Writing • Editing • Solutions

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Do Words Still Matter?


Pop quiz: I laid down to take a nap. I lied down to take a nap.  Which sentence is correct? Do you know? Do you care? Is this a trick question?

In this era of abbreviated texts and 140-character tweets, when  it seems that most of us can’t be bothered to write out two- or three-letter words such as “for” or “to” or capitalize the first word of a sentence — does the careful, correct use of language even matter?

Thankfully, yes. And I’m not the only one who says so — I got a chuckle out of this “Texting or not. Grammar still matters” cartoon recently posted on imgur.com.

If the message matters, the words matter — on the job, in business, at school, in life.

Think about what good writing can do for you: A clearly written complaint letter can rectify an injustice. A sharp press release can generate positive news coverage for a struggling small business. A well-written essay can mean the difference between passing a class or being accepted at one’s college of choice — or not.  On the other hand, a single misspelling can land a resume in the trash. A hastily written email can cause misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

I will devote this space to all the right words.  Future posts will offer writing tips and tricks:  I’ll show how to avoid apostrophe pitfalls and grammar gaffes. I’ll point out examples of words gone wrong and sentences gone askew. I’ll also offer practical step-by-step advice, such as how to write a press releases or structure an article or essay. And I’ll do my best to answer your writing, grammar, and punctuation questions.

And I’d love your input. I look forward to your thoughts, notes, suggestions, and examples.

P.S. As far as the pop quiz, yes, it’s a trick question. Who wants to explain why?

Write on —

by Maryann Hammers — your solution for all writing and editing needs

 

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2 comments on “Do Words Still Matter?

  1. VC
    June 14, 2012

    Hey, I want the answer to the quiz…I really don’t know!

    • Maryann Hammers
      June 15, 2012

      Here’s the answer to the lay/lie challenge. Lie means “to recline.” It is an intransitive verb — that means it has no direct object. So, you can say, “I want to lie down and take a nap.”

      But lay means “to put something down.” It is a transitive verb. That means it takes a direct object. In other words, someone (or something) is acting on something else. A chicken can lay an egg; you can lay a book on the table. (In those examples, “egg” and “book” are direct objects.)

      So you can lie on the bed (no direct object). And you can lay your weary head on the pillow (Head is the direct object).

      Wait. It gets trickier.

      Those examples are all in the present tense. Things get more complicated when you’re talking about the past tense.

      Laid is the past tense of lay. So today, the chicken may lay an egg, and yesterday she laid an egg. And yesterday you laid your head on the pillow.

      Lay is the past tense of lie. So . . . today you may lie down to take a nap, but yesterday you lay down.

      Clear as mud? Grammar Girl does a great job of explaining it here.

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This entry was posted on June 7, 2012 by in grammar, language usage, words, writing and tagged , .

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