The Ten Most Frustrating Grammar Rules

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Lie and Lay

Quick fix:

I remember Lie and Lay by saying -

(Lie is subjective, lay is objective):

L i e is what I do. La y is what I do to an y thing else.
I lie down, but the hen lays an egg. Or think of "getting laid" - there are two people involved, a subject and an object 😉

(Lie is present tense, lay is past tense):

Lie is what I do today, lay is what I did yesterday. Unless I lied about it.

Always remember this rule! Get a mug that reminds you of the correct way to use “lie” and “lay”! Use it for your coffee, or to store your pens…

More explanation:

Lie is a subjective verb, but confusion arises because it can mean both “to rest horizontally” or “to tell a fib”. Many people familiar with the “fib” definition of “lie”, assume, incorrectly, that “lay” is the term for “resting horizontally”.

Lay, on the other hand, is an objective verb – ie, there must be an object in the sentence to which the laying is being done.

More confusion arises here, though, because “lay” is also the past tense of “lie” in the “resting” definition, in which case “lay” becomes a subjective past tense verb.

“Lied” is the past tense of “lie” in the “fib” definition, but many people try to use it as a synonym for “rested”, because they have grasped the part about the “Lie=Subjective/Lay=Objective” rule, but not the Present Tense/Past Tense rule.

What about “lying”, “laying”, “lain”, and “laid”?

Lying means both “resting” or “fibbing”, depending on the context. (Lying is the present participle of “lie”.)

Laying means “placing some object somewhere”. (Laying is the present participle of “lay”.)

Lain means “have rested”. (Lain is the past participle of “lie”.)

Laid means both “placed some object somewhere” and “have placed some object somewhere”. (Laid is both the past tense and the past participle of “lay”.)

Advice and Advise

Quick fix:

You may need to say this one out loud for the first few times until you get used to the sound in your mind.

Advice sounds like ICEIce is a thing, a noun – and so is Advice.
You can only make this “ice” sound with a “c”, not an “s”.

Advise sounds like IZE Z is close to V for Verb – Advise is a verb.
You can get a “z” sound from an “s” but not from a “c”.

Does this rule get to you? Keep a thinking cap by your PC to remind you when to use Advice or Advise!

Affect and Effect

Quick fix:

I remember Affect and Effect by using the acronym AV (Audio Visual) - I think of my video recorder. Affect (A) is the Verb (V).

More explanation:

What makes this one difficult is that Effect can be either a noun or a verb, although the verb usage is usually only for formal documents. But this is why it has gotten in our brains that affect and effect both sound right in some sentences, so we battle to decide which one it is.

It’s and Its

Quick fix 1:

The apostrophe on “its” looks like the dot of the missing i - so if the sentence goes "it is" then I need to use "it’s". If "it is" doesn't fit, then it must be "its".

Quick fix 2:

Replace “its” with “his” – does it fit? There is no apostrophe in “his”, so if “his” fits the sentence, there should be no apostrophe in “its”.

Is this rule your nemesis? Pick up a throw pillow that will always remind you when to use It’s or Its… and also Lay and Lie, Advice and Advise, and Who and Whom!

More explanation:

Confusion arises with this one because we usually use an apostrophe to mark possession. We also use an apostrophe to mark contractions.

But remember that the possessive personal pronouns like his, hers, theirs, whose, ours, yours, and the troublemaker “its”, don’t have apostrophes.

Stationary and Stationery

Quick fix:

I remember stationary and stationery by saying:

A-eroplanes are station-a-ry but E-nvelopes are station-e-ry.

Who and Whom

Quick fix:

Switch "who" and "whom" with "he" and "him" - if you can use “him” then you can use “whom”, in most cases.

Do you battle to remember this rule? How about a teddy bear who will remind you when to use Who and Whom?

Whom is starting to fall away from general use. It's more acceptable to misuse "who" in a sentence than it is to get "whom" wrong. So if in doubt, use "who".

Who and That

Quick fix:

“Who” for people and pets, “That” for things and animals in general.

More explanation:

This one is easy. “Who” is always used for people. “That” is always used for things or animals. Use “that” every time you would refer to something as “it”.

You would never ask a person “What are you?” when you mean “Who are you?” You could risk offending someone if you say, “Are you the person that called earlier?” This is pretty much the same as calling someone “it”.

And, if you’re speaking to someone about a beloved pet, I recommend using “who” out of respect to their feelings. To them, their pet is not an “it”, no matter how you may feel about the creature.

Send postcards to help your friends remember when to use Who or That!

Which and That

Quick fix:

“That” clause is important. “Which” clause is extra? (Remember, “Which” has an extra “H”.)

More explanation:

“That” is used to add a clause to a sentence where all the information is necessary for clarity. “Which” is used to add extra information in a clause that could be left out of the sentence, and still make sense. So if you can leave it out, use “which”.

Remember all eight of these grammar rules with a Bag Your Grammar Tote Bag

Past and Passed

Quick fix:

“Passed” is the past tense of “pass”. “Past” is used for everything else.

To work this one out, turn the sentence into the present tense. If you still say “past”, then you need a “t”. If you say “pass” or “passing”, then use “ed”. (ie, if you have a double “ss” to start with, don’t change it to a single.)

Preposition Sentence Endings

This one’s even easier. There’s really no longer any need to worry about whether you’re ending a sentence with a preposition or not, because English has caught up with popular usage. The issue that Winston Churchill had to deal with (“That is something up with which I will not put”) is now considered to be too formal for everyday use.

In addition, clever grammarians have pointed out that while there is a single “postposition” in the English language (“ago”), some prepositions can be used as temporary postpositions or “intransitive prepositions” (ie, a preposition without an object following it).

If you do want to try to avoid a prepositional ending, just ask yourself “where?” (ie, in what position?). Many times you can add a description to qualify the preposition, which then creates a new ending for the sentence.

She climbed up (where?)

And to end, wrap your tongue around this quote by Professor Frank Palmer (five prepositions end this sentence!)

“What did you bring that book that I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?”

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"I just read the Top ten mistakes used in grammar and I would like to say thank you for writing in such simple terms. I'm seventeen and I still got confused on the difference between Lie and Lay, and 'Past' and 'passed' on when to use in a sentence and in what format. It really helped me. I've asked countless people to explain and none of them really explained it well. I just wanted to comment to thank you for having that on the net for me to find and finally understand the differences between the words." ~Saphie~


2 thoughts on “The Ten Most Frustrating Grammar Rules

  • Monday at 1:17 AM

    Your vrs you’re

  • Monday at 9:20 PM

    Hi Lori

    The apostrophe in YOU’RE means that something is missing – in this case, the letter “A” :
    YOU ARE going to the party.

    YOUR is the possessive : YOUR comment is good

    To work this one out, switch YOURS and MINE :
    “I AM going to the party” (or “I’M going to the party”), not “[my] going to the party”
    “MY comment is good”, not “[I am] comment is good”

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