The Naked Writer–Lay Versus Lie

These are two different verbs. I once actually heard an editor say if she saw an author had confused the verbs, she would reject the manuscript. She had a point. 🙂 I tell students to either find out how the verbs are used or don’t use them. But of course the two are important verbs, and writers want to use them where necessary.

The distinction between the two words is a simple one: Lay, meaning to place something, is a transitive verb—which like all transitive verbs takes an object. Lay the napkins on the table (you wouldn’t say lie the napkins on the table, would you?). Lie, meaning to stretch out, is an intransitive verb (never mind the vocabulary) and never takes an object.

We would “lie down”—no object. We wouldn’t “lay down.”

The misuse of the verb form signals a bit of educational class warfare, explaining the above editor’s prejudice.

Let’s go to the past tense.

I lay (rested) there for quite some time then I remembered I had to lay (place) the napkins on the table.

So the past tense of lie (recline)—lay—is the same word as the present tense of the word for “to place”—lay.

That would seem to be confusing, but only if you don’t have the declension of the verbs in your head.

We don’t say I laid down and I laid there for quite a while. The word “laid” belongs to the verb to lay. (This is one I see a lot.) “I lay down, and I lay there quite a while” would be correct.

I also see “I was laying there,” also incorrect. I was lying there.

Because this is a bit confusing for some, I took this chart from Writer’s Digest (I teach there, so take a class with me at

Lay vs. Lie Chart

Infinitive          Present   Past    Past Participle    Present Participle

to lay (place)     lay(s)      laid        laid                  laying
to lie (rest)       lie(s)       lay          lain                  lying

I ask him to lay the silverware on the table. After he had laid the knives there and after he laid the spoons there, he lays the forks there. Soon, he is laying the plates on the table as well.

Meanwhile I decide to lie down. I lie on the floor. I lay there for quite a while until I had lain for too long. I was lying in the same position all that time.

Of course we do have another verb “to lie,” which means to tell an untruth. The past tense and the past participle of that verb is “lied.”

We’re clear on all this now, right? If not, do as I suggest my students do—if you don’t understand how to use these two quite different verbs, avoid them. Of course the better choice is to learn the difference. Good luck.


You can download my style guide The Naked Writer at Or buy one of my novels in print (or ebooks) there—a middle grade fantasy, Strings; a YA fantasy, The Heroine’s Journey; and an adult science-fiction fantasy, Question Woman & Howling Sky. Contact me at if you need an edit.

The Naked Writer–Lay Versus Lie

The Naked Writer


When students make a mistake in using which or that, I tell them to look up “which versus that,” rather than detailing the rule, which is slightly complicated. Not very complicated, mind you, but slightly. I’ll lay it out for you here.

Pick out the dress that you want. The dress, which you said you wanted, is in the closet.

Now, don’t let the words throw you off, but the difference here is in whether the information is necessary to the entire sentence—restrictive—or nonrestrictive, meaning the sentence can do without the clause.

In the first sentence, “Pick out the dress that you want,” we need the information “that you want” to describe the dress, or the sentence doesn’t do its job. In the second sentence, we can do without the “which you said you wanted,” because we still will know that the dress is in the closet.

Really, rather than trying to understand ‘restrictive” and “nonrestrictive” if the explanation doesn’t jump out at you, just try the sentence you might want to insert a “which” in.

Pick out the dress which you want.

Ask yourself if you want a comma in front of the “which” or will that change the meaning of the sentence drastically.

If we say, “Pick out the dress, which you want,” the meaning of the sentence has been changed. We’re saying here that the person wants that dress. But does she? If we don’t know, we don’t want the comma and we don’t want a which. We’ll choose a “that” for the sentence. Pick out the dress that you want.

Conversely, if you do want a comma in front of the “which” or “that,” then you probably will use the “which.”

The comma generally means you follow with a “which.”

Why would you not use a “which” after the comma? One anomaly would occur when you already have a “which” nearby. In that case, you’re entitled to use a “that.”

I understand that the “which/that” divide is a bit obscure and maybe sounds a little like figuring out square roots, but I guarantee if you make an effort and go over the ideas a few times, a little bell will start to ring in your head. You’ll at least be alert to the question—which is a good thing—and will eventually settle down into a correct use of the two choices. Silly as this seems, the differing use of these two words is important in our writing. Ask me if you’re puzzled about a particular use.


You can also take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University online:

  • 12/08/2016 – 03/02/2017, 12 Weeks to a First Draft (a 12-week class for those focused on making a good start in writing that novel)
  • 12/15/2016 – 01/26/2016, Writing the Mystery Novel

You can also buy one of my novels at Amazon. Last up was Question Woman & Howling Sky in print or as a download. Or download The Naked Writer for some comprehensive writing advice—style and punctuation.


Here’s a fun novel to enjoy:

Havelock by Andrew Buckley and Jane D. Everly

When Eliana Havelock presents the opportunity to undermine an international arms disaster, the head of MI-6 partners her with one of its best and brightest, the enigmatic Connor Blackwell. But in a world of secrets and hidden agendas, who can Eliana trust? And what, or who, is Eliana really after?

The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer


I receive a weekly financial newsletter in which the author routinely calls people “that” and companies “who.” I also find this goof all the time in student work, but was horrified to see the error on a grammar site the other day—the blogger repeatedly referring to people as “that.”

Well, people are people. We humans aren’t things, and we have a perfectly good set of pronouns to use in referring to us.

The girl who took the ice cream knows who she is.

To Whom It May Concern…

The boy whose dish ran away with the spoon went hungry.

Whoever answers the call first will be given the position.

He gave the job to whomever he saw first that day.

Yes, in casual conversation, we might say:

He was the boy that she went out with.

In casual writing, though, we would say:

He was the boy who she went out with.

Indeed, more formally, we might say:

He was the boy whom she went out with.

The trend is to be casual and use “who” instead of “whom.” This is, in part, because we’ve gotten away from the idea that we mustn’t end a sentence with a preposition, such as:

He was the boy with whom she went out.

The “with whom” tends to be too formal for most purposes, and we now know we’re allowed to end sentences with prepositions. The advice to not end a sentence with a preposition comes from the way Latin was spoken, and Latin isn’t spoken much these days.

Let me add a word about pets. Pets we know can be referred to by gender and also as a “who” type being:

My dog, Alfred, who sleeps in a heated bed, doesn’t mind the winters anymore, though he used to.

My cat, Sadie, who goes with me on the subway in her quilted bag, is very well behaved.

This type of use is different than the way we refer to, say, wild animals:

The crocodiles that congregate here frighten me.

Now, about referring to corporations and organizations as “who.” No. Corporations and organizations do not respire, excrete waste, or reproduce. They are inanimate, and though the Supreme Court believes corporations are persons (Citizens United), they are not.

The Supreme Court, who ruled in Citizens United… No. Just because the court seems to be made up of persons doesn’t make it a person—because it’s also comprised of much more than simply the jurists. It’s also a conceptual entity. So, we would say: The Supreme Court, which ruled in Citizens United… etc.

That about sums up what I wanted to say. At least on this subject. For the moment.


I have some inspiring classes coming up at Writer’s Digest University

  • 11/17/2016 – 12/29/2016, The Art of Storytelling 102: Showing vs. Telling
  • 12/08/2016 – 03/02/2017, 12 Weeks to a First Draft (a 12-week class for those focused on making a good start in writing that novel)
  • 12/15/2016 – 01/26/2016, Writing the Mystery Novel

You can also buy one of my novels at Amazon. Last up was Question Woman & Howling Sky in print or as a download. Or download The Naked Writer for some comprehensive writing advice—style and punctuation.



The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer


George was air to his father’s bred shop. The neighbor, who had a women’s close store, said she wanted to brooch a topic with George. First, Gene was very complementary, trying to butter him up.  

She said, “Hay, George. Its so grate to have you hear now. I remember when you were jest a kid. You’ve groan so much since then. Your father told me about all the hurtles you’ve overcome. Do you remember when I used to bring jamb into the store for you to eat with your bred? You all ways peaked inside the packages I brought. ”

George smiled. “Your rite. I never liked plane bred, but I loved the sweet treat you maid. I could have feinted when I eight those. My mother wouldn’t let me half them.”

“George, I would like to sea weather you and I cud go into business together hear. This wood be a grate spot for a mail close store.”

George felt week with anger. “Know,” he tolled her. “And know means know.”

Homonyms are words that sound like other words with completely different meanings. All too often, writers will use the wrong homonym. Most often the ones misused are “there” instead of “their”; “your” instead of “you’re”; and “it’s” instead of “its”—and vice versa. I just wanted to have a little fun with the above.

You probably don’t need the translation, but here it is:

George was heir to his father’s bread shop. The neighbor, who had a women’s clothes store, said she wanted to broach a topic with George. First, Jean was very complimentary, trying to butter him up.

She said, “Hey, George. It’s so great to have you here now. I remember when you were just a kid. You’ve grown so much since then. Your father told me about all the hurdles you’ve overcome. Do you remember when I used to bring jam into the store for you to eat with your bread? You always peeked inside the packages I brought. ”

George smiled. “You’re right. I never liked plain bread, but I loved the sweet treat you made. I could have fainted when I ate those. My mother wouldn’t let me have them.”

“George, I would like to see whether you and I could go into business together here. This would be a great spot for a male clothes store.”

George felt weak with anger. “No,” he told her. “And no means no.”

You’ll find many such pears. I mean “pairs.”

Are you sure you have the correct word? Do you know the difference between “compliment” and “complement,” for instance? If not, look it up.

In addition to this type of uncertainty, I often find writers become confused and will use a word that sounds somewhat similar to the word they’re actually looking for.

For instance: The knife clamored to the floor.

The writer meant: The knife clattered to the floor.

I’m always surprised when writers don’t use the dictionary. I make mistakes, too, but using the dictionary allows me to pretend I knew the difference all along.

Hide your writing flaws. Surgeons can’t usually fix their mistakes. But we can.


Hey, how about downloading my The Naked Writer at Amazon. Or taking one of my classes at Writer’s Digest University. Or getting an edit from me at .


The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

Present Tense Versus Past

When should we use present tense in writing, and when should we use past tense?

In writing for publications, of course, we need to use house style—the standard the publication uses, that is. I once wrote for a periodical that used present tense for articles, which is rather unusual. But of course I did get used to writing as called for.

I’ve had a couple of students who wrote for film and who always reverted to present tense in writing their novels—a reflex action, though both understood that most fiction is written in past tense. Writing fiction in present tense presents somewhat of a barrier to selling, even if that doesn’t make placing a novel impossible. Some short stories as well as some literary novels might sell in present tense, which is thought to be “literary.” Also, young adult fiction can sell in present tense because a few YA novels written in present tense have been exceptionally successful.

Yet another consideration in tense: While writing in past tense, how should we speak of ongoing conditions. This can be slightly tricky.

  •  Reverend Brown came out to speak to the press. Brown is blind, having been blinded by shrapnel in Iraq.

That’s how we would write this for a nonfiction piece about Brown. However, if Brown is a character in fiction, we’d write this differently.

  • Reverend Brown then went out to speak to the press. Brown was blind, having been blinded by shrapnel in Iraq.

In fiction, we mostly stick to past tense—including when referring to conditions and events that might be ongoing. Brown is likely to continue being blind, but in fiction, we write “was.”

  • Dan took the kids to the Hudson River, which was clean enough to jump in and swim.

While this is pretty true today, in fiction, we’d have this in past tense. We don’t want to jerk the reader from past to present back to past tense.

Yet some facts are so present tense in our bones, we have to write them in present tense, regardless of other considerations.

  • The family traveled on the subway down to New York Harbor and from there took a boat out to where Lady Liberty stands.

Even in fiction, we wouldn’t put Lady Liberty in past tense. And we would protect other icons similarly.

  • The family caught a train to Washington and hurried from Union Station to where the Washington Monument stands.

We wouldn’t say “where the Washington Monument stood” unless we were writing some kind of post-apocalyptic story.


Past, present, future. Read my post-apocalyptic novel, Question Woman & Howling Sky, available on Amazon, where you can also buy my YA novel that time jumps, but is written in past tense—The Heroine’s Journey—and my middle-grade fantasy, Strings, based oh so loosely on string theory.

Or if you want to learn more about writing, download my The Naked Writer for your Kindle or take a class with me online at Writer’s Digest University. Need a line edit for an article, story or novel?

The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

One Mother, One Father, One Sister, One Brother

No, this isn’t a religious piece or about family matters. This is about a certain comma…

That is, when we write:

My mother, Suzanne,


My husband, George,

we need commas.

Why? Well, generally, we have only one mother or one husband. Though, of course, this particular person might have more than one mother or one husband, for some reason having to do with social mores or… I can’t guess.

But when we have one of someone named in a relationship, we need a pair of commas.

That is:

My mother, Suzanne, cooked roast beef last night.


My husband, George, went bowling with the guys.

The same would be true of any relationship, and not just family relationships.

My boss, Steven, asked me to redo the report.

If, however, we have more than one of same—no commas.

My brother Eddie took the kids for a walk.

But if Eddie is special:

My oldest brother, Eddie, took the kids for a walk.

Definitely we don’t use a comma if we have more than one of a type.

My friend Argone returned to his home country.

Or, again, if the person (or whatever) is noted as special, yes, commas:

My Turkish friend, Argone, returned to Turkey.


My brown and white cat, Frieda, has been fighting with my other cats.

What if we don’t know how many others might be around?

Larry’s brother, James, went with him to the circus. I don’t know if Larry has other siblings, but James is the only one Larry has mentioned.

Just another reason we use commas—a rule that puzzles many people.

If you’re confused about this or other comma rules, you can download my style guide, The Naked Writer, at Amazon for your Kindle.

Or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University.

Or see how I punctuate in one of my novels, such as Question Woman & Howling Sky or Strings (a middle grade fantasy adventure) or The Heroine’s Journey (a young adult fantasy).


The Naked Writer

The Naked Writer

Comma for Direct Address

“Thank you Miki,” my students often write. You’d think I’d be gratified. But no, I’m not. I’m in turmoil. Where is that comma for direct address? Where did these people go to school? Why, now, as adults, don’t they know that a comma is always used for direct address? Why isn’t the comma as automatic as that thank you?

Please, dear students, write, “Thank you, Miki.” Ah. I like the thank you but if they don’t use the comma for direct address, the lack of a comma makes me wonder what else they’re doing while my back is turned.

Could they be writing, “Joe glared at his mother. ‘Mom please don’t tell Iris you spoke to me”  when they should be writing “Mom COMMA FOR DIRECT ADDRESS…” If I’ve told that student once, I’ve told him ten times or more.

Which brings a second complaint of mine to mind. Why is the student not paying attention? As I said to my friend who teaches a martial art, “We need to have classes somewhere in how to learn.”

Most, really most, students don’t appear to want to absorb correction, and most, really most, have the patience of gnats: That assignment didn’t go well, so I guess this writing thing isn’t for me.

Oh well… But try the comma for direct address, students. Really, I mean it.


All the uses of the comma are explained in The Naked Writer, my style and composition guide from Curiosity Quills, which you can download at Amazon.

And to see commas in action, buy a hard copy or download Question Woman & Howling Sky from Portals Publishing at Amazon.

Or if you want me to chide you personally for your comma use, take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University.

The Naked Writer