What are the most difficult words to use correctly in a sentence? Many people struggle with the terms affect and effect, compliment and complement, and how to conjugate the verb to lay.
Let's start with affect and effect. Affect is a verb. To affect something is to influence it or impact it in some way. "Jonathan knew that his good looks would affect the jury's decision about his innocence." Effect is a noun that often refers to a result or consequence. "The effect of all the rain was a glorious, colorful spring full of flowers and overgrown lawns."
Compliment versus complement — a compliment is a nice thing to say about someone. It is a form of flattery. If my husband looks great in his new suit, I want to give him a compliment. I want him to know that he looks handsome. A complement is something that goes well with something else. "Her gold chain complemented the highlights in her hair."
Finally, the most difficult term: to lay. First, we have the verb to lie, which can mean several things. In this case, I am referring to recline or lie down, not to lie as in to tell a falsehood.To conjugate this verb in present tense, we want to say,"I lie down,"the past tense is "I lay down," and the past perfect tense is "I have lain." (Most people have difficulty with the latter. The key is to remember only to uselain when it is preceded by the word have.)Second, we have to lay, a transitive verb that means to put something or someone down. The present tense would go something like this:" Mohammed needs to lay those bricks before nightfall." Past tense: "I laid my head on the pillow." Past perfect tense would be "My father has laid down the law in the house." What you don't want to say is "I laid down" even though it's very tempting because it sounds a lot like "I paid the bill," which is perfectly correct grammatically whereas "I laid down" is not.
Who got it wrong in the rock star world? Bob Dylan's "Lay, lady, lay. Lay across my big brass bed." is not right. Eric Clapton immortalized this error as well in his megahit "Lay Down, Sally," which should have been "Lie Down, Sally." Dylan and Clapton can be forgiven; readers may not be quite so generous with you.
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