A cheat-sheet for the grammatically challenged

These days, the accessibility and accuracy of spell checks has made spelling into something of a lost art. Most students no longer bother to learn the complex rules of English spelling. Even once-favored tricks of the trade such as "i before e except after c ..." have fallen into relative obscurity.

When it comes to grammar, however, it's another story. Grammar checks are notoriously bad, and they are particularly unhelpful when it comes to determining the use of certain words. So we've compiled a list of some common confusions that make English teachers across the country cringe:

Who and whom

Simply put, who is a subject pronoun and whom is an object pronoun. "To whom am I speaking?" is correct because whom is the object of the preposition to. But "Who shall I say is calling?" is also correct because, in this case, who is the subject of the verb is. One way to keep these terms straight is to answer the question you have asked: If you use her in the answer, use whom in the question, but if the answer is she, use who. "To whom am I speaking?" "I am speaking to her." "Who shall I say is calling?" "I shall say she is calling."

Affect and effect

Most of the time, effect is used as a noun, and affect is used as a verb. Both words can, however, be used either as a verb or a noun. Affect as a verb means "to influence," as in: "rainy days affect my mood." The noun affect is a fairly obscure psychological term meaning a disposition or a feeling. Effect as a noun, on the other hand, means a result. As a verb, effect means "to bring about," as in: "this discussion will effect change."

Lay and lie

Lay is a transitive verb (requiring a direct object) and lie is intransitive (requiring no direct object). "Lay your weapons down" and "Lie down" are both correct. "Lie them down over there" is incorrect because them is a direct object. To make matters more confusing, the past tense of lie is lay, but the past tense of lay is laid. So, "we lay in the grass" and "she laid the baby down on the bed" are both correct, but "we laid in the hay" is not. A simple way to distinguish between them is to substitute the word put - if it works, use lay, if not, use lie. You'd put a child in bed, so you would also lay, and not lie, him there.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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