Ulla de Stricker, de Stricker Associates

Following on her piece in the December 2013 issue, Ulla de Stricker offers additional examples of common but easily avoidable errors in English language usage.

Lielay, Laylie: Let’s not sound like country song lyrics!

WRONG: Wouldn’t we all love to lay on the beach! Oh, to be laying in the lap of luxury!
CORRECT: … lie on the beach. … lying in the lap of luxury.

“Lay” is a transitive verb, meaning “put an object somewhere”: May I lay the parcel here on the counter?
“Lie” is intransitive, meaning “stay in one place”: Is it OK for the parcel to lie here until someone comes to get it?

When the country singer sings “I’m laying here alone” … we must wonder what he or she is laying … train tracks?

But of course, it gets confusing when we go to past tense.

WRONG: I laid on the beach all afternoon yesterday.
CORRECT: I lay on the beach all afternoon yesterday.

Here’s the drill:

LAY – LAYING – LAID – LAID – LAYING: Someone is putting something somewhere.

I now lay a parcel on the counter. I’m laying it down right this second. Yesterday, I laid a parcel on the counter. I have laid a parcel on this counter many times. I’ll be laying wreaths at this monument for as long as I’m able. I have been laying memorial wreaths at the monument for many years.

LIE – LYING – LAY – LAIN – LYING: Someone or something is staying in one place.

The matter lies dormant for the moment. The matter is lying dormant for now. The matter lay dormant for 3 months before the new board could deal with it. The matter has lain dormant for months, but now it is on the agenda. The matter will be (has been) lying dormant for some time.

SOLUTION IF YOU’RE NOT SURE: Use another verb. How long has this parcel been sitting here? I stayed on the beach for hours. She will be using the couch while her guests have the bedroom.

PS: The common expression “lay of the land” should be “lie of the land” (how the land lies). You may just want to omit the phrase from your vocabulary since the error is pervasive—you’ll be using the correct phrase and others may think you aren’t!

It will be altogether too cramped in the car if we go all together.

WRONG: I find the shopping mall all together too busy. Once more, altogether now, let’s do the chorus.
CORRECT: I find the shopping mall altogether too busy. Once more, all together …

Trick: “Altogether” means “entirely” and it’s safe to use that alternative if you’re in doubt.

Elvis may have been “all shook up”—but we aren’t taken in by it!

WRONG: The passengers were quite shook up after the collision. Should it have took that long to cook?
CORRECT: The passengers were quite shaken (“up” is optional). Should it have taken that long?

Here’s a goner: “Have went”.

WRONG: I’m amazed at your patience—I would have went crazy!
CORRECT: I would have gone crazy.

“Went” is correct as the simple past tense of “go”, but it can’t be combined with “have”: The children went nuts when Santa arrived. If I hadn’t been feeling ill, I would have gone to the meeting.

We all need a little orientation now and then … but we sure don’t need anyone “orientating” us!

Here is another easy one. Never again say or write “orientate”. The word is “orient”. An instructor orients us today and oriented us yesterday.

Trick: How would you feel if you woke up in Beijing tomorrow? Dis-orient-ed!