Getting Laid

I need help “getting” laid. Seriously, the past tense of “lie” and “lay” have always baffled me. I just don’t get it. Every time I use one of these troublesome verbs, I have to look it up. Christina Frey, in her Writer’s Toolbox article in The Voice Magazine last November, covered this very topic. The reference chart included in that article is now my go-to guide for clearing my lie/lay, lay/laid confusion.

I was dismayed when I read the June 6 editorial in The Voice Magazine, announcing that The Writer’s Toolbox went on hiatus. Like Karl, I ,too, selfishly hope the hiatus is short. Every essay I’ve written in the past 7 months has been enriched by something I’ve read in Christina Frey’s columns.

Since November 2013, The Writer’s Toolbox has served as my weekly grammar refresher. Having been away from formal education for, well, a long time, I quickly realized that my English grammar needed a tune-up, and maybe an overhaul. Decades of informal conversation and hasty writing definitely has had an eroding effect.

Do you need more help with your grammar and writing? Want better marks on your essays? Hope to impress your future employers with your ability to articulate clearly and precisely? You have several options to improve your English skills while you wait for the return of The Writer’s Toolbox:

AU’s Write Site
At the Write Site, students can find the basics for academic writing. Your tuition is paying for this, so you may as well use it. From the left-hand menu, click on Academic Writing Resources for tips on sentence structure, grammar, and style. If you want an assessment of your current knowledge, check out the English Language Assessment (ELA.) The ELA is a free tool to test your current ability in ten areas of skill, including grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. You’re allowed up to three hours to complete the assessment, which must be finished in one sitting, but It’s possible to finish it in less than one hour. And, if You’re a registered AU student, you can access the Practical English Teacher (PET) instruction resource. PET is a learning tool designed to improve your skills in grammar and punctuation. PET is suitable for ongoing learning; you can access PET any time and resume where you left off.

Other online resources
There are seemingly endless resources online that will help you improve your grammar and writing skills. Many universities have writing resources that are accessible to everyone. Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (known as Purdue OWL,) is known not only for its fact sheets on general writing skills but also for its extensive information on research and citation. If You’re using MLA, APA, or Chicago style, You’re probably already using the OWL. You’ll also find extensive grammar guides from the University of Victoria and writing advice from the University of Toronto. University of Ottawa’s Writing Centre has an online HyperGrammar course, although they note that It’s under construction and “may contain some errors.”

“The Grammar Lady,” newspaper columnist Mary Newton Bruder, unfortunately passed away in 2004 (but you can still get her book called, not surprisingly, The Grammar Lady.) But look for the next generation’s Grammar Girl at And then there’s Dr. Grammar from the University of Iowa, or the Online Grammar Handbook from the University of Minnesota. And of course, you can access all of the previous Writer’s Toolbox columns at The Voice Magazine (search for “toolbox” or “Frey” to get a list of articles.)

Wondering whether to put punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks? See this Writer’s Toolbox column from November. Is it “towards” or “toward?” Check out this January column. Confused about possessive forms? The answer is in Frey’s March 7 column.

So, while The Writer’s Toolbox is on hiatus, I’ll keep working on my verb tenses and use of quotation marks and commas. And maybe I’ll finally get it: laid is the past tense of lay, while lay is the past tense of lie.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

Editor’s note: Wish granted! She’s back! I did say it’d be short.