We all make silly mistakes in writing, especially during a draft or when focussing on style rather than editing. Those pesky spellings like they’re, there and their or using past simple when you should use past perfect can really bring your writing down a peg or two.
Learning Spanish as a foreign language force me to relearn my own language and made me much more aware of spelling and grammar mistakes. This is when I’m grateful to be an English teacher. There are occasions where my grammar brain and creative brains are at war, but I’m quite good at separating them. I’ve always had trouble with spelling and reading because of some weird thing in my brain that I have decided is wired for Spanish, not English. I think phonetically and used to spell a lot of things wrong. I still do, but rarely.
But something that I see all the time that seems to be a major issue is lie, lay and laid. It’s not even the spelling people are getting confused with, it’s the meaning of the word. And people have “corrected” me when I’ve used the correct word.
Definition according to Oxford Dictionary.
For example, my story is in 1st person present, so when I write…
The empty space beside me is cold where Nathanial lay.
I’m using lay as the past of lie since Nathanial was lying there but now he isn’t. Well… I got “corrected” and told to use laid. Really, folks?
If I switched this to past, it would be…
The empty space beside me was cold where Nathanial had lain.
It’s a completely different word, even in a different tense. How is it that so many people just don’t get this? Writers, too. It has been mostly Americans who I see with this issue on the critiquing site I’m on and blogs.
This brings me to another issue I find. When people used the past perfect, or rather, they don’t, when their story is in past tense. The past perfect tense helps define whether you’re in the moment of the story or jumping to some point before. The past of the past, AKA double past.
I realise throwing in had done, had been, had taken and so on can get a little taxing on the eyes especially with a flashback or backstory that goes on for a few paragraphs. If you start a flashback or backstory without making it clear you’re jumping back in time, you risk confusing readers. The same applies when coming back to the moment. End the double past paragraph with a couple of past perfect verbs and that will finish it off nicely before you slip back into past simple.
Use words and tenses properly, folks, and help the reader’s imagine your story correctly.