Learning language

An educator points out a word in the dictionary to students during a 2010 vocabulary lesson in Chicago in this file photo. (Chris Walker/ Chicago Tribune file photo)

If researchers are to be believed, kids lose up to an entire grade level each year to "summer brain drain," wherein recently acquired knowledge oozes out of their minds and melts onto the pavement while they participate in such pointless activities as "play."

This actually explains a lot. We here at Words Work have been out of school for 16 summers, which puts us back at around kindergarten, knowledge-wise. So it's really no surprise that we can't get the lay/lie thing down.

This summer will be different. This summer we will gain knowledge. This summer we will keep our transitives separate and distinct from our intransitives. Also, we will wear sunscreen.

You may feel compelled to do the same, in which case this handy grammar cheat sheet will be of use. We'll create more throughout the summer and share them freely. (You're going to have to buy your own sunscreen.)

Lay versus lie. To "lay" means to place. To "lie" means to recline. A common trick is to remember that lay has a long "a" sound, like place, while lie has a long "i" sound, like recline.

It gets trickier when you throw different tenses in the mix. Let's talk about our evening routines.

Present: "I lay my mail on the table and then I lie on my couch."

Past: "I laid my mail on the table and then I lay on my couch."

Present participle: "I am laying my mail on the table and now I am lying on my couch."

Past participle: "I have laid my mail on the table and I have lain on my couch."

i.e versus e.g. One of our favorite language enthusiasts, Grammar Girl (a.k.a. Mignon Fogarty, author of several writing manuals, including "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing"), says the misuse of these two abbreviations is one of the top five mistakes she witnessed in her previous life as a technical editor.

"There's so much confusion that in some of the drafts I got back from clients they had actually crossed out the right abbreviation and replaced it with the wrong one," she writes on her blog.

Both are abbreviations for Latin terms (i.e. stands for "id est"; e.g. is short for "exempli gratia"), and good luck remembering that. Translated, "id est" means "that is" and "exempli gratia" means "for example."

Grammar Girl offer's this trick: "From now on, i.e., which starts with i, means 'in other words,' and e.g., which starts with e, means 'for example.' I = in other words. E= example."

None. A friend (you know who you are, friend) used to delight in correcting our every treatment of "none" as plural. We would now like to say to this friend, respectfully, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You are wrong, wrong, wrong!

The Grammar Curmudgeon (grammarmudge.cityslide.com), has a slightly more eloquent take.

"A common misconception is that none must always be treated as singular," writes the Curmudgeon "The customary support for this view is that none necessarily means 'not one' (implying singularity). In fact, 'none' is just as likely to imply 'not any' (implying plurality). As noted in The American Heritage Dictionary: 'the word has been used as both a singular and a plural noun from Old English onward. The plural usage appears in the King James Bible as well as the works of John Dryden and Edmund Burke and is widespread in the works of respectable writers today.'

"The most sensible rule is the one that governs similar words designating a portion of something (fractions, percentages, and indefinite pronouns such as some, most, many, all, and more). Just as we write 'some of it is' or 'two-thirds of it is,' we would write 'none of it is. Just as we write 'some of them are' or 'two-thirds of them are,' we would write 'none of them are.'"

Which versus that. "That" is restrictive and essential to convey the meaning of a sentence. "Which" is non-restrictive and often introduces a non-essential clause. Consider the following example from World Wide Words (worldwidewords.org).