Monday, March 31, 2008

Vocabulammary: Lie/Lay, Further/Farther

American English is a tricky subject, especially when it comes to vocabulary and the proper use of similar words. As I've pointed out before, most languages have very simple linguistics for similar words; English has very specific words for similar concepts. Here are four words that are almost always used incorrectly and form the brunt of my pet peeves, when it comes to language:
  • Lay/Lie: Inanimate objects and animals lay; people lie. While sayings such as, "I'm going to lay down" are accepted informal speech, they are grammatically incorrect. It would be appropriate for characters to say such things (especially the less-educated), but improper for the author to write them in narration and description.

    You are going to lie down to sleep and your dog lays down at the foot of the bed; you lay the keys on the table before you lie on the couch to nap.

    The best way to remember this is the phrase "people lie" - think of that as in "people deceive or tell lies and animals and inanimate objects cannot."

  • Further/Farther: Further refers to concepts and time; farther refers specifically to distance. This is one even the journalists and best-selling authors get wrong - very regularly!

    "While it is farther from the house, my dollar stretches further when I shop at the other store."

    "Though he could throw the ball farther than his teammates, Billy never went any further in sports."
While most people tend to overlook such technicalities when speaking, mistakes in the use of these words stick out farther than a chiropractor's thumb when laid to paper. To further confuse matters, their improper use has entered the American vernacular and cannot be changed, such as in, "I won't lie: I need to get laid."

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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