Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday Fricassee

It's time for a grammar rant.

Not a huge one; I am, I think, finally reconciling to the fact that just because a person is a SERIOUS WRITER or a PUBLISHED AUTHOR or an EDITOR that they will, yanno, have a firm grasp on the basics of grammar.

Like getting verbs right.  Like not mixing up lay and lie.  Ever.

I understand that our spoken language is informal, rule-free, even dumbed-down.  I get that different regions have different "isms" that usually don't line up with grammatical correctness.  But it's hard to swallow glaring errors in published books.  Glaring verb errors that really shouldn't be there.

Yes, something set me off. I just finished reading a really good book.  A 2012 debut that I've been wanting to read for months, and which I received for Christmas (how wonderful, the husbands who bestow books upon us during the holidays!).  And right in the middle of this very good book there sat a MISUSE OF THE VERB "LAY". 

I yelled.  I threw the book to the other end of the sofa.

No, really.  I did.  Mr. A looked up from his laptop with a confused expression.  After which I bellowed, "THERE IS A MISUSE OF THE WORD LAY!"  Then, "I CAN'T READ THE REST OF THIS!"

And then I picked up the book and kept reading.  Which was probably my quickest recovery ever.

It bothers me when writers don't think harder about which of the problematic verb forms is right for a given sentence.  It bothers me even more that writers have to think hard about lay/lie and sit/set.  That's seventh grade grammar, as basic as it gets.  If it wasn't your strong point in school (and it certainly isn't everybody's), then make the time to fix it now.

My take is this:  If we, as WRITERS (users of WORDS), can't hold the English language together, then WHO WILL?

*pause for deep breathing*

You don't have to be a grammar goddess (or god, as the case may be) to be a darn good storyteller.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the STORY is the MAIN THING.  But your MAIN THING will be crippled if you don't have a grasp on your language. 

I'm not talking high level grammar stuff.  I'm talking BASIC VERBS.

And here's the thing.  If the author misses a lay/lie error, and all her critique partners missed the lay/lie error, WHY DIDN'T THE EDITOR CATCH IT?  And if the editor didn't catch it, WHY DIDN'T THE COPYEDITOR CATCH IT?

I understand "overworked".  I understand "imperfection".  But errors like this are so slap-in-the-face BIG that it's hard for me to fathom.  This isn't in the same league as a missing emdash or a wee typo.  This is big time, I-don't-know-which-verb-is-right, in-your-face BOO-BOO.

I ranted once before about the novel that had SEVEN lay/lie errors (and honestly, I said I'd never read this author again, and I haven't).  So today's rant is nothing compared to that.

Still.  It's disconcerting. 

In the end, though, it was certainly all about the story.  I will definitely read this author's next book.  The story was good, the writing was good.  I'm invested in the main character.  I'm over the grammar error.

I think.

And there you have it.  We all have our hot buttons, yes?  Moving on!

Info for this month's Secret Agent Contest will post on Monday.  And the Critique Partner Dating Service entries will post on Tuesday.  There are 99! So I think we'll see some good pairing taking place. 

One more thing:  If you entered the dating service and have now realized you've made a mistake, please send me an email at facelesswords(at) with your entry number in the subject line.  Tweeting at me or leaving a comment isn't going to ensure that it gets done.  I rely on email requests to keep myself organized.  Thanks in advance!

And have a wonderful, grammar-error-free weekend.


  1. I was with you during your last, facebook inspired, grammar rant and I'm still with you. I can't stand it. My son brought home instructions on how to parse a story (from fifth grade) and it had grammatical errors in it. The instructions. From the teacher. I really don't know if it's because the English language is more difficult than others or... people don't care? I'm bilingual and I read fanfiction in both languages. Let me tell you, even the most mediocre fanfiction in the other language is more carefully written. Very little to no grammatical errors and some sites actually ban writers who don't use their verbs properly :-). I think we're just too forgiving. As a country. Not me. I'm not forgiving.

  2. I have to be honest here. Lay/lie errors generally don't bother me, because I can never remember the verb tenses myself. I have to look up the rules every time I use one of those words in a novel. EVERY TIME. It just won't stick for me.

    That said, I DO look it up.

  3. Will Authoress tell us her thoughts on sneaked vs. snuck? :) Just read that the latter is acceptable now.

  4. Oh crap. I shall lie/lay down on the floor and never write again--so vexed am I by my lack of remembering simple grammar.
    I consider myself to be a smarty-pants in some areas, but some of our brains (there are others out there right?) are just, well, grammatically-challenged. Should we stop writing? No. However, we must familiarize ourselves with the vast resources online for such times and try to edumacate our soggy brains, so good at the creative side of things. I spend much time at grammar websites myself,whilst pondering hanging it all up for knitting.
    Not offering excuses, merely a possible explanation.

  5. no matter how many times i learn the rule, look at charts, memorize the conjugation, i can never remember the lay/lie construction. Every time i have to look it up. It just refuses to stick in my head.

  6. Don't get me started on lay/lie. I'm an editor at an educational publishing company. My head nearly exploded when I caught an error from a contract copy editor. She had changed the correct use of "lay" to "laid." ARRGH!!!

    (Though I admit, I did have to double-check myself with The Chicago Manual of Style to make sure I was right. You see the wrong thing often enough and it starts to seem right.)

  7. Re: Jill's comment. I will take knitting any day over having to, not learn but remember, grammar rules. Like others, it just doesn't stick for me. Lay/lie, loose/lose, which/that, and the list goes on and on.

    If I ever complete a manuscript then I will be relying on the knowledge of others to police my (hopefully infrequent) mistakes.

  8. I'm so with you on the lay/lie thing. It drives me utterly insane and I'm always fixing them in manuscripts I beta read.

    Interestingly, it seems to only be a problem for American writers. Brits, Australians and NZers don't use 'lay' in place of 'lie' in speech, os rarely mix it up in writing.

  9. My big huge book tosser is Who/That. To such an extent I will stop reading if it continues. Just plain lazy butt writing!
    If I'm stuck on lie/lay and the brain cells aren't giving me a good choice, I'll rewrite the sentence. Usually stronger.

  10. I still have to go consult Grammar Girl every time I type "lay" vs. "lie." Especially if I get into perfect tenses on it. It's like I've developed a mental block on it for some reason.

  11. I am so with you on this. I used to work at a newspaper as a story editor and one afternoon had a prolonged argument with a copy editor about lay/lie. And nobody, repeat nobody, thought it mattered. It also drove me crazy that as copy editor he had the last word (and worked the later shift) and that I would have to surreptitiously hover around the design team after hours to insist the correct change got into the final copy.

    And while we're on a healthy grammar rant, don't get me started on superfluous prepositions -- "off of," "would like for you to," etc.

    Also, Kate is right on it apparently being an American problem. That said, I'll take American that/which rules over the loosey-goosey Brit/Aus/NZ take on those two.

  12. Preaching to the choir! However, I must also admit to being one of those who has look it up each time I use it.

    The difference is that we DO!

    My rant lately has been about punctuation. Do publishers save money by omitting commas?

  13. Here's a book I recommend.

  14. It's all Bob Dylan's fault: Lay Lady Lay. O.o

  15. There are certain constructions I have to check every time. My poor old brain simply won't retain them, but I know I have to, and I do. The two that drive me are people who don't know when to use "fewer" instead of "less" and those who say "I am bored of ..." We all have our pet peeves.

  16. As one of my old friends used to say, "No one sets unless she's a hen."

  17. Correct use of lay/lie is not the easiest thing in the world to master. Effect/affect is darned near impossible. Hey, I'm old-ish, work full-time in a pretty intensive job, and have a husband, 2 kids, 3 dogs, and a farm. Luckily I remember to do things like show up to work, pay the mortgage, and feed everyone! :) (but yes, I expect that some things I miss will be caught later on by others! if not, I hope no one throws my book across the room!)

  18. Just wanted to say I agree about having a husband who'll buy you books for Christmas. They're great.

  19. While I totally and completely agree with you, and have developed my own finicky prescriptivist tendencies, nobody taught the lay/lie thing in my classes in school. We spent a lot of time on affect/effect, but not lay/lie, or fewer/less. No discussions of why "hopefully" and "healthy food" are just plain wrong. These are things I've picked up in recent years as I try to master words, because I am a writer. So I try. And I know I will make (many) mistakes (not lay/lie, though, which I have since mastered and am endeavoring to teach my children). When I make those mistakes, I really hope someone will catch them before they're published.

    Question, Authoress & others: thoughts on "alright" versus "all right?"

  20. Anyone calling herself a writer should be required to use THEN/THAN
    correctly. I'm editing a book written by someone who claims to have been a high school teacher and novelist but doesn't know the difference. Holy cow!

  21. there is so much good cause for rage in this universe. i'd hate to waste any of it on pitiful things like this.
    relax folks.

  22. Grammar is a hot button for me, too, Authoress. And I'm certainly no grammarian. I make mistakes, too. But like someone else said, we all have our pet peeves. I take issue with writers who don't know the proper use of the subjunctive verb "to be." I guess it's just wishful thinking on my part that EVERYONE should know this. (pun intended *wink wink*)

    I see errors like this and many others in self-published books, starting as early as on the first page, and I just can't read anymore. At that point I've lost faith in the author. Maybe if the error had come up later in the story I could just shrug it off and call it a fluke. But not on page 1.

    Should we tell our self-published friends when we see these errors in the books they've made available to the public? I'm often tempted to because I hope they'll learn by their mistakes. If I see errors, others will, too, and they may tell their friends never to read that author's books. And at the same time I don't want to come off as a know-it-all since the author never asked me to check the book for errors. So I keep my mouth shut. Sigh.