I’m lying (or is it laying?)

I haven’t thought about the difference between lie, lay, laid, lain since high school English class, but in writing a bit of story the other day I used ‘lay’ [correctly it turns out], but it didn’t sound right. So to be sure, I did a search and found a brilliant, brief explanation from Encyclopaedia Brittanica. I’ll paraphrase but all credit to them …

First of all, when I say ‘lie’ I mean lie as in ‘lie down’ not tell a falsehood. 

Simply put, use ‘lie’ when it is an action with no object. It’s something you do yourself, in other words. For example:

“I always lie down after lunch for a nap.”

“She lies down to reach beneath the sofa.”

“They lie down together to mediate.”

On the other hand, use ‘lay’ when you take action in regards to an object. For example:

“Put down the book and lay it on the table before answering the door.”

All the above examples are in the present tense, but some confusion arises when we consider the past tense. Why? Because ‘lay’ is the past tense of ‘lie’! For example:

“After lunch, I lay down for a nap.”

But ‘laid’ is the past tense of ‘lay’, so …

“She laid the book on the table before answering the door.”

So what about ‘lain’? That is the past participle tense of lie. You would use it this way:

“I had lain on the sofa much longer than I intended.”

The past participle of lay is still ‘laid’ so it would be used this way:

“She had laid the book on the table before answering the door.”

And just to finish things off, the present participle tense of ‘lie’ is ‘lying’ and for ‘lay’ it is ‘laying’. They would each be used this way:

“I am lying down for a nap after lunch.”

“She is laying the book on the table before she answers the door.”

I hope this was helpful! Happy writing and productive editing! I’m going to lie down now….

What’s ‘that’ all about?

Adventures in editing. [Revisiting this and that]

One of the words we writers tend to overuse is the word ‘that’. If you don’t believe me, use your search/find option in your word processor’s editing tool and see how many times you find it in your work. Obviously, it is sometimes appropriate to use ‘that’ in your sentences, but other times it can be eliminated. Here’s an example:

“I think that this gives you a chance to start over,” Vince said. 

It’s not grammatically incorrect, but it isn’t necessary, either. Instead, say:

“I think this gives you a chance to start over,” Vince said.

Here’s another example:

He arranged to add his name to the multi-business sign that graced the front lawn at the office building, and bought paint to cover the walls of his new space.

In this instance, ‘that’ should be replaced with ‘which’ (…which graced the front lawn…) but it sounds even better when written like this:

He arranged to add his name to the multi-business sign gracing the front lawn at the office building, and bought paint to cover the walls of his new space.

When I did a search for ‘that’ in Three Empty Frames, I found 806 of them!!! I’m in the process of finding all those ‘thats’ and eliminating or replacing them.

Tools of the Trade – Style Guide

When I started writing, I also started reading about writing. There is no shortage of material available, believe me! I think it’s possible that you can get obsessed with the how to’s and never get around to doing it. Nevertheless, as per my copyediting workshop, I added a new tool to my author arsenal: a style guide. I had a copy of Elements of Style by William Strunk –a classic. However, it is a bit outdated, having been printed in 1918! I decided to move into the twenty-first century and upgrade to The Chicago Manual of Style.

So what is the purpose of the style guide? It sets standards for usage, writing and citation styles, and formatting. This results in consistency of writing style within a company. The type of style guide used is determined by the sort of material being published. For example, in book, newspaper and magazine publishing, the company will likely require The Associated Press Style Book or The Chicago Manual of Style, while in the fields of law or medicine, the copyeditor will use The Blue Book or The AMA Manual of Style respectively. These will include terminology specific to the profession.

An example of the standards set by a style guide is in the way numbers are written. Numbers can either be spelled out (ex. three) or written as numerals (ex. 86) and the style guide will determine how this is done. The Chicago Manual of Style requires numbers from one to one hundred to be spelled out as well any number that consists of only two words (ex. seven hundred). Once you know the rules as laid out by the style guide you are using, you can apply them throughout your entire article or manuscript to keep the writing consistent.

Along with my dictionary–I use Merriam-Webster–my Chicago Manual of Style has already proved very useful. I highly recommend the investment.

Wishing you happy writing and productive editing.