Almost as bad is the difference between rise and raise. One way to help is remind yourself that raise is usually transitive. That means a direct object (noun or pronoun) follows. Rise is intransitive (no direct object following). If you can substitute “get up” or “go up” for rise, you know you’re right. Raise means lift or cause to go up.
He rose from the sofa. Substitute: He got up from the sofa. (Rose is the past tense of rise). You wouldn’t say she raised from the sofa.
She raised her arm above her head. (She lifted her arm.)
Lie and lay are probably the most troublesome and wrongly used words I see regularly (or hear in conversation).
As you probably heard in school, lie means to recline; lay means to put.
Here are two simple rules.
1. If you will remember the principal parts of the verb (present, past, and past participle), you can’t go wrong. They are lie, lay, and have lain.
2. No form of the verb lie is followed by a direct object (noun or pronoun). That is, you can’t lie a book down.
Lay means to put or set down. The principal parts are lay, lay, and laid. Usually an object follows a form of the verb lay. (He laid the box on the floor.)
The problem for many is that the past tense of lie is lay. Some writers can’t remember that and write, “He laid down to rest.” They mean he was put down to rest. Does that mean they killed him?
Somewhere I picked up this tip. Memorize one simple sentence where you use lie and lay. Try this: Hens lie down to lay eggs. A friend learned by repeating this simple statement to herself: You lay something down, and people lie down by themselves.
Is it until? Till? ‘Til? That’s an easy one to remember: Till and ‘Til are both acceptable today, but many of us still prefer until.
What about beside and besides? Both are prepositions but with different meanings; they’re not interchangeable. Beside means at the side of or close to. Besides means in addition to. Here are examples of the correct use: I park the car beside the house. Who is going to ride with me besides you?
Many writers are troubled over due to (and I used to avoid it). Think of the two-word phase meaning as caused by. An easy rule is to use due to only when you can logically substitute caused.
Burst, bust, and busted. Despite the common usage, the standard form for the present, future, past, and past participle is burst. He burst the balloon. He will burst the balloon if he isn’t careful. Yesterday he burst six balloons. This is one of those rules that will probably change, but for now . . .
Etc. I see this occasionally and my rule is don’t use it. It’s an abbreviation of et cetera, which means and so on. Try the expression, “and others.” (I avoid “and so forth” because it has become cliché).
While teaching a class recently, I used the word antecedent. Two people looked confused. We writers (and especially editors) throw that word around quite a bit. We usually ask, “What is the antecedent?”
Here’s a simple answer: An antecedent is a noun which is replaced by a pronoun. Sometimes antecedent stands for a group of words that act as a single noun.
The most common is the use of it. For example: My new job doesn’t seem to get anywhere. Harry objects to everything, Marilyn passively shrugs, and Esther agrees without hearing the entire argument. It is chaotic.
Question: To what does it refer? Logically and grammatically, it refers to the last-mentioned noun. Thus, Esther is chaotic. We can easily fix the problem with these words: The situation is chaotic.
What’s the difference between a while (two words) and awhile (one)? Here’s the rule: A while is an article and a noun and normally comes after the preposition for. When you use two words, you’re going to use a noun and refer to a period of time.
Example: It has been a while since I saw you. You could substitute another article-noun, such as a month: It’s been a month since I saw you. If that makes sense, you’ve made the correct choice.
Awhile (one word) is an adverb and means “for a short time.” Go dance for awhile—that is, dance for a few minutes.
This bothered me for years, until I figured out that a while is a noun phrase.
A trend today, and I hear newscasters say this regularly, is as to. That’s an awkward expression and it’s better to say, about. Instead of “As to the situation in Central Park,” try, “About the situation in Central Park.”
A friend said, “I have no idea as to where I want to eat.” It would have been better if he had said, “I have no idea about where I want to eat.” (I would have eliminated about.)