When in Doubt, Leave the Other Word Out

Consummate professionals stand out. We can spot them by their attitude, demeanor, attire, perspective and people skills: their professional courtesy. The total package is communication, which also involves the words people use and how they use them.

Communication is a passion of mine, and I particularly delight in words–words well-chosen and words correctly used.

This article focuses on the use of correctly-used words by pointing out some common grammatical mistakes.

I repeatedly remind my clients of what has now become a Verbal Edge maxim: “When in doubt, leave the other word out.” This maxim applies to the first example. The other examples of grammatical faux pas could also use their own maxims. If you are in a maxim-writing mode, go for it!  I would love to read what you create.

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“Me and John observed the conflict.” Verbal Edge Maxim: “When in doubt, leave the other word out.” Leave the other word–John–out. Now the sentence is “Me observed the conflict.”  It is suddenly obvious we need to change the me to I.  Now add John. We’re not finished correcting this. The other person’s name always goes first. The corrected sentence reads ” John and I observed the conflict.”

Test this maxim with the sentence: “He gave the gift to Emma and I.” Leave out the word Emma. How does it sound? What is the correct way to say this? “He gave the gift to Emma and me.”
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“He don’t“ means he do not. We need to say “He doesn’t–he does not. Many people make this mistake because the verb do is used with all the other grammatical persons:

  • I / we (first person) do
  • you (second person) do
  • they, the cars (third person plural) do
  • Only he, she, John, the car (third person singular) requires does.

Even though this makes no sense, you need to say it this way. It’s just one of many grammatical anomalies we need to know. For that reason, do think before saying the word don’t!
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“I got a sad story.” “Got milk.” “We got to leave.” Worse yet: “I gotta leave.” The correct word is have…not got! ( I have a sad story. I have milk. We have to leave.)

Saying have got is an attempt to make something wrong sound half-right. Forgive me here: I get emotional with the ubiquitous misusage of this word. Got is not a present tense word–it is the past tense of get. Use got when:

  • you brought or retrieved something–I got his coat from the closet
  • became something–got emotional
  • caused something to be done–got them all fired up
  • caught an illness–got the virus
  • moved somewhere–got to work on time.

In all other circumstances, PLEASE use have. Do you have that?!
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It’s not “I seen, it’s “I saw.” Saw is the past tense–seen is never used in the past tense. (The audience saw the actor fall. We saw it on television.)  Seen is used when it follows the words have, has, had, having: I have seen. I had seen. I will have seen. Having seen my mistakes, I will write carefully.)
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Lie / lay. You’re never too old to get this one down. It’s easy. Generally, if someone or something does the action, the verb is lie. (I lie on the coach. Every day, he lies in bed until noon. The cat lies on the grass.) If the action is done to someone or something, the verb is lay. (He lay the baby in the crib. I lay the book on the table.)

Here’s where it gets a bit trickier: switching to the other tenses. You need to memorize this: lie, lay, lain and lay, laid, laid.(Lie: I lie in bed. I lay in bed yesterday. I have lain in bed all week. Lay: He lay the baby in the crib. He laid the baby in the crib at 2:00. He has laid the baby in the crib at 2:00 every day.) Don’t lie around worrying about this. Lay aside your concerns and other reading materials and tackle this!
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“I would have went“ needs to be “I would have gone.” Memorize this: Go, went, gone. Went is past tense.( John went to the store.) As with seen, only use gone when it follows the words have, has, had or having. (John has gone to the store. John will have gone to the store twelve times today. Having gone through this, you will now speak with more confidence.)