Here are a few more examples of common confusions in English, and a few tricks to help you remember which is which.
Lay vs. lie:
This one stumps a lot of people, even a bestselling author I know, who has emailed me a few times for a reminder of when to use “lie” and when to use “lay.” It’s very common to mix up these two, especially with their weird past tenses, which just complicate the issue.
Basically, you lay something down, but you lie down. So “lay” takes an object – a thing after it that you’re putting down. Not counting ourselves, so a person just lies down. And even if it’s a thing, if it’s already there and nobody’s in the act of putting it there, it’s lying there, not laying there.
Lie: I like to lie in the hammock. Mom often lies down for a nap in the afternoon. Ricky is lying down on the grass.
Lay: She lays the baby in the bassinette every night. She is laying the baby down right now.
So far so good. But here’s where it gets weird: The past tense of “lay” is “laid,” as in “I laid the book on the table.” But the past tense of “lie” is “lay” as “She lay down on the couch for a nap yesterday.” Huh?! Just another of the many ways that English is weird and often illogical.
So to reiterate:
Lay requires a direct object: You lay something down.
Lie does not require a direct object: You lie down.
The verb tenses of lay:
Present: lay, is laying. Lay the report on my desk.
Past: laid, has laid, was laying. She laid the ring on the table and walked out; she had laid it there before.
The verb tenses of lie:
Present: lie, is lying: Why don’t you lie down for a while? The book is lying on the table.
Past: lay, has lain, was lying. The little boy lay in the shade, fast asleep. He has lain there many times, in fact yesterday he was lying in that exact spot.
So: He laid (past tense of lay) the wreath on the grave, where it lay (past tense of lie) for a month.
If you think you'll forget all this stuff, especially the past tenses, just copy and paste this somewhere to help you remember. That’s what I did before I finally got it into my head!
I or me or what?
Is it “my brother and me” or “my brother and I”? That depends.
Is it “Give the books to Jane and I,” or “Give the books to Jane and me.”?
Is it “Carol and me went with them,” or “Carol and I went with them.”?
Is it “She and Brad are coming, too,” or “Her and Brad are coming, too.”?
Here's a simple little trick to know whether to use “I” or “me”; “he” or“him”; “she” or “her” etc.:
Just take out the “and” and the other person’s name or pronoun. What are you left with? Does it make sense?
For example, which is it? “Him and his buddy are going fishing,” or “He and his buddy are going fishing.”
Take out “and his buddy.” Would you say “Him is going fishing” or “He is going fishing.”?
Since you’d use “he” when it’s alone in the sentence, you’d say, “He and his buddy are going fishing.”
Or is it “Leave your sister and I alone for a few minutes,” or “Leave your sister and me alone for a few minutes”?
To figure this out, take out "your sister and" and think of whether you’d say, “Leave I alone” or “Leave me alone.”
Since you’d say “Leave me alone,” then it has to be “Leave your sister and me alone.”
Apply this little trick to the first two examples above, and you’ll know it has to be “Give the books to Jane and me,” and “Carol and I went with them.”
And by the way, "between you and me" is correct.
I could get into a lengthy explanation about subject (nominative) pronouns and object (objective) pronouns, but if you just use that little gimmick, it works every time.
Do you have any other grammar points that you'd like explained? Or any great little tricks for remembering them? Just mention them in the comments below or email me at j.renner.editing(at)hotmail(dot)com.
Copyright Jodie Renner, August 2012
See also Some Common Grammar Gaffes, Parts I and II.