Main units:

>  A MISCELLANY OF MALPRACTICE [Oddments of Capitalization and Vocabulary]
91.  Capital Offenses
92.  A friend of mine is confused about capitalization: She [or should it be she?] wants to know whether to capitalize the first word of the equivalent of a complete declarative sentence (which may include an introductory phrase or introductory dependent clause) that follows a colon if the colon is preceded by the equivalent of a complete sentence.
93.  The Trouble Between Among and Between
94.  Let sleeping dogs lie—not lay.
95.  I graduated college like I was supposed to, so why can’t I reduce the amount of errors that effect how others see me? I could of studied more, and I read less books then everybody else, but it’s not that big of a deal. As far as my reading, is that a fair criteria to judge me by? You can’t convince me to change.

  ^^  91 

Capital Offenses

Most—and sometimes even all—of the words in the title of a book, a song, a film, or some other work merit the star treatment of capitalization. The rules governing which words deserve such preferential care, however, are not always honored.
       Distressingly widespread, for instance, is the lowercasing of short verbs, such as is, am, and was.

And so, the Boss played. He did an acoustic version of “We Take Care of Our Own,” which the Obama campaign has co-opted, followed by Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” (New York Times)
“This Land Is Your Land.”
Michelle Orange’s recent debut essay collection, This is Running for Your Life, is another set of acrobatic associations fueled by longing. (New Republic)
This Is Running for Your Life
For the cast of “Orange is the New Black,” fashion modeling is the new model charity. (Los Angeles Times)
Orange Is the New Black
[title of article] Claire Messud is a Novelist, Not a “Woman Novelist” (Village Voice)
Claire Messud Is a Novelist, Not a “Woman Novelist”
Each chapter of Love is a Mix tape opens with a mixtape title, a track list, and an approximate date of conception. (Baltimore City Paper)
Love Is a Mix Tape
One of the things I immediately loved about Every Day is for the Thief [a novel by Teju Cole] is its refusal to conform to genre, which makes reading it, especially after a steady stream of plot-driven novels, feel like coming up for air. (Financial Times)
Every Day Is for the Thief
[title of article] Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer. (New York)
Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither Was Jonah Lehrer.  

This failure to capitalize short verbs is not confined to titles appearing in newspapers and magazines. In the index to More Matter: Essays and Criticism (Knopf), an omnium-gatherum of John Updike’s nonfiction, the title of a poem by Karl Shapiro is sloppily shoved at the reader as “I am an Atheist Who Says His Prayers.” In the text of the book, however, the capitalization has been superintended correctly: “I Am an Atheist Who Says His Prayers.”
       Maybe the source of the proliferative lowercasing of is, am, and was is the mistaken notion that all short words call for lowercasing. True, as we will see, most peewee words rarely deserve capitalization. But distinctions must be preserved.
       All verbs, regardless of length, claim capitalized status: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (a story by Flannery O’Connor); The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (a novel by Carson McCullers); “Christmas Is a Sad Season for the Poor” (a story by John Cheever); “The Children Are Very Quiet When They Are Away” (a story by Maeve Brennan).
       The same holds true for verbals—words derived from verbs but functioning as different parts of speech. Verbals come in three varieties. The first is the gerund, a verbal noun (always ending in ing), such as Haunting in The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (a critical study by Jacqueline Rose). The second kind of verbal is the participle, a verbal adjective, of which there are three types: the present participle, which always ends in ing, such as Sheltering in The Sheltering Sky (a novel by Paul Bowles); the regular past participle, always ending in ed, such as Collected, in The Collected Short Stories, by Jean Rhys; and the irregular past participle, such as Gone in “Nashville Gone to Ashes” (a story by Amy Hempel).
       The final kind of verbal is the infinitive, which always consists of two words: to (not a preposition here but, in grammatical jargon, the sign of the infinitive) and the stem, or main form, of a verb. The to is never capitalized unless it’s the first word of a title, as in To Kill a Mockingbird (a novel by Harper Lee). The to is otherwise lowercased, as in Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail (a novel by Louise Shivers).       
       The first word and the final word of a title are always capitalized, even if they would be lowercased anywhere else in a title: “So That’s Who I Remind Me Of” (a poem by Ogden Nash); How the Light Gets In (a novel by Louise Penny).
       Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs are always capitalized, no matter where they appear in a title.

“What Are You Doing in my Dreams?” (autobiographical-sketch title in index, Dawn Powell: A Biography [Henry Holt], by Tim Page)
“What Are You Doing in My Dreams?”
“Except in my Memory” (short-story title in index, John O’Hara: A Study of the Short Fiction [Twayne], by Steven Goldleaf)
“Except in My Memory”

The articles a, an, and the are capitalized only when positioned as the first word in a title or subtitle: A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer (a short-story collection by Christine Schutt); The Member of the Wedding (a novel by Carson McCullers); Dark Nature: A Natural History of Evil (a book by Lyall Watson).

“At The Window” (short-story title in index, John O’Hara: A Study of the Short Fiction [Twayne], by Steven Goldleaf)
“At the Window”

Capitalization gets trickier with conjunctions and prepositions. A coordinating conjunction (such as and or but) is never capitalized unless it’s the first word of a title or of a subtitle: And the Bridge Is Love (a collection of essays by Faye Moskowitz); My World—And Welcome to It (a collection of short pieces by James Thurber); Lives of Girls and Women (a novel by Alice Munro); The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (a novel by Fay Weldon); Here but Not Here: A Love Story (a memoir, bearing a different subtitle in its paperback edition, by Lillian Ross).
     Subordinating conjunctions (such as if, as, while, when, because, and since) are typically uppercased regardless of length: Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (a novel by Joyce Carol Oates); And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II (a book by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee); “It’s Detestable When You Live It” (an article by Whitney Balliett). A reader occasionally still sees a very short subordinating conjunction lowercased: Play It as It Lays (a novel by Joan Didion).
     Conjunctive adverbs (such as however, thus, therefore, moreover, additionally, and also) rarely appear in titles but must be uppercased when they do: I Shop,Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self (an anthology edited by April Lane Benson); The 1974 Detroit Cocaine Myth: EPE and LMP Sell “Elvis Presley: The Cokehead” As Fact; However, It Is False! (a brief book by Darrin Lee). The as in the second title, however, should be lowercased (it’s functioning as a preposition).
       As for the correlative conjunctions either . . . or and neither . . . nor, capitalization practice varies from publisher to publisher: It’s Either Her or Me: A Guide to Help a Mom and Her Daughter-in-Law Get Along (a book by Ellie Slott Fisher); Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijiras of India (a book by Serena Nanda); Neither Here Nor There: The Art of Oliver Jeffers. A writer might conclude that capitalizing both halves of the correlative-conjunction pair is more aesthetically pleasing.     
       Publishers and usage manuals differ on the matter of how long a preposition must be before it requires capitalization, but most agree on either a four- or five-letter minimum. Standard practice for headlines in The New York Times is to capitalize prepositions consisting of four or more letters (“An Artful Life Captured With No Loss of Luster”). At the The New Yorker magazine, the general policy is to capitalize any preposition at least five letters long (“Duet, with Muffled Brake Drums,” a poem by John Updike; “Melancholy Reflections After a Lost Argument,” a poem by Phyllis McGinley). A writer affiliated with a particular publisher should follow that publisher’s guidelines for capitalization.
       Some words that ordinarily function as prepositions can function adverbially in a phrasal verb or a phrasal verbal, which consists of a verb (or verbal) followed by a preposition playing the role of an adverb. Prepositions in adverbial drag require capitalization, as in Woke Up Lonely (a novel by Fiona Maazel) and in these titles of entries in Disquiet, Please!: More Humor Writing from The New Yorker (edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder): “How to Lay Off Your Kids,” by Carina Chocano; “The Breaking Up of the Winships,” by James Thurber; “All I Really Need to Know I Learned by Having My Arms Ripped Off by a Polar Bear,” by Andrew Barlow.     
      If the preposition playing the part of an adverb is attached to a participle to form an adjectival compound modifying a noun, standard practice is to capitalize the adverb and attach it to the participle with a hyphen, as in Picked-Up Pieces (a collection of essays by John Updike).
      Finally, the words who, whom, whose, that, which, how, and what are always capitalized in titles: The Woman Who Was Not All There (a novel by Paula Sharp); For Whom the Bell Tolls (a novel by Ernest Hemingway); Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic (a book by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka); Everything That Rises Must Converge (a short-story collection by Flannery O’Connor); The Complete Eldercare Planner, Revised and Updated Edition: Where to Start, Which Questions to Ask, and How to Find Help (a book by Joy Loverde); Career Match: Connecting Who You Are with What You’ll Love to Do (a book by Shoya Zichy and Ann Bidou).

  ^^  92


A friend of mine is confused about capitalization: She [or should it be she?] wants to know whether to capitalize the first word of the equivalent of a complete declarative sentence (which may include an introductory phrase or introductory dependent clause) that follows a colon if the colon is preceded by the equivalent of a complete sentence.

The answer to your friend’s question?
       It depends.
       With a couple of universally all-purpose exceptions discussed later, The New Yorker, for example, doesn’t capitalize the first word in such constructions—except when the first word is a proper noun or a proper adjective (such as Renata Adler or Adlerian), which always requires capitalization, or the pronoun I.

That’s the Grizzly Bear trick: despite the complexity of its arrangements, none of what the band does feels precious or forced. (New Yorker)

 At the opposite extreme, New York magazine capitalizes the first word.

She understood the truth about Weird Al: He wasn’t just a dork with an accordion and a Ronald McDonald ’fro. (New York)

The New York Times now routinely capitalizes the first word, and so does The Wall Street Journal, though inconsistencies appear in both. Unless you’re writing for a publication whose style manual requires upper- or lowercasing, you’re free to choose whichever style you prefer. What’s important is consistency.
       With that said, however, there are some sentences in which capitalization is always required after a colon, some in which capitalization is always out of the question, and some in which it’s left to the writer’s discretion unless she’s writing for a publication that prescribes how the capitalization of phrasing following a colon should be handled.
      First, if the independent clause preceding the colon is preparing the reader for two or more consecutive sentences that are elaborating on or providing examples of the statement in the independent clause, you need to capitalize the first word of each of the sentences that are covered overhead, so to speak, by the umbrella of that first independent clause.

Square Wallet, an innovative new app, is changing the way we spend our money. Here’s how it works: you link your credit or debit card to the app, shop, take your items to a cashier at a participating retailer and, as the company’s Web site says, “simply say your name at checkout to pay.” Your name and photograph appear on the register, the cashier gives you a nod, and you walk happily out the door with your artisan shade-grown organic coffee. (New York Times)
Square Wallet, an innovative new app, is changing the way we spend our money. Here’s how it works: You link your credit or debit card to the app, shop, take your items to a cashier at a participating retailer, and, as the company’s Web site says, “Simply say your name at checkout to pay.”  Your name and photograph appear on the register. . . .
This is what I tell my students: read widely, read what you don’t like and read what you like, and try not to consciously write like either. And writing has to matter in a deep way. You have to make the time to actually write—seems obvious enough, but I often hear from people who say they want to write but have no time. And finally I tell them not to think of family and relatives and friends when they write, otherwise they will censor themselves without even knowing it. (New York Times) [The conjunctive adverb otherwise must be preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma; see Chapter 78.] 
This is what I tell my students: Read widely, read what you don’t like and read what you like, and try not to consciously write like either. . . .

Second, when a colon is followed by a series of related questions, each question must begin with an uppercased letter.

Three questions popped into her head: Why me? Why now? What next?

Third, the first word of any phrasing that does not amount to the equivalent of a complete sentence must never be capitalized (unless that first word is a proper noun, a proper adjective, or the pronoun I) when it follows a colon that is preceded by an independent clause.

[the colon is followed by a single gerund phrase] That’s an old trick: Masking laziness with knowingness. (New Republic)
Lowercase the M in Masking.
[the colon is followed by a series of gerund phrases] This is more or less how every workday begins for Kimmel: Blurring the line between domestic life and job life, turning the breakfast table into an extension of the show, making work feel less like a grind and more like hanging out with people he loves. (Rolling Stone)
Lowercase the B in Blurring.
[the colon is followed by a long infinitive phrase] So the Bugamis are planning the once unthinkable: To have their toddler undergo bariatric surgery to permanently remove part of his stomach in hopes of reducing his appetite and staving off a lifetime of health problems. (Wall Street Journal)
Lowercase the T in To following the colon.
[the colon is followed by the combination of a noun phrase and an appositive] Here’s what I’m sold on: The wine list from Alan Uchrinscko, the general manager and sommelier. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Lowercase the T in The following the colon.
[the colon is followed by a series of four noun phrases] But what makes okonomiyaki so delicious is the combination of textures and flavors: Crunchy cabbage, savory meats, an acid kick from ponzu, a spike of spicy mayonnaise. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Lowercase the C in Crunchy.
[the colon is followed by a long nounal dependent clause] We might consider instead the possibility first identified by Susan Bordo in her book Unbearable Weight: That our enduring obsession with disciplining and modifying our own bodies, and compulsively judging and condemning others’, is but an acting out of our helplessness. (New Republic)
Lowercase the T in That following the colon.
[the colon is followed by a series of three nounal dependent clauses] It [a focus-group discussion] was a clever way of acknowledging things that art-worlders have been complaining about for years: That the Armory [Show] had become too big and too corporate under its owners, Merchandise Mart; that it took New York for granted; and, most recently, that it had been dealt a possible death blow by the upstart Frieze art fair. (New York Times)
Lowercase the T in That following the colon.
[the colon is followed by a mix of nounal dependent clauses and noun phrases] A few minutes later, I know a great deal about him: Where he works, where he lives, what he majored in, his high-school-prom plans, people we know in common, and other surprising intersections between our lives. (National Review)
Lowercase the W in the Where following the colon.
[the colon is followed by a series of three noun phrases, to each of which a dependent clause is attached] The book is a catalog of abstract, circular ruminations by an unnamed narrator—a 40-something Brazilian Jewish man not unlike Mr. Laub himself—on the legacy of the men in his family: A grandfather so traumatized by his survival of Auschwitz that he is unable to reference it save for his diary’s obsession with hygiene, that luxury of the free; a father who imagines Auschwitz-like danger for Jews everywhere; and the narrator himself, who, as a child, participated in a cruel prank on his Jewish school’s sole non-Jewish student. (Wall Street Journal)
Lowercase the A following the colon.
[the colon is followed by a noun to which two adjectival dependent clauses are attached] Yet an uncomfortable starting point is to understand that racial stereotyping remains ubiquitous, and that the challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists but something infinitely more subtle and complex: People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality. (New York Times)
Lowercase the P in People.
[the colon is followed by a series of three elements beginning with prepositional phrases, the first and third of which end with adjectival dependent clauses] Ms. [Kate] Bush’s music starts with illustrations of motion: In her skyscraper voice, which has inevitably lost some top end, and her precise phrasing, which has grown more relaxed; in the sequential movement and radical key changes of some of her songs; and also in her body language, which in her old videos gave the impression of liberation and play. (New York Times)
Lowercase the I in the In following the colon.
[the colon is followed by a long hybrid construction] Level C is the novel that the protagonist from level A, after publishing “The Golden Vanity,” begins writing but ultimately abandons: A novel in which an author—the one from level B—“tries to falsify his archive, tries to fabricate all these letters—mainly e-mails—from recently dead authors that he can sell to a fancy library.” (New Republic) [The sentence is also overdashed; see Chapter 83.]
Lowercase the A following the colon.

Fourth, when the colon is preceded by phrasing that lacks the grammatical status of an independent clause (phrasing such as a word of warning, a word to the wise, first things first, among the findings, and note to self) but is followed by an independent clause (the equivalent of a grammatically complete sentence), publishing-world practice varies as to whether the first word of the phrasing following the colon should be capitalized (unless, of course, the first word is one that always requires capitalization).
       The New Yorker lowercases after such phrasing, and New York magazine capitalizes, but The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are often inconsistent. (Phrasing following the introductory element and not functioning as the equivalent of a complete sentence, however, never begins with a capital letter unless the first word is one that always requires capitalization, as in One advantage: Costco’s higher wages.) So how should you manage the capitalization? Again, unless you’re writing for a publication whose style manual lays down the law, it’s a matter of your preference—and a matter of being consistent. This book, however, recommends New Yorker style: lowercasing. If the phrase preceding the colon, however, is followed by two or more sentences elaborating on or explaining what was introduced in the phrase, you’ll need to capitalize the first word of each of the elaborative or explanatory sentences that follow the colon.
       Finally, when the colon following an independent clause is directing the reader toward a quotation in the form of a complete sentence, the first word of the quotation is capitalized.     

The reviewer cited a statement by Roland Barthes: “The writer is someone who arranges quotes and removes the quotation marks.”

In sum, there are five patterns to master:

      Except when the second independent clause is phrased in the form of a question or is the first part of a multi-sentence explanation (as discussed early in this chapter), capitalizing the first word following the colon (unless the first word happens to be a word always requiring capitalization) is a matter of institutional or personal stylistic preference—but be consistent. This book recommends lowercasing.

       Capitalize the first word following the colon only if it is a word that always requires capitalization. There is no room for personal preference here.

       Except when the first word following the colon is a word always requiring capitalization, capitalizing that first word is a matter of institutional or personal stylistic preference. Again, be consistent. This book recommends lowercasing.

       Unless the first word following the colon is a word that always requires capitalization, do not capitalize it. There is no room for personal preference here.

       Capitalize the first word of the quotation. There are no exceptions.

  ^^  93 

The Trouble Between Among and Between

The dust-jacket biographies of authors often state that a writer divides her time between, say, Brooklyn and Ann Arbor. But what if she buys a summer house in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey? Does she now divide her time among Brooklyn, Ann Arbor, and Barnegat Bay, New Jersey?
       If most people remember anything about how the preposition between differs from among, it’s that the former is used when discussing two things or people and the latter is used when discussing three or more. One speaks of a secret shared between Jorie and her sister and of a joke shared among several friends. But the distinction between the two prepositions doesn’t end there. Among is used appropriately when three or more persons or things are not all interacting individually with the others, as in The manager did everything she could to foster team spirit among her employees. If all of the three or more persons or things (let’s refer to them as A, B, and C), however, are in fact interacting one-on-one with the others (A with B, A with C, B with C), only between makes any sense.
       There was a growing unease among the three sisters means that all three shared something, but there’s no emphasis on the sisters as individuals. There was increasing hostility between the three sisters, however, means that each sister felt increasingly hostile toward each of the other two; the emphasis is on the individuals. Between pinpoints persons or things one at a time; among waves rather abstractly or indefinitely at three or more persons or things sharing something in common without singling out any one of the persons or things in particular. Among is inclusive in its embrace; between is exclusive, putting its finger on just one member of the group before moving on to the next.  

The point of view in this entirely humorless novel skips among Cressida, Juliet, Brett, and the girls’ parents. (New York Times)

The individual units or passages of the novel are each related from a single character’s point of view. That is, the reader encounters only one character’s perspective at a time.

The point of view in this entirely humorless novel skips between Cressida, Juliet, Brett, and the girls’ parents.
Rather than take the shuttle among the buildings, he drives his car to save minutes. (New Yorker)

No matter how many buildings there are at the site, the shuttle travels not among them but between them (that is, between Building A and Building B, then between Building B and Building C, and so on).

Rather than take the shuttle between the buildings. . . .
“The Darjeeling Limited” was ostensibly devoted to the conflicts among three brothers (Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody), but most of it was so jokey that the fiction dissolved, revealing nothing more than three would-be-hip actors horsing around Anderson’s picturesque blue-and-yellow Indian train. (New Yorker)

Each brother was in a conflict with each of the other two.

The Darjeeling Limited was ostensibly devoted to the conflicts between three brothers. . . .
On an overcast afternoon in September, Storyboard [a dancer] was at MetroTech Commons, a park wedged among office buildings in downtown Brooklyn, performing in a festival called Brooklyn Emerging Artists in Theatre, or BEAT. (New Yorker)

The preposition among is inexact and vague in expressing the spatial relations here. The park is wedged between this building and that building and another building and yet another building and so on.

. . . a park wedged between office buildings in downtown Brooklyn. . . .

Between should be substituted for among in each of the following four sentences.

[from a review of the film Winter Solstice] The mother’s absence isn’t explained until the movie’s almost over, a transparent narrative device that limits the drama but also allows the conflicts among the three men to play out in agreeably natural fashion. (Chicago Reader)
[from a review of the film Body of Lies] The ethical and cultural conflicts among the three men are more compelling than the chase after bombing mastermind Suleiman. (Star Tribune [Minneapolis])
There have been tensions among the three nations in how to utilize the river’s resources. (Global Health Disparities: Closing the Gap Through Good Governance [Jones & Bartlett Learning], by Enku Kebede-Francis)
But the brightness of those red costumes and the linear connection among the dancers’ positions make us feel something more: the thrill of an otherwise empty cityscape transformed by movement and color. (New York Times)

As for the question posed at the outset of this chapter: a person divides her time between this place, that place, and some other place. She can be in only one place at a time. Among the countries somebody has visited, France might always be her favorite, but she travels between destinations, not among them.

The preposition between can cause other trouble, too.
Between the two generations of Kutis, the targets of the lyrics have changed very little. (New York Times)

This sentence about the passage of time—excerpted from a review of a performance by the singer and saxophonist Seun Kuti, son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the founder of the species of funk known as Afrobeat—would have readers believe that some sort of phantom generation separated the father’s generation from the son’s generation, because, after all, what could exist between two seemingly consecutive generations other than another generation?

From one generation to the next, the targets of the Kutis’ lyrics have changed very little. OR: From the father’s generation to the son’s, the targets of the Kutis’ lyrics have changed very little.
Ready for your pork chop tower? Here come a half-dozen thin-cut grilled chops piled up, with a salty pat of anchovy butter between each one, as if it were a stack of pancakes. It’s deranged and wonderful. (New York Times) [Note that the first sentence needs a hyphen; see Chapter 86.]

Between each one? Surely the writer means between every two.

Ready for your pork-chop tower? Here come a half-dozen thin-cut grilled chops piled up, each topped with a salty pat of anchovy butter, as if they were stacked pancakes.

  ^^  94 

Let sleeping dogs lie—not lay.

The misuse of lay for lie, of laying for lying, and of laid for lay is no longer confined to the semiliterate. It’s all over the place, as the following excerpts illustrate.

Despite a reasonable bedtime of 9:30 p.m., she would lay awake in frustration until 11:30, sometimes midnight, clutching her leopard-fur pillow. (New York)
Despite the legal controversy brewing around his website—and a previous conviction for insider trading—Mr. Dotcom didn’t lay low or hide anonymously behind his computer. (Wall Street Journal)
We’ll lay down for a nap for a couple of hours and then get up and play outside. (New York Times)
Plump, pink scallops and tender duck confit lay on one page, while hunks of fresh bread beckon from another. (New York Times)
It makes sense that there’s an increase in the number of men who schedule their vasectomies at tournament time, giving them an excuse to lay around the house in mid-afternoon [sic] on a work week [sic], or another chance to use the word seed. (New York Times)
[photo caption] He had to lay on the floor until the next morning when a staff member found him. (New York Times) [The caption needs a comma after morning; see Chapter 72.]
Some of them want to know what it’s like to lay on the couch all day and eat a pint of cookie dough ice cream. (Bismarck Tribune) [A hyphen is needed between cookie and dough; see Chapter 86.]
So it’s Father’s Day. Time to sleep in, take it easy, lay on the couch, get pampered by my family and maybe fall asleep with the U.S. Open on the television just in case it gets interesting enough to actually watch. (Vernon Morning Star [British Columbia])
It was going to be so easy. With greens and fairways softened by repeated storms, Merion Golf Club was going to lose its teeth and lay down for the field of the 113th U.S. Open like a puppy waiting for a belly scratch. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
What now lays in storage is an assemblage of garments that reflects a full life. (Wall Street Journal)
Now, the entire nation can see the shooting, the aftermath, the investigation—Brown’s body laying in the street, construction workers gasping in horror after the shooting, every twist and turn in the presentations to the grand jury. (Washington Post)
According to TMZ, [Lil] Wayne now claims it was all a mistake and he never even saw the flag laying on the pavement during his New Orleans-based video shoot of “God Bless Amerika.” (
Police quickly responded to the emergency and found Reynolds laying in a pool of blood near his mother in law’s [sic] apartment. (Christian Post)
The pod of 20 dolphins had been laying in wait for the annual ‘salmon run’, where they can be guaranteed a tasty snack as hundreds of fish swim from the sea back to freshwater to spawn. (Daily Mail [U.K.]) [Note the British punctuation.]
Authorities reportedly found the makeup artist’s body laying on the sidewalk wearing only black underwear—his clothing was found several meters away and a bloody knife was next to the body. (
When they arrived, the victim was laying on the sidewalk suffering from a gun wound. (Patriot-News [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania])
It’s a good clinic, and I promise, even though you may find the instructor laying down on the job, your kid will not be held back from learning about basketball and life. (
After a wild start, Kardashian spent the next two years laying low. (TV Guide)
People who were awake 8 percent or more of the time they were in bed were 5.5 times more likely to develop a cold than those who laid awake only 2 percent of the time or less, researchers said. (New York Times)
Easing into the finish chute in his Team USA jersey, Hesch stopped a foot away from the finish line, laid down on his stomach on the road, took a whiff of the asphalt centimeters from his nose and performed five push-ups, a pre-victory celebration. (New York Times)
Mr. Marchionne, trying to counter the image of auto executives as heartless job cutters, said he laid awake at night worrying about Fiat employees whose jobs are in danger. (New York Times)
The singer took to Instagram, showing off the sexy clutch and heels as she laid in bed at her London hotel. (Hollywood Life)
In pursuit of a goal target McVeigh laid in bed before matches and visualised cutting in from the left wing and scoring. (The Independent [U.K.])

In those examples, lie should be substituted for lay, lies for lays, lying for laying, and lay for laid.
      So how might we unmuddle the distinction between lie and lay? Let’s say that you have spent most of your day standing, walking, and sitting, and you’re ready to make the pleasurable transition from the vertical to the horizontal and stretch yourself out comfortably. As you ease yourself onto a sofa, or bed, or futon, or hammock, you are about to lie, not lay. Keep that long i of lie foremost in your mind: “I’m inclined to recline supine for a time, all right? Tonight, I’m going to retire at nine and finally delight in some shut-eye of the divinest kind. Let me lie down already!”           
       But what of last night? If tonight, you will lie, yesterday, you lay. It’s that simple. Yesterday, you called it a day and hit the hay—and then you lay on your foldaway bed and pulled the fading rainbow-hued counterpane all the way up over your face. But tonight you’re tired, you want some quiet, and you’re going to lie down on your queen-sized ivory-white sheets.
      Lay is the past-tense form of lie.
      Sounds easy enough, no?
      The trouble, though, is that lay is not only the past-tense form of the verb lie. The combination of letters forming lay also constitutes another verb in our language, a verb entirely different from lie.
       To lay means to place something somewhere—to situate it other than where it has been. Lay is the present-tense form, and laid is the past-tense form: I am going to lay my cards on the table. I want to lay my head on her shoulder. She laid her briefcase on the bed. She really laid down the law.
       It might be time to review some grammatical terminology.
      The present-tense lay and the past-tense laid are transitive verbs: verbs that always take a direct object. That is, they’re always followed by a noun or a pronoun: She will lay her head on the pillow. (The direct object is head.) She laid the can of Mace on the counter. (The direct object is can.)
       The verb to lie, in contrast, is an intransitive verb. That means lie (or its past-tense form, lay) never takes a direct object. It will never be followed by a noun or a pronoun. But it might be followed by one or more single-word adverbs (such as quietly or down): She is going to lie down. Or it might be followed by one or more adverbial prepositional phrases (such as on her side and for most): She lay on her side for most of the night.
       To sum up, let’s say you’re in the present tense. (You’re one of those enviable people who live in the moment.) To use the verb lay correctly, you’re going to have to do something to something: you’re going to have to put something down somewhere. In short, you’ll be active, at least to a degree. But to use the word lie correctly, you’ll need to be finally done with doing things to things—at least for now. You’ve had it with action. So go lie down.
       If you’re someone who lives in the past, though, you’ll be using laid correctly only if you’re mentioning, or remembering, having done something to something: you’ve already laid your clothes out for tomorrow. You’ll be using lay correctly only if you were earlier stretched out.
       Finally, the past participle of lie is lain, but it’s rarely used in this casual age. It sounds fussy and affected. So instead of saying She had lain in bed for days, you could say She had been lying in bed for days. The past participle of lay, though, is the same as its past-tense form. In She laid it on the line, laid is the simple past-tense form, but in She had laid things out as plainly as possible, laid is a past participle.

  ^^  95


I graduated college like I was supposed to, so why can’t I reduce the amount of errors that effect how others see me? I could of studied more, and I read less books then everybody else, but it’s not that big of a deal. As far as my reading, is that a fair criteria to judge me by? You can’t convince me to change.

First, you graduate from a school, a college, or a university. All six of the following sentences desperately need the preposition from.

He did introduce her to Ryan, who had moved to New Jersey after graduating college. (New Yorker)
In 1957, less than three years after graduating college, he moved his family to the small coastal town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, a New England edition of Shillington. (New Republic)
Anyway, we have all been sufficiently sparked and stoked by literature to make it part of our destiny by the time we graduate high school. (Wall Street Journal)
If you were a boomer born in 1946 and graduated college in ’68, you were ripe for Vietnam. (New York Times)
Those who graduated college as the housing market and financial system were imploding faced the highest debt burden of any graduating class in history. (New York Times)
Having graduated only high school, they dreamed of their son the lawyer. (Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen’s American Vision [Bloomsbury], by Louis P. Masur)

Second, in all but the most casual prose, avoid using like as a subordinating conjunction; replace like with as if (occasionally, as, that, or the way will do instead). The writer of the following sentence gets things right only in the final dependent clause.

The height of style is no style, to dress like you did not bother to get dressed at all, like your closet consists of exactly one perfectly fitting T-shirt, one broken-in but quietly tailored pair of jeans, one chambray or denim shirt that looks as if you lifted it from your grandfather’s closet, and not much more. (New York Times)

Substitute as if for like in the three following sentences.

This kind of desperate ploy isn’t supposed to work, but it did: in 1983, Yes topped the American pop chart with “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” which barely sounded like it had come from the same band. (New Yorker)
By that point in the evening, she’d look different, raw, like you’d taken the lady she was earlier and peeled her. (New Yorker)
I see his point, but it’s not like you have to limit yourself to one or the other. (New Yorker)

Substitute as if for like in the following sentence (and swap had forgotten for forgot [see Chapter 51]).

Take two of those staple soups: the pho bo hits all the right notes—the broth is beefy, with a strong suggestion of star anise, and meat in the soup is good quality—but on two samplings, the chicken pho was washed out and wan, like someone forgot to put a bird in the pot. (New York Times)

Substitute that for like in the following sentence—or simply delete like.

Still, there were a hundred moments when I felt like I was failing, not doing enough, not doing it right. (New York Times)

Third, maintain the traditional distinction between amount and number.

A 2012 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that the amount of employees who consider work-life balance very important to their overall job satisfaction continues to increase. (

What the writer means is the number of employees. Use number when a quantity is divisible into individual, countable units: the number of women, the number of smartphones. Use amount when a quantity or mass is not divisible into countable units: the amount of anxiety, the amount of work.
       A similar distinction obtains between less and fewer.

At USC, 31 percent of this year’s Keck School graduates planned to go into primary care. That is 10 less students than last year. (Daily News [Los Angeles])

What the writer means is That is ten fewer students than last year. Use fewer much as you would use number—when there are countable units involved. Use less when a quantity or mass is not divisible into countable units: less frustration, less tofu.     

His work inspired no less than 70 films. (Wall Street Journal)
His work inspired no fewer than seventy films.
Unlike some of my other instructors, who use war and combat metaphors (“Punch it,” “Kick it out of here”) to fire up a class, Miss Puckett proved to be all unicorns and rainbows; she trilled, “Bee-you-tea-full” to us no less than five times during the hour. (New York Times)
. . . she trilled “Bee-you-tea-full” to us no fewer than five times during the hour.
Popular on pro-anorexia websites, the ‘diet’ promotes sleeping as much as possible so there are less hours in the day to spend eating. (Daily Mail [U.K.])
. . . there are fewer hours in the day to spend eating.

You never want to write one fewer, though. Substitute one less in each of the following three sentences.

Each death meant one fewer person to practice with. (New York Times)
Last year was a breakout for Enunwa, who finished tied with running back Bilal Powell for second on the Jets with 58 receptions—one fewer than Marshall. (Boston Herald)
Inspectors found evidence of rodent residents in 14 establishments, only one fewer than last month. (Miami Herald)

In the next example, substitute one less device for one device fewer.

Editing your photos on an iPad instead of a conventional laptop also means you can carry one device fewer on your travels. (New York Times)

Use less rather than fewer when the emphasis is on spans of time, lump sums, amounts of money, and the like: less than four hours later, less than seven percent of the population, less than eighteen dollars an hour.     
     Fourth, don’t confuse then (an adverb typically expressing a later stage in a chronological sequence) with than (a subordinating conjunction used in expressing a contrast). Substitute than for then in each of the two following excerpts.

Also, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and expressing affection is cheaper then sending all of you chocolates. (New Yorker’s Cartoon Desk blog) 
Like, if you were fat, and I called you “Tiny,” you certainly wouldn’t take that as a compliment. Also, it wouldn’t be very nice, but it would be somewhat nicer then me calling you “lard-ass.” (New Yorker’s Cartoon Desk blog)  [Substitute my for me; see Chapter 44.]

Fifth, something isn’t that big of a deal—it’s simply not that big a deal. The preposition of has no place in such phrasing, no logical or grammatical reason for following the adjective.

In Vicco, at least, officials just assumed that such a belief is self-evident and therefore not that big of a deal. (New York Times)
It doesn’t sound like the most glamorous task in the larger effort of conquering the final frontier, or maybe even that big of a problem. (New York Times)
Actually, fear of self-expression does not seem to be that big of a problem with this group, but Wilson undoubtedly appreciated all the supporters who honored him by yelling “Liar!” as often as possible. (New York Times)
The charitable solicitations that pile up around this time of year are a nagging reminder to me that my family doesn’t do as good of a job as it should of thinking strategically about philanthropy. (New York Times)

Even sadder is the screamingly ungrammatical substitution of the preposition of for the helping verb have (or its contracted form:’ve) in could of, should of, would of, may of, might of, and must of.

But not even I could of predicted the things that were going to come out of his mouth. (Barrie Examiner [Ontario])
Fortunately, both the teams that should of won, did prevail. ( [There’s no need for the second comma in that sentence.]
“That’s not the type of letter that I would of written myself . . . because of the wording and also my position,” Germain said Wednesday. (
He has been very quiet over the snap election campaign, which might of been a good thing for his chances. (South West Londoner [U.K.])

Sixth, the phrasing as far as functions as a subordinating conjunction, not as a preposition. It’s used correctly only when it’s followed by both a subject and a predicate (such as is [or are] concerned or goes [or go]). It’s used incorrectly if it is followed by only a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun.

Kozar said “everything is on the table” as far as budget cuts, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. (Tribune-Review [Greensburg, Pennsylvania])
[expanding as far as budget cuts into an adverbial dependent clause] Kozar said that “everything is on the table” as far as budget cuts are concerned, but a line has to be drawn somewhere.

In a sentence such as As far as the budget cuts, there’s no alternative, the ungrammatical As far as the budget cuts can be converted to a prepositional phrase: As for the budget cuts, there’s no alternative.
       Seventh, a standard by which we judge someone or something is a criterion. The noun criterion is singular. The plural form is criteria. Substitute criterion for criteria in the following three sentences.

Asked if Trump thinks the bill has enough “heart”—a criteria the president promised to fulfill during a rally Wednesday night in Iowa—Sanders demurred, saying she hadn’t specifically discussed that with Trump. (Washington Post)
The bill was widely misinterpreted to include measures that made reproductive health care decisions a criteria for employers, but focused primarily on abortion providers and alternative agencies. (Newsweek) [Insert hyphens after reproductive and health; see Chapter 86.]
The funds will be distributed to qualifying public and private agencies that meet a criteria and are selected by a local board made up of representatives from key organizations, including the United Way, The Salvation Army, Community Action Partnership and the Lake County Board. (Chicago Tribune)

Similarly, phenomena is increasingly used as if it were a singular noun. It’s the plural form of phenomenon.

In this respect it resembles averted vision, a phenomena familiar to backyard astronomers whereby, in order to pick out a very faint star, you have to let your gaze drift casually to the space just next to it; if you look directly at it, it vanishes. (New York Times)
Substitute phenomenon for phenomena.

Eighth, you can’t convince anybody to do anything, but you can at least try to persuade her. Convince, when used correctly, is never followed by an infinitive; it’s most commonly followed either by an indirect object and a nounal dependent clause (She convinced Josh that he needs a smaller apartment) or by a direct object and one or more prepositional phrases (Jandice convinced Lisa of the importance of volunteering). Persuade, which means urge, is correctly followed by a subject of an infinitive and then the infinitive itself (Jandice persuaded Lisa to vote).
       Substitute persuaded for convinced in the following sentence.

The folks at Dig Deeper, the party series that brings old soul singers back to the stage, have convinced [Jimmy (Preacher)] Ellis to travel from Dallas, where he lives, to Brooklyn, for his first-ever New York City show. (New Yorker)

Substitute persuade for convince in the following three sentences.

Now she has a single weekend in which she must convince, or beg, them to change their minds: in effect, to lay down their money for her sake. (New Yorker)
An engineer had recorded [keyboardist Keith] Emerson warming up, and the rest of the band had to convince him not to replace his squiggles with something more precise—more impressive. (New Yorker)
(She is going to try to convince local bookstores to start trivia nights.) (New Republic)

Substitute persuades for convinces in the following sentence.

But nowadays, people are happy to hand their entire email contact list over to LinkedIn or Facebook or Google or Pinterest or any other site that convinces people to sell out their closest acquaintances in hopes of increasing their own social status. (Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True? [Viking], by Charles Seife, quoted in New York Times)

In the following sentence, persuading needs to be substituted for convincing.

A fire that destroyed much of his home in 1992 providentially spared his writing studio where he stored his manuscripts, convincing Salinger to purchase a small fireproof vault in which to safeguard the trove. ( [The sentence needs commas after home, 1992, and studio (see Chapters 70 and 72).]

The opposite of persuade is dissuade. One dissuades someone from doing something.

To dissuade rudely parked cars, she suggests affixing “I park like an idiot” stickers to offending vehicles. (Wall Street Journal)

A car can be neither persuaded nor dissuaded.

To dissuade drivers from parking their cars without consideration for anyone else, she suggests affixing “I park like an idiot” stickers to offending vehicles.

Finally, as for affect versus effect, let’s skip the specialized uses of these words that come into play only infrequently (consult a dictionary if you’re interested—and let’s hope you are) and instead review what the words mean in everyday usage.
       The following two sentences need effect.

But all of them said they were aware that the concerns expressed by others were having an affect on him. (New York Times)
But the way people access information has an affect on library circulation. (State Journal [West Virginia])

 The next sentence needs affect.

“It’s frustrating because it’s going to effect the children and I feel like there’s nothing we can do about it,’’ she said. (New York Times)

To affect means to cause a change in or to have an influence on. Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun that means result or consequence.     

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