The drop of an “at”

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Grammar nazi, Writing
Tags: , , , , ,

I haven’t done a grammar post for ages, but while helping a friend this weekend, a few current peeves came to mind.  I really don’t write about these just to blow off steam, but to help you become a better, more concise writer and speaker.  Really!!  🙂

Today, let’s look at whether you should use between or among, when “at” is just too much, what to do when you’re talking directly to someone in print, and whether to use lie or lay?  Ready?  Let’s go.

1.  Between or among?
“Between” is used when there are two of something, “among” when there are three or more. In the following picture, the tall giraffe is between the other two.  Among the three, I don’t know which I like the best (not better, which is also used with only two.)


I often hear people ask things such as “Where are you at?”, “Where’s the dog at?”, “Where’s the party at?”  At is a preposition which means, without going into any heavy grammar, it needs an object, something that answers the question “Where/where?”   He’s at  (what?) the house, at (what?) the party, at (what?) the zoo.  The dog’s at (what?) the neighbor’s house, digging in the yard.  After the neighbor comes after him with a broom, he’ll be at (what/where) home.  I might be at (where?) the end of my wits at (what?) the antics of my children.

But at doesn’t come at (where?) the end of a sentence.  In that position, there’s no object, no answer to the question. All you need to ask is “Where are you?”  “Where’s the dog?”  “Where’s the party?”

3.  I’m talking to you! 
If you’re talking to me, or anyone, directly when writing, you need to use a comma or commas to set their name apart from the rest of the sentence.  It’s simple.  Look at these examples.

“I left a comment on Rosalind’s blog.”   No comma, as you’re not talking directly to Rosalind.

“I left a comment on your blog, Rosalind.”    Comma!  You’re talking to her in person (so to speak), so you need that comma.

“I think, Rosalind, that you need to change the ending of your story.”  Two commas needed, to set the name aside from the rest of the sentence.

Here are examples of places in Blog Land that you need these commas:

“Great story, Jack!”
“That poem, Ann, is simply superb!”
“Rick, the colors in that photo are so vivid!”

4. Application…

*Among these three tips, which do you find most useful?  Which tip is between the other two?

*Which is correct: Where are you while reading this post or Where are you at while reading this post?

*Will anyone comment, “Janet, this is one of the most useful posts I’ve read for some time.”  Or will it be “Great post Janet?”

I hope these hints will help your writing improve.  Have any grammar peeves of your own?  Feel free to leave them in the comments.  But don’t leave them where the comments are at!

 5. Lie or lay

Can’t believe I forgot this one!  If you pay close attention, this is fairly easy.  When you’re in the present, right now, you lay something down–there has to be an object.  I lay the book down right now, I lay a kiss on my husband tonight, I lay the plates on the table.  Each answers the question: I/you/he/she/whoever/whatever lay what down?

Unless you’re a liar and you lie about something, lie is used when someone goes to sleep or at least gets into bed for that purpose (or perhaps for other purposes.)  You lie down to take a nap; no direct object, nothing to answer the question: You lie what down?  Of course, you can lie on places other than the bed, such as the floor, to relax your back, but you get the idea.

*To recap:  You lay something down but you lie down.   Remember, that’s all when something is happening now and that’s when the two are most often used incorrectly.

If you want a little bit more, the past tense is where things get slightly confusing, but I have confidence you can get it.  The past tense of lie is…oh, no…LAY.   No worries!  Just remember these two sentences:

*Today I lie down to sleep.  Yesterday (in the past) I lay down to sleep.

The past tense of lay is laid.  Here are your sentences:

*Today I lay the book on the table.  Yesterday I laid the book on the table.

OK.  I’m going to lay down my laptop and shortly I will lie down to sleep, secure in the knowledge that between the two of us, we’ve conquered these grammar bugbears.  Among all of you reading this, most of you will be able to put this information into use soon.  Where will you be, my friends and readers, when you do?  (Why the commas?  Remember, I’m talking to you! And don’t forget, I didn’t say, “Where will you be at, my friends and readers, when you do?”)

Thanks for sticking with this sticky subject and for being friends and readers!

  1. prior says:

    if only all grammar lessons were so clear and lively! 🙂

  2. nowathome says:

    I thought is was very useful. Thank you for that!

  3. Thank so much, Janet. This post is truly helpful.

    • Thanks and thanks for getting that comma in the right place. The first time I posted that hint, I got lots of responses, many of which included my name but were missing the comma/commas about which I’d just written. 😦


  4. I love grammar police. That’s probably because of an education with the nuns and years of diagramming sentences and rulers being snapped on my knuckles. LOL By the way, in the second paragraph, I think you have a typo There is “us” when I think you meant “use.” 🙂 Love this post.

  5. Lay or Lie? An eternal mystery to me. I just cannot remember the rules, and so I reword entire sentences to avoid using either. OK, you asked about pet peeves. “Between you and I” ARGHHHH. Both of my sisters say it incessantly, and it makes my eyelid flutter from suppressed urge to correct. “She gave it to Tom and I.” “Him and I went to the movies.” Surely we cannot really be related…..LOL!

    • Yes, I thought of that one, too, but the post was getting long enough as it was. I’m jotting it down, though, for the next time. Thanks for the reminder.

      As for lie or lay, hopefully my hints will make it easier. Basically, you have to lay something down. You lie down. Of course, the first line in the prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep”, is also correct because you’re laying yourself down. But it’s not generally how we talk.


  6. Oh, and I love your headline. Very clever.

  7. Jennifer S says:

    I always remember the difference between lie and lay by remembering that “recline” has the word “lie” in it and “lay” sounds similar to “place” (as in I placed it on the table). I can’t remember who told me this little mnemonic aid, but it has helped me a lot!

  8. Maria Munoz-Nebbia says:

    This is great and simple, Janet! I am an ESL and Reading teacher. I knew the “lay, lie” ones, but I did not know the tricky ways of their past tense till now, 😏 I would like to use this little presentation of yours when we cover these items, including the “commas” and the incorrect use of “at.” Of course, I will totally credit you and give them a link to your site. Good stuff, Janet. Thanks again.

  9. My pet hate is when people constantly say “me and you” . I am constantly correcting my children but it is hard when on tv that is all they say. It should always be the other person before you. I watch a lot of Judge Judy and it is her pet hate as well. Drives me nuts. 😦

  10. trishmcneill says:

    I just found your blog. Thank you. I would like to ask a question on another matter though. My husband ends a sentence, when he is talking about a place like this:

    “I am going to the BP.” The sound of it drives me crazy. It sounds like the sentence is unfinished. “I am going to the BP service station.” or “I am going to BP.” It is the ‘the’ in the first sentence that does my head in. Would you mind explaining if I am just allowing a little ‘the’ to annoy me greatly?

    • Trish, I’m not a grammar expert, so I can’t tell you if that “the” is “against the rules.” I have to admit it might make me a bit crazy, too. But if that’s the worst thing about your husband, you’re blessed! 🙂

      If he were to say, “I’m going to Sears”, he wouldn’t put “the” before “Sears” because it’s a name. And I imagine he would say “the hardware store”, but not “the hardware.” So yes, the “the” isn’t really correct, but what can you do?

      I’ve not heard this before but sometimes there are regional differences. My in-laws used to say to our girls, when they were little, “Do you want picked up?” That drove me mad, as I think “to be” needs to be in front of “picked up.” The Brits say someone is “in hospital” where we would say “in the hospital.” Language is certainly never dull.

      I don’t know if that helps, but I think you’ll probably just have to live with it. 🙂 Thanks for the question and I hope you like the blog.


  11. billgncs says:

    where will be be ?

  12. Ah, it’s so refreshing to read proper grammar, explained in plain English, no less! I wish I could have all of my classmates read this post, too. It’s incredibly painful to critique an essay when it barely even makes sense.

    • I feel your pain, Hannah. I taught high school, although not grammar, for four years and have read plenty of bad grammar since that time. It even shows up in places where you’d think people would know better.


  13. Erika says:


    This is a great post. I read your last paragraph three times, and I think there might be a couple typos in there. Another explanation is that I might just be too tired to be reading. Either is possible. I’ll point to these two things anyway. You write:

    Where will be be, my friends and readers, when you do? (Why the commas? Remember, I’m talking to you! And don’t forget, I didn’t way, “Where will you be at, my friends and readers, where you do?”)

    1. Where will be be … ?
    2. And don’t forget, I didn’t way … ?

    Typos or not, my intention is to be helpful.

    • Good morning, Erika, and thanks! That’s more typos than I usually have in a month and all in one place. 🙂 Glad you liked the post and thanks for the helpful and careful reading.


  14. suej says:

    Great post, Janet! Nicely written with some humour….I have plenty of peeves on this subject, some of which you have addressed. 🙂

  15. Ruth says:

    Terrific post. In Pittsburgh, the use of “at” to end a question is a trademark of Pittsburghese. Incorrect but prevalent. The most common expression is ” ‘n at.” Oh dear.
    We’ve been voted the worst accent in the USA.

    • I read that about the worst accent, Ruth, but I don’t know that it’s true. We have friends there and none of them have a heinous accent. 🙂


      • Ruth says:

        I don’t think I have it but having lived here almost 25 years I might be kidding myself.
        I KNOW I don’t use “at” incorrectly ‘n at!
        Thanks Janet.

  16. Good tips! But don’t forget poetic license, which allows me to use the word “but” at the beginning of this sentence. Under poetic license the word “among” can also be used to differentiate “between” two or more things. Grammatically correct wording could be the death of poetry. Things like assonance, rhyme, accent – tied to meter and flow, form, and alliteration all play an important role in a poets decision to choose a particular word. Recently I referred to Dorothy Parker personal traits as vortices, which are actually swirling whirls of water that draw all surrounding things to their center. Dorothy was not water, but the rest of that definition suits her well. Of course the important thing is that it rhymes with “Rigor Mortises”, which is completely off grammar itself! I like my poetic license! It’s like a “Get out of Grammar School Early” card!

    • Hi, John. Of course, you’re correct that there’s poetic license. But that implies that the writer/poet first knows what’s grammatical and then uses the alternative form for his/her license. 🙂 Grammar gets clobbered regularly in musical lyrics. However, if you’re looking for a job, it’s useful to be able to use grammar correctly.

      Thanks for the great comment. I do a bit of poetry and writing as well, so I’ve used that license a time or two myself.


  17. solaner says:

    Great post, Janet!
    well explained and a good reminder! Thanks!

  18. It is always too much fun when I can catch up with you! Huge hugs

  19. Great job, Janet. It’s probably important to remember or take into account that we speak in one way and write in another. For example, using “at” or “to the BP” which translates to the service station. (Isn’t BP a gas company??).

    Another example would be using dialect in a direct quote in writing. I always tell students there’s no “Proper English” just Standard English. A dialect is “proper” when used in a particular setting.

    I’m somewhat of a grammar geek, but I had to sit and think and rewrite a sentence the other day with the past tense of lay… I knew I had an object, but I had to diddle with it in my mind none the less. And get out my trusty grammar geek book to make sure the word was laid.

    And contrary to what John above says, I’ve never read a good poet who misuses grammar. Because poetry is so dependent on imagery, unless it’s dialect in the poem, grammar must be precise too. (Unless, of course, the entire poem is about the misuse of grammar.) 🙂

  20. lexklein says:

    I love any and all grammar posts. I am a grammar freak, for sure. I, too, despise subject pronouns used in direct object positions (The minister talked to he and I before the wedding.). My blood pressure rises when apostrophes are used to make plurals (Merry Christmas from the Brown’s!). I loathe when people (smart people!) confuse your/you’re, it’s/its, and there/their/they’re! (Your welcome.) That’s enough for now … I’m getting worked up. Don’t even get me started on all the expressions I dislike!

    • 🙂 I completely identify. So glad you enjoyed the post. I have plans for another soon. I’m keeping track of things that I notice and that bother me. Should keep me going for a time. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.


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