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July 2005

LIE VS. LAY

Every month, several GrammarCheck subscribers and Web site visitors ask us to explain the rules about using "lie" vs. "lay," so we decided to make it this month's feature article.

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Let's begin with two easy ways to remember when to use "lie" or "lay." If the first one doesn't help, move on to the second (or vice versa).

1. Try the "rest/place" test. Substitute a form of "lie" or "lay" with a form of "rest" or "place." If a form of "rest" makes more sense, use a form of LIE. If a form of "place" makes more sense, use a form of LAY.

Rest (rested, resting) = lie (lay, lain, lying)

Place (placed, placing) = lay (laid, laid, laying)

2. Use LIE (or one of its conjugated forms) when referring to something physically "connected" to the person or thing doing the lying or laying. Use LAY (or one of its conjugated forms) when referring to something physically "disconnected" from the person or thing doing the lying or laying.

Before we move on to some examples, let's look at why using "lie" and "lay" is so problematic.

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The most difficult problem with knowing when to use "lie" or "lay" is the fact that LAY is used both as the past tense of "lie" AND as its own base form. There's no way around this problem except to memorize the conjugation of each base form and then to apply one or both of our memory tips.

A secondary problem is that, when speaking, we often use incorrect verb tenses. For example, you might hear someone say the following: "I laid down on the couch after supper last night." The correct verb to use would be LAY: "I lay down on the couch after supper last night." Most people, however, think this correct usage sounds funny.

Then there is a popular song that uses "lay" incorrectly. Bob Dylan's classic LAY, LADY, LAY should really be LIE, LADY, LIE, but I think we all can agree that the grammatically correct way sounds awful.

Putting aside these difficulties, let's look at how you can begin to master the use of "lie" vs. "lay."

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Memorize the following base forms or make sure they're readily available when needed.

LIE

Present Tense: Lie

Past Tense: Lay

Past Participle: Lain

Present Participle: Lying

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LAY

Present Tense: Lay

Past Tense: Laid

Past Participle: Laid

Present Participle: Laying

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Now let's look at several examples.

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PRESENT TENSE: LIE OR LAY?

Example: Jerry (lies/lays) down to take a nap every afternoon.

1. "Jerry rests to take a nap every afternoon" makes more sense than "Jerry places to take a nap every afternoon"--but neither one sounds right--so you can use the second method for determining the correct verb to use.

2. Who or what lies or lays down? Jerry. What does he lie or lay down? His entire body, which is a connected, physical part of the person doing the lying or laying. The correct verb form is "lies."

Jerry LIES down to take a nap every afternoon.

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Example: Jerry (lies/lays) his keys on the table every evening.

1. "Jerry rests his keys on the table every evening" makes less sense than "Jerry places his keys on the table every evening," but both may sound okay to some people (the first one in a colloquial sense), so use the second method if you're not sure which verb is correct.

2. Who lies or lays something down? Jerry. What does he lie or lay down? The keys, which are "disconnected" physically from his body. The correct verb form is "lays."

Jerry LAYS his keys on the table every morning.

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Example: The red toy fish (lies/lays) on the living room floor to this day.

1. "The red toy fish rests on the living room floor to this day" makes more sense than "The red toy fish places on the living room floor to this day," so the correct verb form is "lies."

2. What lies or lays down? The fish. Nothing that lies or lays down is physically disconnected from the fish, so the correct verb form is "lies."

The red toy fish LIES on the living room floor to this day.

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Example: My aunt wants the toddler to (lie/lay) the toy on the shelf.

1. "My aunt wants the toddler to rest the toy on the shelf" makes less sense than "My aunt wants the toddler to place the toy on the shelf," so the correct verb form is "lay."

2. Who is supposed to lie or lay something down? The toddler. What is he or she supposed to lie or lay down? The toy, which is disconnected physically from the person doing the lying or laying. The correct verb form is "lay."

My aunt wants the toddler to LAY the toy on the shelf.

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PAST TENSE: LAY OR LAID?

Example: Yesterday, I (lay/laid) my head on the pillow for comfort.

1. "Yesterday, I rested my head on the pillow for comfort" makes more sense than the macabre "Yesterday, I placed my head on the pillow for comfort," but both may make sense to some people, so move on to the second method if you're not sure.

2. Who lay or laid something down? I did. What was lay or laid down? My head, which is connected physically to the person who did the lying or laying (one hopes). The correct verb is "lay."

Yesterday, I LAY my head on the pillow for comfort.

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Example: Two days ago, I lost my keys after I (lay/laid) them on the kitchen counter.

1. "Two days ago, I lost my keys after I rested them on the kitchen counter" makes less sense than "Two days ago, I lost my keys after I placed them on the kitchen counter," so the correct verb form to use is "laid." However, both sentences may make sense to some people. The second method should help to clarify which verb form to use.

2. Who lay or laid something down? I did. What was lay or laid down? My keys, which are disconnected physically from the person who did the lying or laying. The correct verb is "laid."

Two days ago, I lost my keys after I LAID them on the kitchen counter.

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Example: Both of my parents noticed that yesterday Morgan (lay/laid) down quite a bit.

1. "Both of his parents noticed that yesterday Morgan rested quite a bit" makes more sense than "Both of his parents noticed that yesterday Morgan placed quite a bit," so the correct verb form is "lay."

2. Who lay or laid down? Morgan. What was lay or laid down? His entire body, which is connected physically to the person who lay or laid down. The correct verb form is "lay."

Both of my parents noticed that yesterday Morgan LAY down quite a bit.

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PAST PARTICIPLE: LAIN OR LAID?

Example: Susie has (lain/laid) on the basement sofa for two days now.

1. "Susie has rested on the basement sofa for two days now" makes more sense than "Susie has placed on the basement sofa for two days now," so the correct verb form is "lain."

2. Who has lain or laid? Susie. What has she lain or laid? Her entire body, which is connected physically to the person who has lain or laid. The correct verb form is "lain."

Susie has LAIN on the basement sofa for two days now.

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Example: Kevin has (lain/laid) roses on his wife's grave every July 4th since she died.

1. "Kevin has rested roses on his wife's grave every July 4th since she died" makes less sense than "Kevin has placed roses on his wife's grave every July 4th since she died." The correct verb form is "laid."

2. Who has lain or laid something? Kevin. What has he lain or laid? Roses, which are disconnected from the person who has lain or laid something. The correct verb form is "laid."

Kevin has LAID roses on his wife's grave every July 4th since she died.

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PRESENT PARTICIPLE: LYING OR LAYING?

Example: You'll find Barry (lying/laying) over there on the bench.

1. "You'll find Barry resting over there on the bench" makes more sense than "You'll find Barry placing over there on the bench," so the correct verb form is "lying."

2. Who is lying or laying? Barry. What is he lying or laying? His entire body, which is connected physically to the person doing the lying or laying. The correct verb form is "lying."

You'll find Barry LYING over there on the bench.

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Example: You won't find Maggie (lying/laying) her books down anywhere else.

1. "You won't find Maggie resting her books down anywhere else" makes less sense than "You won't find Maggie placing her books down anywhere else." The correct verb form is "laying."

2. Who is lying or laying something down? Maggie. What is she lying or laying down? Her books, which are disconnected physically from the person lying or laying something down. The correct verb form is "laying."

You won't find Maggie LAYING her books down anywhere else.

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As a final note to this section, we tend to agree with the following take on the "lie" vs. "lay" issue: It's okay to be forgiving when you hear someone use "lie" or "lay" incorrectly in spoken language or informal writing (think Bob Dylan), but in formal writing, it's wise to use the correct form.

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PRACTICE EXERCISES

Choose the correct verb form for the following sentences.

1. If you (lie/lay) on this sofa before noon, you'll damage the newly washed fabric.

2. Sarah was so exhausted that she (lay/laid) her ring on the countertop before (lying/laying) down for the evening.

3. If you had (lain/laid) your keys on the table where they belong, you wouldn't have lost them.

4. Are you sure that Irina is (lying/laying) new floor tile in the bathroom?

5. The beautiful red rose continues to (lie/lay) on the treasured book.

6. I saw a weird cartoon yesterday in which Casper (a friendly ghost) removed his head and (lay/laid) it on a pillow.

7. Mother said that Father could have worked yesterday, but he chose to (lie/lay) around instead.

Look for the correct answers in next month's edition of GrammarCheck.

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HAVE ANY STYLE AND/OR EDITING SUGGESTIONS? WRITE TO US!

Our readers often share great ideas about writing and grammar. If you have a writing tip related to editing for style, e-mail it to mailto:grammarcheck@gmail.com. Your idea may appear in a future edition of GrammarCheck.

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QUESTION: When do you use "bad" or "badly"? For example, which of the following is correct:

1. I feel bad about that.

2. I feel badly about that.

GRAMMARCHECK: If you're writing about your health, then you feel bad. If you're writing about your sense of touch, then you feel badly.

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QUESTION: I am an avid reader, a book reviewer, and a co-host at a writing exercise board. I've noticed an increase in the use of "okay" in published novels, but I fail to see any consensus on proper spelling. Is "okay" correct, or, because the word is considered slang, are OK, ok, O.K., and/or o.k. also acceptable? (Lynda)

GRAMMARCHECK: Grammarians disagree about the acceptable spelling of this American slang term. They do agree, however, that while it's common in informal writing and speech, it should be avoided in correspondences that are more formal. Its acceptable forms of spelling are OK, O.K., o.k., and okay.

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http://www.ProofreadNOW.com/

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QUESTION: I would like your opinion about starting consecutive sentences or paragraphs with the same word. My particular interest regards the writing of fiction.

In the case of the sentences, I understand that sound is affected by the repetition. The effect is poetic, and it may be desired. Most likely, though, you need to be careful of it in narrative prose. It may interfere with the sense of forward motion.

I'm not so sure about the prohibition against starting consecutive paragraphs with the same word. It is purely a visual matter. Is that a good enough reason to outlaw it? If so, are there exceptions? I can't see how the articles (a, an, the) pose a difficulty since they barely register; instead, they move the eye to the following noun.

Thanks very much for your assistance. I'll look forward to your reply. (Ryk)

GRAMMARCHECK: There are no "laws" against using the same word at the beginning of consecutive sentences or paragraphs. Doing so is a stylistic or contextual matter that writers face when composing texts. Some teachers encourage students NOT to start consecutive sentences and paragraphs with the same word, but it's not wrong to do so. We believe that writers should be aware of the poetic, visual, and psychological effects of repetition (as you so eloquently stated) and then choose the style of writing that best suits their rhetorical intent.

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QUESTION: What punctuation is used between items in an indented, bulleted list? Thank you. (Gina)

GRAMMARCHECK: Great question, Gina. Our answer will be next month's feature article.

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Our circulation continues to increase every month, so help us spread the word about GrammarCheck by forwarding this edition to coworkers, students, and others who want to improve their grammar and writing skills. Encourage them to add GrammarCheck to their monthly reading list. Thank you for making us one of the Internet's largest newsletters about grammar and writing.

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Several comments/questions came in about one of last month's GRAMMAR IN THE WILD examples. Let's briefly review what we wrote about this example.

We found the following sign posted at a national retailer:

Original: "Bathing suits can only be returned if they have a protective liner and a reciept Per health dept."

After discussing three of the sign's grammatical errors, we suggested the following revised sentence:

Revised: "Bathing suits can only be returned if they have a protective liner and a receipt per health department regulations."

Now on to the questions and comments.

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QUESTION: I am a recent subscriber to your newsletter and am really enjoying and learning from it. In your June 2005 edition, I saw an item in your "Grammar in the Wild" section that touches on a pet peeve of mine. I often read things and notice the placement of the word ONLY. This word imposes "restrictions" on whatever follows it, and I feel that it is often misplaced and restricts the wrong thing. I found an example of this in your second example:

"Bathing suits can only be returned if they have a protective liner and a receipt per health department regulations."

After reading this sentence, I thought for sure you'd comment on placement of the world ONLY. In my opinion, ONLY should be placed before the word IF. I assume the intent of the sentence is to require two conditions (protective liner in place, receipt available) for the customer to be able to return a suit. Putting ONLY before BE RETURNED slightly changes the meaning of the sentence. In other words, putting ONLY where it is restricts what the customer can DO with the suit (return it), not the conditions required (liner, receipt) to do anything with it.

I admittedly don't know grammar rules well enough to know if there are any that may apply here. Any comments you care to make about this would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks, Sue.

GRAMMARCHECK: Thanks for writing, Sue, and welcome to GrammarCheck as a recent subscriber. We should have mentioned last month that the "advertising" nature of a sign used in a retail establishment permits one to take some liberties with it. After all, "understood meaning" can trump grammatical correctness in advertising. As a result, we covered only the most obvious grammatical errors in last month's sign.

You make a good point, however, about the placement of "only." Many grammarians agree with you since its placement does restrict what the customer can do with the bathing suit. On the other hand, others believe that placing "only" after "can" is acceptable if there is no chance of being misunderstood. We didn't think anyone would be misled into believing they couldn't wear the bathing suit, purchase it, or throw it away (among other actions) without a liner and receipt. As a result, the placement of "only" after "can" is okay from a practical point of view. In a more formal context, however, we agree with you.

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COMMENT: There are two grammatical errors remaining in your corrected version: the misplaced "only" and the dangling "per health department regulations."

Bathing suits can be bought, tried on, worn, thrown in a drawer, and all sorts of other things. Returning them is not the only option.

Does the protective liner come from the health department?

A more accurate sentence structure for the store's sign would be:

"Per health department regulations, bathing suits can be returned only if they have a protective liner and a store receipt."

Love your newsletter! (Kathie)

GRAMMARCHECK: Hello, Kathie. Thanks for writing! We already addressed your first concern above, so let's move on to the second regarding the dangling "per health department regulations." The word "per" means "according to," which refers to the conditions necessary to return a bathing suit. At first, we thought you referred to "per health department regulations" as dangling because it was separated from "protective liner," but your suggested revision indicates that it refers to the protective liner AND the store receipt.

We have two comments about your suggestion. First, we could argue that from a linguistic perspective, a retailer shouldn't begin the sentence with "Per health department regulations" since those words are not an important part of the message and thus shouldn't be placed in such a prominent thematic position. Second, if the health department requires both a protective liner and a store receipt for bathing suit returns, then your revised sentence would be correct. However, our guess is that health departments don't require a store receipt for bathing suit returns. Rather, it's probably a store policy, so the revised sentence may need to be tweaked. That takes us to the next comment.

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COMMENT: I feel that there is a fourth correction that needs to be made based on the following question: Does the health department require a receipt? If it does, then the sentence is correct. If it doesn't, then the sentence needs to be recast to avoid miscommunication:

"Bathing suits can only be returned if they have a protective liner, per health department regulations, and a receipt." (Paul)

GRAMMARCHECK: Thanks for raising this issue, Paul. Although your revised sentence includes "can only," which some grammarians would find troublesome, your point is well taken. Placing "per health department regulations" between "protective liner" and "receipt" makes sense and is grammatically correct, but it also separates the sign's two most important points: You need a protective liner and a receipt to return a bathing suit. Here's a final question related to the same issue.

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QUESTION: I remember hearing something about separating a verb or helping verbs with adverbs such as "only." What is the rule for such circumstances? Also I feel there should be a comma prior to "per" since it could be misread as needing a receipt per the health department. In actuality, it is the protective liner and the receipt (more so the liner) with which the health department would be concerned. Is this incorrect? Thanks, Jason.

GRAMMARCHECK: Thanks for writing, Jason. We already addressed your question regarding the use of "only" with helping verbs. Here's our take on your second question. The word "per" is used in this sentence as a preposition. Commas typically should not be placed before a prepositional phrase except to avoid a misreading. In this case, placing a comma before "per" might help avoid a misreading only if the health department required a protective liner AND a receipt.

So where do we stand? If we had the opportunity to rewrite last month's column, we would opt for the following revised sentences:

"A protective liner and a receipt are required for all bathing suit returns."

"Bathing suits can be returned only if they have a protective liner and a receipt."

Why leave out any reference to health department regulations? Because it's a fact that can be told to customers who ask why a protective liner is required. Besides, a retailer can determine its own return policy, and the two revised sentences above state the store's policy succinctly and correctly. Thanks again to everyone who wrote!

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GRAMMAR IN THE WILD

Each month, we present an example (or two) of printed texts we've come across that contain one or more grammatical errors. This month, we found a large sign (posted in a local mall) with several grammatical errors.

1. "Where Seniority Has It's Privileges"

The problem: IT'S is a contraction that stands for "it is." The sentence makes no sense when read as follows: Where Seniority Has It Is Privileges."

Correction: "Where Seniority Has Its Privileges"

2. "We pay your Heat, Gas Cooking, Trash, Water & Sewer making Chapel Hill Towers one of the best Values in the area."

Problem #1: Heat, Gas Cooking, Trash, Water, Sewer, and Values do not need to be capitalized, although the "advertising" nature of the sign permits it if the copywriter's intent is to emphasize the sign's most important points.

Problem #2: A participial phrase ("making Chapel Hill Towers one of the best Values in the area") should be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.

Problem #3: A comma should be placed between the last two items in the series. (Although many grammarians believe the serial comma is optional, we prefer its use.)

Correction: "We pay your heat, gas cooking, trash, water, and sewer, making Chapel Hill Towers one of the best values in the area."

Better: "We pay your heat, gas cooking, trash, water, and sewer costs, making Chapel Hill Towers one of the best housing values in the area."

3. "With a large population of Senior Citizens we offer Secure Buildings and Fully Uniformed Door Attendants on-duty every evening stationed in your lobby."

Problem #1: A prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence should be followed by a comma (unless the prepositional phrase is short).

Problem #2: Senior Citizens, Secure Buildings, and Fully Uniformed Door Attendants do not need to be capitalized unless the copywriter's intent is to emphasize the sign's most important points.

Problem #3: On-duty should not be hyphenated since it is not a compound adjective in this context.

Problem #4: A participle phrase ("stationed in your lobby") that appears at the end of a sentence and that is separated from the word it modifies ("door attendants") should be set off with commas.

Problem #5: Using "your lobby" infers that each person has his or her own lobby and thus will be served by his or her own door attendant.

Correction: "With a large population of senior citizens, we offer secure buildings and fully uniformed door attendants--stationed in the lobby--on duty every evening."

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QUESTION: When writing, I never like to see "however" or "therefore" at the beginning or at the end of a sentence. I've always thought that these words should be placed in the middle of sentences, with a comma on either side of the word. Am I right or wrong?

GRAMMARCHECK: Grammarians disagree about the correctness of using these conjunctive adverbs at the beginning of a sentence. We believe it's okay to start a sentence with a conjunctive adverb; however, one should ask for what rhetorical purpose it would be used in such a manner.

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QUESTION: There is an ongoing question in my office regarding lists. Which of the following sentences is correct?

1. I would like to buy apples, peaches, and pears.

2. I would like to buy apples, peaches and pears.

Thanks. (Caissa)

GRAMMARCHECK: Both sentences are grammatically correct. We prefer the first sentence, however, since we recommend that a comma separate the final two items in a list. Thanks for writing, Caissa!

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WORD OF THE MONTH

"Sentient" (SEN-shee-uhnt) adjective

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Capable of perceiving by the senses; conscious. Experiencing sensation or feeling.

Example: Only sentient people can enjoy the beauty of a Florida sunrise.

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Words, pronunciations, and definitions courtesy of Dictionary.com, Copyright 2005, Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved. Visit http://www.Dictionary.com for all your on-line dictionary and thesaurus needs.

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QUESTION: I have a question that no one seems to know the answer to. Is it correct to use "comma/and" or does "and" stand alone? For instance . . .

Jimmie and I were leaving the school bus, and I saw Jill ahead of us.

or

Jimmie and I were leaving the school bus and I saw Jill ahead of us.

As children we were always taught to write "comma/and." Now, the school of thought is that "comma/and" is redundant and should not be used. Please help with the answer. I volunteer at the newspaper club at my children's middle school, and when I first started, all the editorial copy used "comma/and," and now we changed over and took out all the commas that appear before the "ands," but the teachers insist on the comma/and.

Can you help? Thank you so much. Sincerely, Stacy.

GRAMMARCHECK: It's never incorrect to join two independent clauses with a "comma/and." You may choose to leave out the comma when short independent clauses are combined, but when "and" is used to join two independent clauses, we recommend that a comma be placed before the "and," as you have done in your first example. Thanks for writing, Stacy!

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QUESTION: I've just read your latest [June] issue and noticed the following:

"Regarding the two sentences in question: the superlative of 'proud' is 'prouder,' so the second sentence is correct. We should mention, however, that the use of 'more proud' is quite common in informal settings."

Isn't the superlative of "proud" "proudest," "prouder" being the comparative? Thanks, and best wishes. (Mark)

GRAMMARCHECK: Thanks for catching this, Mark. At least four very qualified people proofread last month's edition and we all missed it. "Prouder," indeed, is the COMPARATIVE of "proud." Why we wrote "superlative" continues to mystify us. Thanks for writing!

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GRAMMARCHECK ARCHIVES

Read past issues of GrammarCheck on-line at http://www.GrammarCheck.com/archives/

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QUESTION: When you use the words "such as" in a sentence, do you place a comma before them?

GRAMMARCHECK: It depends on how they're used in the sentence. If "such as" appears at the beginning of a restrictive adjective clause, it should NOT be set off with commas. If it appears at the beginning of a nonrestrictive adjective clause, it SHOULD be set off with commas.

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Example #1 (Restrictive Adjective Clause):

Vegetables such as cucumbers and carrots taste better uncooked.

In this example, "such as" is used at the beginning of a restrictive adjective clause. Placing a comma before "such as" (and then after "carrots") would indicate incorrectly that the adjective clause could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

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Example #2 (Nonrestrictive Adjective Clause):

Cooked vegetables, such as tomatoes and carrots, lose some of their taste compared to their raw consumption.

In this example, "such as" is used at the beginning of a nonrestrictive adjective clause. Removing the clause would not change the sentence's meaning.

For more information about restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, see the May 2005 edition of GrammarCheck.

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QUESTION: How do you correctly write the name and academic degree of a person when you need to list the last name first? Should it be MacAuley, Richard M.D., or MacAuley M.D., Richard?

GRAMMARCHECK: We couldn't find an answer to your question in our grammar sources, so we consulted the telephone directory, which lists names and titles in the following manner:

MacAuley Richard MD

Smith Betsy A PhD

We find no problem with listing names in the following manner as well:

MacAuley, Richard, M.D.

Smith, Betsy A., Ph.D.

MacAuley, Richard, MD

Smith, Betsy A., PhD

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WEB SITE OF THE MONTH

Each month we feature a Web site that provides on-line help with grammar and/or writing. Check out this month's site:

"Young Writers' Clubhouse"

http://www.realkids.com/home4.htm

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QUESTION: I'm a technical writer for a computer company, and I really like to make things parallel in my sentences. I recently came across the following sentence:

Selected variables can be scalar, columnar, row, or table objects.

I changed the sentence to say,

Selected variables can be scale, column, row, or table objects.

My boss, however, said "scale" means something different than "scalar." Okay. So I tried to put the suffix on all the words, but "row" isn't conducive to "-ar." The sentence would read,

Selected variables can be scalar, columnar, row, or tabular objects.

That's just not cool. What can I do? Right now, my boss and I have agreed to a truce with the following:

Selected variables can be scalar, column, row, or table objects.

Since "scalar" is a technical term, does it even need to be parallel with the other items? Thanks, Charity.

GRAMMARCHECK: Since all four terms function as adjectives in the sentence, the use of their base forms before "objects" would be considered parallel in structure. We believe the "truce" sentence is the best one to use. Thanks for writing, Charity.

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QUESTION: I have attached an article.Recently I sent this article to an e-zine editor and he almost deleted my membership, saying my article is full of grammatical errors and doesn't have spaces after a comma or period.Will you please take a look at my article?

GRAMMARCHECK: We don't proofread submitted articles as part of our GrammarCheck duties. However, we did notice that no "space" was typed after the period of each sentence of your question (see above). One space should be typed after a period and a comma. If you're interested in hiring excellent proofreaders, the good folks at ProofreadNOW.com can help you. We recommend their service.

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QUESTION: Kindly check which of the following phrases is correct.

1. If I ever get TO the verge of doing that

2. If I ever get ON the verge of doing that

I used #1 and my boyfriend said I was so wrong. Thanks in advance for your help.

GRAMMARCHECK: The correct one to use is ON, but we hope your boyfriend realizes that you probably heard others using TO with this phrase and were merely repeating what you learned, just as he heard others using ON. Thanks for writing!

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