Friday, September 30, 2016

Word Usage – Three Difficult Words to Use Properly

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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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Podcast Series on Grammar, Punctuation, and Creative Writing

I've recorded a 10-part podcast series on grammar, punctuation, and creative writing. If you're interested in how to avoid writing run-on sentences; when to use apostrophes; how to establish realistic dialogue; how to create interesting and diverse characters; how to develop detailed background settings; and how to resolve conflicts in fictitious works...

And if you want to know how to organize and structure nonfiction from manuscripts to business reports to essays; all about frequently misused words; and whether you can trust your spell-check, this series is for you.

It's available on MySpace, it's free, and you can listen by clicking here:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Word Usage: When to Use Lose or Loose

Some people find word usage easy. They remember the difference between affect and effect, regardless and irregardless (the latter is not a word), and how to conjugate the verb lay. Others occasionally need a refresher course.

Today we are looking at lose and loose. What's the difference between the two?

Lose is the opposite of win or gain. It means that you had something at one point, and now you don't, for better or worse. The conjugation of the verb to lose is lose, lost, have lost. For example, I've lost fourteen pounds! That's a good thing to lose. On the other hand, our team lost the semifinals. Not so good.

Loose often refers to clothing or something that is baggy. He was wearing a loose fitting shirt. Sometimes, it's used in the pejorative to refer to a woman who sleeps around. She was a loose woman. A very sexist way of thinking, which I hope is on its way out. We hope that people will lose that kind of attitude!

In general, the way to remember this one is that lose is a verb and loose is an adjective. There is only one way to conjugate loose unless you want to say loosely.

Monday, September 5, 2016


It's raining cats and dogs.

She has a heart of gold.

That's like comparing apples and oranges.

What do all these statements have in common? They are all yesterday's news. We've heard them countless times before, and they lack pizzazz.

When you're writing, try to come up with unique sayings rather than relying on recycled thoughts. Devise your own metaphors and similes. Even if they're not as clever as a well-known cliché, they will be fresh. They will be yours, and readers will remember and respect the fact that you took the extra time to come up with something original.