I had never played it before. The man came over to me, draped his arm over my shoulder and placed his hand on the back of my hand as I held one of the “pucks,” meaning to guide my hand as I slid the puck.

“Let me give you some advice (noun),” he said.

At this point the captain came over and said to the man, “I advise (verb) you to take your hands off her.”

This had the desired effect (noun) and the man moved away. How did this affect (verb) the rest of the game? Not at all. If you want to effect (here it is a verb) change, sometimes you have to speak up to get the effect (noun) you want. It need not affect (verb) the mood in the room at all.

Whew! That was hard work. I think I need to go LIE (not LAY) down.