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Irregular Verbs Help (page 2)

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Updated on Sep 1, 2011

Problem Verbs

Conjugating irregular verbs can be a bit challenging. But there are two pairs of irregular verbs that present an additional challenge because they sound alike, even though they do not mean the same thing: lay/lie and set/sit.

Problem Verbs

To lay means to place or put an object somewhere. This object, a noun, must always follow the verb lay, making that noun what we call a direct object—the object that directly receives the action from the verb it follows.

Example:

Martin laid the blanket on the grass before laying the basket of delicious food on it.

Problem Verbs

To lie means to rest or recline or to be positioned. Instead of a noun, a prepositional phrase or an adverb usually follows the verb to complete the sentence or thought.

Example:

The large old oak tree lies at the edge of the field.

The cattle have lain in its shade for over a century.

In these sentences, the prepositional phrases at the edge, of the field, in its shade, and for over a century clarify the writer's thought.

Tip: Lie/lay are intransitive verbs—they don't need to act on anything. You lie down now, or, you lay down last night. Just you. But lay/laid are transitive verbs—they need some object to manipulate. You can lay a blanket on the bed—in fact, last night you laid one there!

Set or Sit

To set means to place or put an object somewhere. Like the verb lay, it must be followed by a noun.

Example:

A harried young mother sets her groceries on the counter and tends to her crying son. She has set a pillow on the sofa for his nap.

Set or Sit

To sit means to be situated or to be seated or resting. Like the verb lie, it is usually followed by a prepositional phrase or an adverb for further clarification.

Example:

I usually sit in the front row of the theater for an unobstructed view of the performance. When I have sat further back, I found I could not see the actors well.

Other Tricky Verbs

Several other verbs need special attention in order to be used correctly.

Most likely, accept and except are often misused because they sound somewhat alike. Their meanings, however, are very different. To accept means to approve, agree, or willingly receive, whereas except is really a preposition that means excluding or unless.

Example:

I would accept your apology for being late today, but except for yesterday, you have been late every day this week.

If you're still confused about whether to except or accept, remember that when you agree to, or accept, something, you are "CC-ing" eye-to-eye with someone; when you make an exception, you are "X-cluding" something in that agreement.

Another pair of verbs often confused in ordinary speech is can and may.

Can means having the ability to do something. When you say Can I help you? what you're really asking is whether you have the ability to help this person. (Unless you're completely indisposed in some way, the question leads one to wonder why you would ask it in the first place!)

May, on the other hand, means having permission to do something. When you say May I help you? you are asking someone to allow you to help him or her.

Example:

I can help you rake leaves this afternoon only after I finish my other chores. May I help you with it tomorrow instead?

The verbs hang and lie are unusual because they can be either regular or irregular, depending on their meaning in a sentence. If hang refers to a thief going to the gallows, then it is a regular verb, and is conjugated hang, hanged, hanged. But if it is used in the sense of hanging out with friends or hanging a picture on the wall, then it is an irregular verb, and is conjugated hang, hung, hung. Similarly, when lie means telling an untruth, it's a regular verb, conjugated lie, lied, lied. When it means to recline, it is an irregular verb, which we conjugated earlier in this lesson.

Exercises for this concept can be found at Irregular Verbs Practice

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