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Grammar Primer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 12, 2011

Do you get stumped periodically on certain phrases in your writing? I have a sentence in my current WIP: “I wrote down the info Chelsea gave me then lay back on my chaise.”

Wait a minute. Is that correct? Should it be lay or lie? Or maybe laid or lied? I’d better consult my grammar notes. Okay, I think what I have above is correct. What do you say?   

                          writer pencil

WHICH versus THAT

That is the defining or restrictive pronoun: The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

Which is the nondefining or nonrestrictive pronoun: The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the mower)

If the clause can be omitted without altering the meaning of the noun it modifies, use which; otherwise, use that.

A clause starting with which should be set off by commas; one starting with that should not.

LIKE versus AS

Use like before a noun, a compound noun, or a pronoun.

Use as before a phrase (a group of words containing neither a subject nor a predicate):

She smelled sweet, as a girl named Violet should, but she swore like a stevedore.

Use as if or as though before a clause (a group of words containing both a subject and a predicate):

She drenched herself in Obsession as if it were as cheap as ale.

He acted as though he owned me.

LAY versus LIE

Lay means to place, put down, or deposit. It requires a direct object. The past tense of lay is laid.

Lay the book on the table. He laid it down. She has laid her books next to the clock. They have been laying papers down all over the office.

Lie means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. The past of lie is lay.

Let it lie. He lay there without moving. She has just lain down beside him. They have been lying there for hours.

EACH OTHER versus ONE ANOTHER

Use each other when referring to two people: Olivia and Victor loved each other.

Use one another for more than two people: Kelly, George, and Linda loved one another madly.

AND versus BUT

Do not use a comma when there’s only one subject: She stood up and walked to the door.

Do use a comma with a compound sentence (two subjects and two verbs): She stood up, and a wave of dizziness assailed her. The situation is fraught with danger, but we have a chance to escape.

WHILE

Use it to mean "during the time that". Try replacing it with a semicolon, or substitute "although".

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One Response to “Grammar Primer”

  1. Jeanne Meeks said

    Good reminders, Nancy. I keep a sticky note stuck to my computer to refer to the correct uses of lie, lay, lain, etc. Somehow I can’t remember them with any confidence.

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