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Commonly Confused Words: Part Two

This week, we continue explaining commonly confused words in the English

Ashley: That reminds meAdam, do you still have my grammar book that I let
you borrow last week?

Adam: No, I lied the book down on your desk yesterday.

Ashley:  You mean, you laid the book on my desk yesterday.

Adam: Lie, lay, laid, liedwhats the difference? 

Ashley: Thats a hard question to answer. Both words have several
definitions. But an easy way to remember the difference is this: Lay is a
transitive verb. That means it requires an object in the sentence. Lie is an
intransitive verb. That means it does not require an object.  You said you
put the book on my desk. Book is the object of the sentence, so you need the
transitive verb lay.

Adam: I think I get it now. That seems easy enough.

Ashley: Well, the difference between these two words is a little more
complex than that. Lets keep going.

Lay and lie

Lay means to put or set
something down in a flat position. The past tense of lay is laid. Sometimes,
it is used with the word down. For example, He laid the newspaper
down on the table. Or, The mother laid the baby down for a nap.
Notice there is an object in each sentence: newspaper in the first, and
baby in the second.

The verb lie has several meanings. It can mean to be in a flat
position on a surface, such as a bed. With this definition, it is also
sometimes used with the word down. For example, The doctor told him to lie
on the examination table. Remember, lie is an intransitive
verb. The subject is doing the action, not an object.

To make these two words even more confusing, the past tense of lie
is lay [L-A-Y]. For example, Last night, she lay in bed unable
to fall asleep. In this example, even native English speakers might use the
past tense of lay, which is laid.

Listen to this famous song by Simon and Garfunkel. In this example, they
are using the transitive verb lay followed by the direct object me.

Like a bridge over troubled

I will lay me down







The chicken lays eggs.


The workers laid the foundation for new


He has already laid his cards on the table.



Dont lie on the grass.


She lay on the bed.


The food had lain on the counter for too


Affect and Effect

These next commonly confused words sound - and look - almost the same: affect
and effect. But the one-letter difference changes a lot.

Lets start with effect [E-F-F-E-C-T]. Effect can act as a
noun or, in rare cases, a verb. As a noun, effect means a change that
results when something happens. For example, The Chinese economy has an effect
on global markets.

[A-F-F-E-C-T] is usually used as a verb. Affect means to influence. In
other words, affect means to have an effect on something or
someone. For instance, The Chinese economy affects global markets.

[A-F-F-E-C-T] can also be a noun -- but it is much less common. As a noun, affect
is an emotion or desire that influences behavior.

As mentioned before, effect can also be used as a verb. Used a verb,
effect has a similar meaning to affect. It means to cause
something or make something happen. For example, President Obama has tried to
effect a change in the countrys health care policy. Again, effect is
rarely used as a verb.

If you are confused, just remember this: effect is usually a noun,
and affect is usually a verb.







The law had no effect.

  • a change


The president used his power to effect change. (rare)

  • to cause




She took the bad news with little affect. (rare)

  • an emotion or desire that influences behavior


The Chinese economy affects global markets.

  • To influence


Than and

Finally, we have than and then.

Than [T-H-A-N]
is both a preposition and conjunction. It is used when comparing things. For
example, I am taller than my sister. Or, Canada is larger than

Then is most
often used an adverb. It can mean at that time. It can also be used when
describing what happens next. For example, I fed my dog, and then I
walked my dog.

You can also use then when describing something that must be true if
something else is true. We call this an if/then statement. For example, If
it is raining, then the concert will be canceled.

And thats Everyday Grammar for this week. Join us again next week as we
take a look at more examples of commonly confused words!


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