Tag Archives: verbs

“Free Rein” vs. “A Monarch’s Reign”

The words rein and reign are homophones (they sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings). They are misused often in popular media (and in Facebook posts).

Reign refers to the rule of a monarch over a kingdom. It is usually used as a noun (“Queen Elizabeth II’s reign has lasted just over 61 years, as of last week”) or as a verb (“Queen Elizabeth II began her reign on February 6, 1952″).

Rein refers to the straps you hold when riding a horse to control speed and direction. It also functions as a noun (“Keep aholt of them reins, Hoss!”) or as a verb (” You better rein in those kids of yours before they get out of control.”)

The confusion often occurs because most people are unfamiliar with the word rein, and substitute reign into phrases that properly use the word rein instead, particularly into the phrase free rein.

Free rein is a phrase indicating that you have loosened your grip on the reins of a horse to allow free movement. Thus, employees (or kids) might think they have been given free rein while the boss (or parents) are away.

Often the phrase free rein is incorrectly phrased as free reign, which is a “non-standard” use and should be avoided. Free reign is an easy mistake to make, since rein and reign are homophones and, worse, because the phrase free reign seems to make sense at first glance. However, reign refers to the period of time when a monarch is in power, and generally a monarch has very strong control over the kingdom, and so the idea of giving free reign to a monarch doesn’t actually make sense.

A fun word to describe the mistake of using free reign rather than free rein is “eggcorn”. An eggcorn is a type of malapropism in which a non-standard phrase that results when a similar-sounding word is substituted for the correct word, resulting in a phrase that has a different meaning, but is still somewhat plausible.

Other examples of eggcorns: “mute point” for “moot point”, “shoe-in” for “shoo-in”, “peak my interest” for “pique my interest”, and so on. Just watch your Facebook wall and you’ll see them flow past every day. These are good examples of errors that, once seen, cannot be “unseen” for the rest of your life.

Knowing proper grammatical style can help you in daily life, in your professional life, and on the SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and GRE. If you are planning to take any of these tests, contact Bobby Hood Test Prep for more information!

“Lie” vs. “Lay”

The difference between the verbs lie and lay can be very confusing, so it’s worth taking a look at the difference periodically to make sure you are using them correctly.

Of course, both words have multiple meanings, but the meaning that creates confusion is the “reclining / positioned flat” meaning.

The technical difference between the two is that the infinitive to lay is transitive, and so requires an object, while the infinitive to lie is intransitive, and does not take an object.

In PRESENT TENSE, you lay something down, while you or an object simply lie down.

Consider:

“Hang on a sec while I lay my iPad here on the table, then I can come lie down on the couch and watch Walking Dead with you.”

Now the iPad and the other technical gadgets lie lonesome on the table while you lie on the couch, and lay your hand on the remote control in case the show gets too scary and you need to pause it.

PAST TENSE makes it more complicated. In past tense, lay becomes laid, while lie becomes lay (!!!)

So, in past tense, the choice is between laid (past tense of to lay) and lay (past tense of to lie).

Consider:

“When she was about to turn on Walking Dead, I laid my iPad on the table and lay down on the couch to watch the show.”

Then the iPad and the other gadgets lay on the table while I laid my hand on the remote…

PERFECT TENSE sounds awkward with these verbs, regardless: “The iPad and the other gadgets have laid on the table for hours while I have lain on the couch watching Walking Dead.”

You can see confusion come up with these verbs all the time in literature and popular media:

The popular childhood prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep…” is technically correct (while you can lay yourself down, you can’t lay down in present tense).

Pop songs almost always get it wrong: “Lay Down Sally” (Eric Clapton) should be “Lie Down Sally” (unless he’s carrying her to  bed); “It’s Ecstasy when You Lay Down Next to Me” (Barry White) should be “It’s Ecstasy When You Lie Down Next to Me”, and so on. But Information Society (NERDS!) got it right with “Lay All Your Love on Me”.

The best way to remember it is to think for a second about all the ways lay is used in regular speech — “lay a bet”, “lay it on me”, “lay down the law”, “lay it on thick” — there’s always an object for the verb.

The phrases to try to eliminate from your speech and writing: “I’m gonna go lay down for a while” or “I’m gonna go lay out in the sun” (use “lie” instead, plus some sunscreen in the latter case).

The difference between lay and lie is tested on the SAT, ACT, GMAT, and GRE. Knowing proper grammatical style can help you in daily life, in your professional life, and on the SAT, ACT, GMAT, and GRE. If you are planning to take any of these tests, contact Bobby Hood Test Prep for more information!

“Affect” vs. “Effect”

In almost all cases, “affect” should be used as a verb, and “effect” should be used as a noun:

“A high SAT score can *affect* your chances of getting into the college you want, because it has the *effect* of making colleges rank your application highly.”

Part of the confusion with these two words comes from the fact that “effect” can be used as a verb in special cases, generally as part of the phrase “effect a change”:

“The student’s SAT tutoring is likely to *effect* a change in her chances of receiving a scholarship.”

And conversely, the word “affect” can be used as a noun in special cases to mean “the display of an emotional response”:

“One of the symptoms of severe depression is a flat *affect* — the failure to display emotion on one’s face in response to negative or positive events.”

Knowing the proper grammatical use of words can help you in daily life, in your professional life, and on the SAT, ACT, GMAT, and GRE. If you are planning to take any of these tests, contact me for more information!