Irregular Verbs and Pronouns: Writing Skills Success Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Exercises for this concept can be found at Irregular Verbs and Pronouns: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercises.

I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it.

—Carl Sandburg, American poet (1878–1967)

Lesson Summary

Sit or set? Your or you're? There or their? Or is it they're? Knowing how to use such problem pairs is the mark of the educated writer. This lesson shows you how.

This lesson covers problem verbs such as lie/lay, sit/set, rise/raise, and their various forms. It also covers problem pronouns such as its/it's, your/you're, whose/who's, who/that/which, and there/they're/their. You can distinguish yourself as an educated writer if you can use these verbs and pronouns correctly in formal writing situations.

Problem Verbs


Few people use lie and lay and their principal parts correctly, perhaps because few people know the difference in meaning between the two. The verb lie means to rest or recline. The verb lay means to put or place. The following table shows the principal parts of each of these verbs. Their meanings, written in the correct form, appear in parentheses.

Problem Verbs and Pronouns

To choose the correct form of lie or lay, simply look at the meanings in parentheses. Choose the word in parentheses that makes the most sense and use the corresponding form of lie or lay. Sometimes, none of the words seem especially appropriate. Nevertheless, choose the option that makes more sense than any of the others. If a sentence contains the word down, mentally delete the word from the sentence to make the appropriate verb more obvious. Examine the sample sentences to see how this is done.

    The garbage cans are ––––– in the middle of the street. [Requires progressive]
      Resting makes better sense than placing.
      Choose lying.
    Keith told Nan to ––––– the mail on the dining room table. [Requires present]
      Place makes better sense than rest.
      Choose lay.
    The sandwiches ––––– in the sun for over an hour before we ate them. [Requires past]
      Rested makes better sense than placed.
      Choose lay.
    Yesterday afternoon, I ––––– down for an hour.[Requires past] Remove the word down.
      Rested makes better sense than placed.
      Choose lay.
    Barry thought he had ––––– the papers near the copy machine. [Requires past participle]
      Placed makes better sense than rested.
      Choose laid.
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