GUMP: LAY vs. LIE

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I did EFFECT vs. AFFECT last week, thinking someone had requested it.  I’m sure someone did, though I can’t seem to find any evidence of it.  But a reader definitely did ask me to do LAY vs. LIE, so I thought I’d take a shot today at minimizing the confusion about that one.

(Minimize, not eliminate.)

The thing with LAY vs. LIE, as with several of the other “mix-ups” I’ve addressed in the past couple of weeks, is that a great many English speakers don’t have a built-in “that doesn’t feel right” sensor for it, and even those who do often don’t know which one to use.  The result is that a whole lot of people just sort of use whichever one pops into their heads.

Don’t do that.  You need a system.

As I pointed out last week, the primary source of the confusion with EFFECT and AFFECT is that both words can be used both as nouns and as verbs.  So I’ll start with good news:  Although LAY and LIE are also used both as nouns and as verbs, the problem exists ONLY in their verb form.

LIE can be a noun, as in, “You’re not telling the truth!  That’s a LIE!”

And LAY can be a noun as well, as in, “I’m trying to figure out the LAY of the land.”

Nobody confuses these.  Nobody.  The problem isn’t with the noun versions.  It’s the verbs.

LAY is a transitive verb.  What does that mean?  It means it takes a direct object.  What does that mean?  It means you can’t just LAY DOWN when you have a headache.  If you do, you’ve chosen the wrong word.

You have to LAY SOMETHING.  That is, LAY is a verb you have to do TO something.

(You can snicker all you want, but by definition, a mnemonic is something that helps you remember things.  If you can remember that you need to LAY something, it’s working.)

If you have a headache, you can LAY your head on a nice, soft, down pillow, but you can’t just LAY down.

Hey, I didn’t make the rules . . I’m just trying to explain them.  Nobody said English was easy.

OK, so that’s LAY.

In contrast, LIE is an intransitive verb, which by definition CANNOT take a direct object.

Example:  My dog loves to LIE in the sun.  (Not LAY in the sun.)

I like to LIE in the sun myself, when it’s warm enough.  People in California are probably LYING in the sun even as I write this.  Me, I’m wearing a nice, thick sweatshirt right now.

When it warms up and I go out to LIE in the sun, I will probably LAY a towel on the ground first.

Note the direct object after LAY (the towel).

If you’re thinking you have a pretty good handle on the difference, pat yourself on the back.  But don’t get too smug, because I’m not done yet.

Why?

Because that’s all in the present tense.  And the past tense of LIE . . is LAY.

Sorry.  You can roll your eyes if you want to.  I’ll wait.

OK.

The past tense of LIE is LAY, and the past tense of LAY is LAID.

The good news is that the direct object rule still holds.

After I went swimming yesterday, I LAID my towel on the ground and LAY down on it to soak up a little sun.

If you can keep your eye on the direct object, it will all come together.

No lie.

GUMP: Effect and Affect

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Last week I was sidetracked by the pedagogical uses of my earlier dew point post, but this week I’m back on track with the common mix-ups.  A reader asked for a clarification of EFFECT and AFFECT, and I promised to provide one, and I haven’t forgotten.  So without more ado, let’s jump into it.

You may have seen the EFFECT/AFFECT problem addressed elsewhere.  Or anyway, I’ve seen more than one Facebook meme that does so.  These explanations usually oversimplify the issue by simply saying that EFFECT is a noun, and AFFECT is a verb.

This is wrong.  If it were this simple, most people wouldn’t struggle with these words.  Some still would, of course, but I feel pretty confident in saying that most wouldn’t.  I have a suspicion that the people who try to oversimplify it have one of four possible motives.   Either

1)      They’re lazy, or

2)      They’re unaware of the real differences, or

3)      They’re not confident in their ability to explain the real differences, or

4)      They assume their readers are not bright enough to understand the real differences.

I honestly don’t believe it’s #1 or #2.  If it were #1, they wouldn’t bother trying at all.  And if it’s #2, they’re in the wrong business.  Seriously.

So I figure it’s got to be either #3 or #4.  If it’s #3, then again, they shouldn’t be trying at all.  IMO, of course.  The very least they should do is qualify it and say that MOST of the time, EFFECT is a noun and AFFECT is a verb.  At least that would be accurate.

So I’m left with #4.  And I find that insulting, and so should you.  It’s arrogant.  A writer should have confidence in the intelligence of her audience.  And a writer should tell the truth.

And the truth is, it CAN be confusing, and it’s NOT that simple.

But I DO have confidence in people’s ability to understand the REAL differences, so without further ado, here they are.

For starters, BOTH words can be (and are used as) both nouns and verbs.

This is why they’re confusing.  Period.  So let’s try to relieve some of the confusion.

1A.  EFFECT is most often used as a noun.   Examples:

  • What is the effect of gamma rays on man-in-the-moon marigolds?
  • In many parts of the San Fernando Valley, the physical and psychological effects of the 1994 Northridge earthquake are still evident.
  • One effect of the earthquake was a pervading feeling of terror among local residents.

In all of these cases, EFFECT is a noun.  It means RESULT.  You can try substituting RESULT (or RESULTS), and you should be good to go.  One RESULT of the earthquake was . . . .  (See?  It makes sense!)

Another test is to try inserting an article in front of the word.  If you can say THE EFFECT or AN EFFECT, you’re on the right track.  You can’t add an article to a verb; if you do, you’ve turned it into a noun (in “the RUN for the presidency,” RUN is a noun, not a verb).

 

1B.  EFFECT is also often used as a verb, and this is where a lot of the confusion arises.  As a verb, it means to bring about.  Examples:

  • The chairperson was hoping her new team would be able to effect a change in protocol.
  • One of the foundation’s primary goals is to effect a better understanding of male and female behavior.

TESTS:  I can think of three ways to check for correct usage of EFFECT as a verb:

  • You’ll notice that in both of the above examples, EFFECT is preceded by TO.  This is because EFFECT, when used as a verb, is often used in its infinitive form.  You can try inserting the infinitive (TO EFFECT) and see if it makes sense in your sentence.
  • Try substituting TO BRING ABOUT.  (The chairperson was hoping her new team would be able to bring about a change in protocol.)
  • EFFECT can also be tested by adding ING, which creates a gerund (ex. “Effecting change is one of the candidate’s primary purposes in seeking political office”).  You cannot add ING to a noun.

 

2A.  AFFECT is most often used as a verb, and it can be used two ways.  Again, this causes confusion.

First, it means to have an influence on.  Examples:

  • The gloomy weather negatively affects (has a negative influence on) my mood.
  • A teacher’s demeanor in the classroom can often affect student success rates.  (It can also HAVE AN EFFECT ON student success rates.  Do you see the difference?  The first example (can affect) is a verb.  The second one (has an effect on) is a noun.)

Second, it means to adopt.  Example:

  • In order to impress people at the party with her sophistication, she affected a British accent.

2B.  AFFECT is rarely used as a noun, at least not in day-to-day conversation.  My thesaurus doesn’t even offer suggestions for AFFECT as a noun, but it basically means attitude or appearance.  It’s also sometimes used in psychology to indicate an emotional state, but honestly, this usage (as a noun) is very probably not where you’re experiencing your confusion.

Example:  I had a heck of a time coming up with any.  Let’s go with this one:

  • The patient’s affect was one of anxiety and exhaustion.

FYI:  When AFFECT is used as a noun, the stress is on the first syllable (AF-fect).  Hear the pronunciation here:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/audio.php?file=affect01&word=affect&text=%5C%3Cspan%20class%3D%22unicode%22%3E%CB%88%3C%2Fspan%3Ea-%3Cspan%20class%3D%22unicode%22%3E%CB%8C%3C%2Fspan%3Efekt%5C

I’m going to close this post with a little quiz so you can test yourself:

1.  I wasn’t sure how my new medication was going to (effect, affect) me.

2.  I was worried about the potentially negative (effects, affects) of my new medication.

3.  I hope this post helps to (effect, affect) a better understanding of the uses of EFFECT and AFFECT.

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

Oh, you want the answers?

Waaaaait for it . . . . . .

Ah, here they are.

Answers:  1. Affect.  2.  Effects. 3.  Effect.

How did you do?

Evelyne Holingue

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