The Past Form Isn’t Present

lead-led meme

It was mid afternoon as Grammar Smith walked into the Hunt and Peck after an extended shift at the Department of English Language Offenses. She just wanted a quick glass of Chardonnay to unwind before heading home.

The bar was pretty much deserted. Grammar sat down a couple of seats away from Led and Paid, and ordered her drink.


“Hiya, Lieutenant,” Paid replied.

Led just grunted and stared into his beer.

“Rough night?” Paid asked Grammar.

“Not sure I’d say it was rough, more like complicated. We had to track some subject-verb agreement offenses over at Fustian University. It took way too much time. What about you two? What are you doing here in the middle of the afternoon?”

Led snorted, looked up at Rocky, the bartender, and said, “Again.”

She brought him a shot and a beer.

“Whoa there, Led. Hope you’re not driving anywhere,” Grammar said.

“No, I’m driving him home later,” Paid explained. She didn’t look too happy as she nursed her drink.

“What’s going on?”

“Led’s in a bad way,” Paid said. “Both of us have been pushed out by incorrect verb forms. ‘Payed’ has been butting in more often for me, but Led has it worse. Seems like everyone, including writers who should know better, are using ‘lead’ for the past tense of ‘to lead.’”

“It’s just too heavy!” Led downed the shot and gulped the beer.

“C’mon. How bad could it be?”

Paid shot a quick glance at Led, who had his head cradled in his arms on the bar.

“It’s everywhere, Lieutenant. I’m almost thinking the DELO should get involved. It’s killing Led, literally if he keeps drinking like this.”

Grammar sighed. She never seemed to be able to get away from her work.

“I’ll put it on the department’s investigation list,” she promised sipping the last of her wine and heading for home.

3 Careless Flubs That Make You Look Bad

Okay, we’ve all done it – made embarrassing writing mistakes we wish we could take back. The trick is to avoid those mistakes that can cost us readers.

I fillRecently, my reading (especially on the Web) caused me severe eye-roll syndrome. A bunch of thoughtless errors made me want to stop reading, but I trudged on. I think most readers would have shared my frustration.

Careless errors reflect poorly on writers and cause readers to doubt writers’ abilities (maybe even their intelligence). We need to do ourselves a favor and avoid these three types of embarrassing errors.

Proper Verb Form

English is weird. It’s a combination of several other languages. This makes for some rather illogical verb forms. But using the wrong form will get us in trouble – fast.

I was reading an online news item where the writer twice used the word “payed,” as in “he payed for that mistake.” Now, that would seem to be the logical past tense of to pay, but the correct form is paid. Didn’t the guy have a spelling checker? It comes up on mine.

Another common tense hang-up is the went-gone difficulty. Too many times I have read and heard “I had went …” Seriously? It’s “I had gone…”

There’s always the lie (to recline) versus lay (to set down) confusion. When it comes to verb forms in English, it’s a good idea to have a chart of irregular verb tenses handy. I know I do.


I’m not sure why, but people have trouble with the preposition of.

Sometimes they’ll leave it out, as in “we had a couple drinks to celebrate.” Does that make “couple” an adjective instead of a noun? How about “I drank a can soda”? That just doesn’t sound right.

On the other hand, people will use of when they mean have, to whit “I could of been a contender!” The difficulty here is one of sound. When we make the contractions “could’ve” or “should’ve,” that second syllable sounds an awful lot like “of.” But, well, it’s still wrong.

Wrong Words

Using a word we think sounds right instead of the correct word is the worst kind of error. It’s just plain sloppy writing, and the reader knows it.

We all know the problems with there, their, and they’re, and its and it’s. Yet, people will use fill when they mean feel. I had one student who kept using an in the place of and. It took me a while (and a lot of re-reading) to catch on.

And it mystifies me why people will use the word defiantly when they mean definitely. They are not even close in meaning or even pronunciation.

Using incorrect words forces the reader to figure out what the writer really means, and we don’t want to make the reader work that way.

Remember: We always want the reader to concentrate on what we’re saying, not struggle to translate the mistakes in our writing.

There are all kinds of crazy writing errors out there. What are some of your favorite (or should it be despised) errors?