Grammatically Speaking: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear… by Linda Lee Williams

Grammatically Speaking: Don’t believe everything you hear…

By Linda Lee Williams

As authors, we face a lot of challenges in our writing.  Although we pride ourselves in knowing how to tell a good story, choosing the correct words can prove difficult.  Every day we engage in conversation or watch TV and we’re bombarded with inconsistencies in the English language.  Pretty soon, expressions and words that are wrong sound “right” to our ears.  Unless we’re careful, these errors will creep into our writing.  Here are some of the most common mistakes.

Listen #1: Lie vs. Lay

Lie, lay, lain - to be in a reclining position.  The verb usually precedes a prepositional phrase or an adverb and doesn’t take an object.

Incorrect: She was laying on the beach.
Correct: She was lying on the beach.
Incorrect: She wanted to lay down for a while.
Correct: She wanted to lie down for a while.
Correct: After lying down for a while, she felt better.

Incorrect: She laid there, crying.
Correct: She lay there, crying.
Correct: She had lain in bed, crying for hours.

Lay, laid, laid – to place or to set.  The verb requires an object.

Correct usages:
Present tense: He lays the book aside and takes off his glasses.
Past/past perfect tense: He laid/had laid the book aside to read later.
Participial phrase: Laying the book aside, he took off his glasses.

For more information about these confusing verbs, please visit my blog post on the topic:
Lie or Lay: Cluck, cluck!

Listen #2: Between friends – “us” not “we”

“Between” is a preposition and takes the objective—not the nominative—case of a pronoun.  Easy rule to remember: If you can substitute “us” instead of “we,” it should be objective case.

Incorrect: Between you and I (we?), I can’t stand football.
Correct: Between you and me (us), I can’t stand football.
Incorrect:  I like John more than I like Jim, but that’s just between you and I…
Correct: I like John more than I like Jim, but that’s just between you and me

Listen #3: Graduate / Graduate from

Incorrect: I graduated college last year.
Correct: I graduated from college last year.

Listen #4: Kind of a drag…or, Where have your eyes gone?

Incorrect: She drug her eyes away from his.
Correct: She dragged her eyes away from his.
Better: She dragged her gaze away from his.

Comical: Her eyes dropped to the floor (and then they rolled away?).
Better: Her gaze dropped to the floor.

Listen #5: Disagreeable pronouns – I’ve got your number!

Incorrect: Someone was speaking to her, but she couldn’t hear them.
Correct: Someone was speaking to her, but she couldn’t hear him/her.
Correct: Someone was speaking to her, but she couldn’t hear the person (gender neutral).

Incorrect: She saw someone, but they ran away.
Correct: She saw someone, but he/she ran away.
Correct: She saw someone, but the person ran away (gender neutral).

You can’t believe everything you see…

I’d be remiss not to address the negative impact of “texting” on grammar and punctuation, or how poor editing is propagated from book to book.  Here are a few things that your eyes may have adjusted to but your brain should not—at least, not when writing a novel.

Incorrect: “Honey could you please shut the door?”
Correct: “Honey, could you please shut the door?”

Incorrect: “I’m sorry I let you down Mary.”
Correct: “I’m sorry I let you down, Mary.

Incorrect: He couldn’t understand the way she behaved it made no sense.
Correct: He couldn’t understand the way she behaved; it made no sense.
Correct: He couldn’t understand the way she behaved.  It made no sense.

Incorrect: We walked to the end of the block then turned the corner.
Correct: We walked to the end of the block and then turned the corner.
Correct: We walked to the end of the block, and then we turned the corner.
Correct: We walked to the end of the block and turned the corner.

Incorrect: Its raining here.
Correct: It’s (“it is”) raining here.

You can quote me on this…

In American English, quotation marks always enclose commas and periods, with one exception.
Single quotes ‘…’ should only be used within full quotation marks.  All four examples below are correct.

1) Although we thought of him as “deceitful,” we had no choice but to trust him.
2) I’ve watched every episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”
3) She studied very hard to get an “A”.  (The exception occurs when a letter of the alphabet comes at the end of a sentence.)
4) “When I asked why he was angry, he said ‘bite me.’”

For further reference on proper placement of quotation marks, please check these helpful posts on Grammar Girl:  /

Note: Brits punctuate differently!  If you’re not a British writer, however, it’s best to stick to the American standard.
The lesson for authors is not to trust our ears or our eyes, but to know the difference.  As writers, we have the opportunity to lead by example.  If we “say it right” and “do it right,” everyone else might get it right, too.

Someday, maybe I’ll master all the techniques of good writing.  Until then, I’ll keep working at it and share what I’ve learned.

Write well, and be happy!

Guest Blogger Bio

Linda Lee Williams writes “contemporary romance with a paranormal twist.”  After moving to Denver from Chicago, she taught writing classes at Arapahoe Community College and formed a writers’ group.  Recently, she teamed up with her husband Tim—the artist that illustrated her book covers—to publish her novels on Amazon.

An outdoor enthusiast, Linda enjoys hiking, biking, and birding.  She loves critters of all kinds, domestic or wild.  During her journeys, she’s called Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Missouri, and Colorado home.  Wherever she roams, she draws inspiration from her surroundings.

Author Links:    


  1. Great post! It's so disconcerting to find errors in books--they distract me and take my mind out of the scene that the author has worked so hard to create. Thank you for pointing out these common mistakes.

  2. Thanks. That lie, lay, lying, laid gets me every time.

  3. Marie, thanks for featuring me on Writing in the Modern Age. Sandra, I'm glad that you enjoyed the article. Madison, it's not easy to get those verbs right when we continually hear them wrong!

  4. Thanks!

    Yes, language changes. The "lay/lie" thing will change, as more and more people say "I was laying down..." and the like. Punctuation changes; just compare Jane Austen's comma use to Margaret Atwood's, for example. But it's up to writers to be conservative and keep the changes from happening too fast, because too many changes that happen too quickly make accurate understanding difficult, and accurate communication and understanding are important!

  5. What an interesting post. As a French Canadian who uses English as a second language, the "lay/lie/lying/laid" has me puzzled all the time. I never know which one I should use. Now, it's more clear. Thank you so much. I will save the links you've provided for the future. I'm sure I will revert to them sooner or later.

  6. Very useful stuff, except shouldn't you pride yourself 'on' knowing something, not 'in' it? Just saying....!

  7. Anonymous: It can be either, depending on the meaning. I was referring to "ability" rather than "knowledge." Here's a grammar link:

  8. Wonderful help! Always good to reiterate :) Thank you, Marie!

  9. Linda's article is very helpful, I agree. :)

  10. Thank you for taking the time to read the article, Jan. I'm glad it was helpful. And again, thanks for inviting me to write a guest post, Marie!

  11. Great article! Easy to understand. As a latecomer to writing and it's been a long time since school, throughout my working life I had a typist, grammar was not something I thought about. As a fledgling author I was so excited to write I just wrote. My grammar was bought to my attention by good friends so an article like yours is a godsend to me.Thank you.

  12. Thanks, Carol! I'm glad that you found my article helpful and appreciate your comments. Keep writing, no matter what, and keep learning. Never forget Hemingway's quote: "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes the master."

    Best of luck!

    1. Love that quote, Linda. That is so very true. One of my Creative Writing professors in college was so right when she said, "No one is truly an expert anything; we are constantly evolving." Advice in articles like this always helps us improve our writing.

    2. Your professor was right, Marie. No matter how much we think we know, we can never know it all. And thank heavens for that! Or life wouldn't hold any surprises or be any fun. If I can learn something new every day, I'm happy!

      Thanks for your kind comments.


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