May 2009
Writing eTips UpWrite Press

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“Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.”

—Theodore Dreiser

Word Pair of the Month: lay, lie

The words lay and lie are frequently mixed up, so let’s clear up the confusion once and for all. The great transitive/intransitive divide is evidenced again with these two verbs.

The word “lay” is a transitive verb, meaning it needs a direct object for a complete thought. You must lay down something, such as a book, a pencil, or even the law. Past tense of lay is laid, as in He laid down some ground rules before the game began.

The word “lie,” on the other hand, is intransitive, meaning it can stand on its own, as in the sentence I must lie down after a big meal. Past tense here is lay, as in the sentence All last week he lay (not laid) in the hospital. If a helper is used, such as has, had, or have, the correct form is lain, as in He had lain (not laid) down for a nap just before the phone rang.

So, you have a choice. Either memorize the previous two paragraphs and never use these words incorrectly again, or keep track of where you laid your copy of Write for Business. You’ll find what you need on page 233.

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May Writers’ Forum Topic

How is writing used most in your office, and what specific types of writing are used? Do you have specialists within your corporate structure who handle the bulk of your writing, or does everyone have an equal hand in corporate communications?

Meg Thomas, an office manager for a Boston furniture store, had this to say:

Most of the written communication that goes out of our office is made up of advertising materials, and we have a local agency that develops those for us. But we also rely on written letters to our customers, and those come from the head of customer service. They’re usually written by an assistant, but the rule here is that the person whose name is at the bottom has to proofread it before it goes out.

Lin Chen Lieberman manages an import business with offices in San Francisco, Tokyo, and Hamburg. Her company deals with businesses all over the world, making written communications especially challenging. She writes:

Much of our writing is in the form of contracts, but we also create a lot of instructions and informative letters. We have to be extremely sensitive to the fact that many of our contacts are not native English speakers. With that in mind, we retain a specialized writer who is also a translator of several languages. She either writes our international materials herself or reviews whatever the general staff writes. This way we avoid most misunderstandings, and that’s good for business.

Eulalia Worth, a realtor in Las Vegas, works in an office with more of a lone-wolf approach:

We use a lot of e-mail to keep in touch with clients, and each realtor in my office is responsible for writing his or her own. It’s a good thing we are all friendly, though, because lots of times, especially when we’re dealing with something new or complicated, we ask each other for help with writing and proofreading our stuff. The double-checking has headed off some mistakes that could have been pretty embarrassing! I know that I can write a good letter, but I also know that an extra pair of eyes can make a big difference. We’re all in this together, and we all want to sound professional, for the good of the whole office.

Bonus Point

There is much to test your patience nowadays. Frustration can pile up in you like so many bricks, weighing you down, holding you back, dragging on every aspect of your life. But writing can defuse your irritation. Describe what you’re feeling and what it is you wish you could change. The act of writing out your feelings is a catharsis, a purging of your emotions, and you’ll feel lighter and better when you are finished. Dealing with your feelings by writing them down is an age-old way to maintain sanity. That’s probably why many authors have found success writing horror novels or tense screenplays. Put your demons on paper and they will seem less terrible. You’ll feel cleansed and ready to face life with a fresh outlook.

Our Staff Writers’ Blog

Get the latest insights into writing from our staff writers. So far this month, Joyce Lee has explained the “Voice and Mood” of verbs and Tim Kemper has offered job-search advice in “Forget the Doom and Gloom: Job-Hunting Lessons for College Grads.” Be sure to visit our blog for these and other great articles!

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