Thursday, October 7, 2010


Arlene Miller is back to give advice on grammer and sentence structure. If you have a question about a sentence, please submit the sentence in a comment and she will try to help you with the correct words.


A cloaked figure stealthily walked the landscape, careful not to snap a twig or rustle the leaves that lie hidden beneath the mist.

A cloaked figure stealthily walked the landscape, careful not to snap a twig or rustle the leaves that lay hidden beneath the mist.

The first sentence is correct. It should be "lie" unless it is past tense, but it sounds present tense to me. The leaves lie. I lay the leaves down. Lay needs a direct object. For example,

I lie in the sun -- but

I lay the blanket on the sand
He could not get past the lump in his throat.

He could not get passed the lump in his throat.

He could not get pass the lump in his throat.

Wow! That is an easy one! Not even in my book! The first sentence is correct!

Passed is used to describe motion, eg: I passed by the house.

Passed – a verb in the past tensePast is used to describe the passage of time, eg: It was past ten o'clock in the morning.

Passed is the past participle of the verb “to pass”. It can be an intransitive verb (one which doesn’t require an object) or a transitive verb (one which requires both a subject and one or more objects).

“To pass” means “To proceed, move forward, depart; to cause to do this.” (OED) This can refer to movement forwards in time, in space, or in life (such as “to pass  a car ”).
•“The days passed quickly.” (Intransitive: subject “the days” and no object).
•“I passed all my tests!” (Transitive: subject “I” and object “my tests”.) 
 Past – relates to location.

The word past locates something in time, and sometimes in space. It can be
used as an adjective, noun, or adverb.

Past as an adjective:
•“The days for studying until midnight are now past.”
When attributed to a group of people, past can also mean “Having served one’s term of office; former.”
•“All past teachers in the school were female.”
And in grammar, we have more examples of past being used as an adjective, such as in “past tense” and “past participle”.

Past” as a noun:
The main meaning for the noun form of past, is “The time that has gone by; a time, or all of the time, before the present.”
•“In the past, standards were lower.”
•“Elderly people live in the past.”

“Past” as a preposition:
As a preposition, past can mean:
•“It is almost half past twelve.”
It can also be used for location:
•“The meeting is the held in the building just past the school.”

“Past” as an adverb:
For example:
•“The ball zoomed past the goalkeeper.”

Arlene Miller, M.A. - bigwords101 - Your words are our business!
Author of The Best Little Grammar Book Ever!
Available from Amazon.
grammar workshops, seminars, editing
on the web:


George said...

I'll bet I'm just like everyone else in the writing group; as soon as you have left, and your blog is sunset will be when all the questions come into mind.

This is a bit of getting a personal opinion from you. Writers can take lots of liberty with sentences structure. Periods, ellipsis marks and hyphens are used like traffic lights to control the pace and mood. Here's one --

His breakfast should have been buried instead of eaten. A banana. An old banana. Brown and soft. The peel wanted to fall off.

Now I'll bet a grammar guru would prefer --

The banana was old, brown and soft; the peel wanted to fall off, but that was all he had on hand for breakfast.

I got a quick chance to read a little bit about what (I think) are your thoughts on the use italics. I believe you think italics should be used for big things (...movies and book titles.) What about writers like a J.D. Salinger, who used italics to emphasize a single word?

Writerly trends tend to ban underlining, and all use of underlining there of. (What do you think of ending a sentence with a preposition?)

Thank you for coming to help us. George.

Arlene Miller said...

Hi George:

Your first comment on the breakfast banana: Well, I actually think the first one sounds better. Many times in novels there are fragments and "nonsentences." They call it poetic license. I don't usually mind it. However, if you are writing a business letter, it should be written with correct grammar.

Italics have other uses besides for titles. Italics are also used when you use a word as a word. For example, I know the definition of the word intrepid. Intrepid would be in italics (if I could make italics here!)Many people use italics to emphasize words. I am not sure about that; I think it is OK. You don't put quotes around words to emphasize them

Ending a sentence with a preposition? While I don't like "Where are you at," I don't really mind things like "Whom are you giving that to?"

George said...

Thank you Arlene!

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