College Focus:

Pepperdine University
The Right Word: Lay vs. Lie
Strunk & White Tip: Rule 6: Do not break sentences in two.
Recommended.Reading: Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer
Pepperdine University’s Frank R. Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences

Making college plans? You may wish to consider Pepperdine University, probably one of the most beautiful campuses in California. It overlooks Malibu, California, the wealthiest suburb of Los Angeles. The campus is an unmistakable landmark, with a giant cross on its front lawn representing its strong Christian orientation.

Pepperdine is one of the most conservative college campuses in California. It is a private Christian college affiliated with the Church of Christ. Students must attend 14 spiritual events a semester and take at least three Bible courses during their time at Pepperdine.

Academically, Pepperdine ranked 53rd in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, which makes it a Tier 1 national university. Nevertheless, it ranks below all the U.C. campuses.

The most popular undergraduate majors are Business Administration, Management Communications, Fine Arts, and Journalism. The general studies courses emphasize broad knowledge in several areas, including communication, humanities, fine arts, natural science, religion, and social science. Courses are offered on a semester basis, and annual tuition and fees total $39,080.

The college is about two-thirds Caucasian. Asians and international students make up about one-sixth of the student population. More than 50 percent of Pepperdine's undergraduate students study overseas during their Pepperdine careers. The school offers year-round residential programs in Heidelberg, Germany; London, England; Florence, Italy; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shanghai, China; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Many graduates report that their participation in one of these special Pepperdine programs was the single most significant experience of their undergraduate years.

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  Steve High,

Strunk and White’s Rule 6:
Do not break sentences in two.

by Steve High

Students in the primary grades often construct sentence fragments in just this way.

Wrong Right
She ate the cake. And enjoyed it.

She ate the cake, and she enjoyed it.

Everyone went to the birthday party. But Sam and his brother. Everyone went to the birthday party, but Sam and his brother did not.

Despite years of warnings, some older students continue to write fragmentary sentences that lack a subject, a verb, or both. Sometimes they naively think that longer sentences should be arbitrarily shortened.

In Write It Right, we provide this example of a very long sentence that never reaches its predicate:

EX: The tired soldiers of Company C, exhausted from the long march and homesick for their loved ones and under relentless fire that seemed endless, in a drenching rainstorm on a muddy trail winding through mountains and forests.

Other fragments contain subjects and verbs but do not express a complete thought.

Wrong Right
Sally blew out the candles. Because she was the birthday girl.

Sally blew out the candles because she was the birthday girl.

Because she was the birthday girl. Sally blew out the candles. Because she was the birthday girl, Sally blew out the candles.

Do not fear writing fragments by beginning with because, but, or and.

The Chicago Manual of Style observes,

There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. Even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.

One such grammarian was William Strunk, Jr., who starts 14 sentences with But in the 1918 version of The Elements of Style. Later editions of The Elements of Style in 1934, 1959, 1972, 1979, and 2000 have followed the same practice as, of course, does our own Write It Right With Strunk & White.

To be sure, many instructors prefer formal traditional conjunctive adverbs as alternatives to And or But.

Conjunction Used as an Adverb Conjunctive (Transitional) Adverb
But many instructors prefer formal conjunctive adverbs as alternatives to And or But to begin transitional sentences.

Nevertheless, many instructors prefer formal traditional conjunctive adverbs as alternatives to And or But to begin transitional sentences.

And you should, of course, follow your instructors’ preferences in your writing for their classes. Moreover, you should, of course, follow your instructors' preferences in your writing for their classes.

A final word of warning. Professional writers often deliberately use “stylistic fragments.” But until you’re sure you know the difference, avoid fragments of any kind.

For answers to specific writing questions, email us here. Who knows? Your question may inspire our next article on Writing Tips.

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Lay vs. Lie

Lay is a transitive verb; lie is intransitive.

In order to lay, someone must be laying something. The verb alone does not provide a complete meaning. Just as you cannot say, “I am placing,” without expressing the object that is being placed, you cannot end the sentence at “I am laying.”

Wrong Right

The new paperboy lays.

The new paperboy lays our newspaper on the porch.

Because lie is intransitive, use it without a direct object.

Wrong Right

The new paperboy lies the paper.

The paper lies on the porch.

Notice that porch is not a direct object. It is the object of an adverb phrase that answers the question, “Where?” Direct objects answer the question, “What?”

The biggest reason for confusion is that lay is a present form of one and a past form of the other.

LAY (transitive) LIE (intransitive)

Present tense:
They lay their homework here.

Present tense:
She lies in bed all day.

Past tense:
Yesterday, he laid his homework here.

Past tense:
Yesterday, she lay in bed all day.

Present Perfect:
Thus far, he always has laid his homework here.

Present Perfect:
Thus far, she has lain in bed all day.

You probably would not write, “She has went to bed,” so don’t write, “She has laid in bed.” Never use laid when you mean, rest in a flat position; laid is not ever a form of lie. Memorize the principal parts of the irregular verbs shown in the appendix of Write It Right. If you’re not sure, check a dictionary.

Although the other meanings of lie and lay usually don’t pose a problem, they are worth mentioning.

You can use lay intransitively when you are talking about eggs.

The goose finally laid the golden egg. (lay, past tense, transitive)

These birds lay twice a year. (present tense, intransitive)

You can sometimes use to lie as an alternative to to be. Used as a linking verb, lie is not an action verb and thus is neither transitive nor intransitive. The nouns that follow the verb in the examples below are predicate nominatives, not direct objects.

Therein lies the fault! (present tense, intransitive)

Twenty miles of bad road lay ahead. (present tense, intransitive)

Lie can also mean to tell someone something untrue.

Don’t lie to me or your nose will grow long. (present tense, intransitive)

The principal parts of this meaning of lie are regular: lie, lied, lied. For that matter, lay is also a regular verb except for its spelling, following the pattern of play, played, played.

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Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Nat Crawford,
director of tutoring

by Nat Crawford

Mark Twain, America’s greatest novelist, wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer “to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.”

Tom’s “queer enterprises” include fighting, running away from school, pretending to be sick, staying out past midnight, and manipulating his loving aunt’s feelings.

But is Tom Sawyer just a bad boy? No. He is an American boy of the 1800s, with all the lawlessness, energy, and goodness of our young country.

As many modern commentators have observed, the Aunt Pollys of the 21st century would have put on spectacles and a fierce look, marched Tom to the doctor, and arranged for him to take a pill every day to curb his attention deficit disorder.

An SAT tutor would have replaced Huck Finn. And so, rather than finding his way out of a cave and into the heart of Becky Thatcher, Tom would instead receive an acceptance letter from Washington University in St. Louis and look forward to a successful career trading pork futures on Wall Street.

A fine tale, a golden moral, but so golden there would be no added value in writing a novel about it.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer describes a typical Missouri childhood before the American Civil War in the 1860s. It is a tale of murder, revenge, and buried treasure—a great read from America’s greatest novelist.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer grows funnier and reveals more wisdom as its readers pass from year to year. Twain understands how children think; he is especially good at showing how quickly they shift from one outlandish project to another. When Joe Harper and Tom become angry at their families for mistreating them, they decide to run away from home. Joe initially plans to be a hermit, but he decides that Tom’s plan is more exciting:

Joe was for being a hermit, and living on crusts in a remote cave, and dying, some time, of cold and want and grief; but after listening to Tom, he conceded that there were some conspicuous advantages about a life of crime, and so he consented to be a pirate.

Twain’s sense of the ridiculous is on full display when he shows Tom frustrated by conventional education. His cousin Mary’s attempt to teach Tom a biblical verse is hilarious on paper, and a riot if you pick a partner and read it as a stage play.

Tom chooses the shortest verse he can find:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
      for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
      for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
      for they will inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:26

Tom: “Blessed are the—a—a—”

Mary: “Poor—”

Tom: “Yes—poor; blessed are the poor—a—a—”

Mary: “In spirit—”

Tom: “In spirit; blessed are the poor in spirit, for they—they—”

Mary: “THEIRS—”

Tom: “For THEIRS. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they—they—”

Mary: “Sh—”

Tom: “For they—a—”

Mary: “S, H, A—”

Tom: “For they S, H—Oh, I don’t know what it is!”

Mary: “SHALL!”

I think that teachers everywhere admire Mary’s patience.

Tom’s story also reminds us of how boys amused themselves before the invention of video games. After selling off chances to whitewash a fence (for more details, see chapter 2), Tom has gained “twelve marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar—but no dog—the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.” Try handing a bag of these to your son the next time he complains of boredom.

Twain’s descriptions of adults are also very funny. He gently mocks Aunt Polly for her belief in what we today might call alternative medicine:

She was a subscriber for all the “Health” periodicals and phrenological frauds; and the solemn ignorance they were inflated with was breath to her nostrils. and she never observed that her health-journals of the current month customarily upset everything they had recommended the month before. She was as simple-hearted and honest as the day was long, and so she was an easy victim.

By calling her “simple-hearted and honest,” Twain makes his satire easier to bear. In fact, he was often willing to see the good of people, despite their foolishness. At one point in the novel, Tom’s town is ready to condemn the alcoholic Muff Potter for murder, having strong evidence for his guilt. When Tom saves the accused by revealing the real murderer, the town abruptly begins treating Muff better: “As usual, the fickle, unreasoning world took Muff Potter to its bosom and fondled him as lavishly as it had abused him before. But that sort of conduct is to the world’s credit; therefore it is not well to find fault with it.”

One thinks of Twain as a humorist, but he is also excellent at portraying the beauty and power of the natural world. Here he tosses off a description of a thunderstorm:

Under the ceaseless conflagration of lightning that flamed in the skies, everything below stood out in cleancut and shadowless distinctness: the bending trees, the billowy river, white with foam, the driving spray of spumeflakes, the dim outlines of the high bluffs on the other side, glimpsed through the drifting cloudrack and the slanting veil of rain. Every little while some giant tree yielded the fight and fell crashing through the younger growth; and the unflagging thunderpeals came now in ear-splitting explosive bursts, keen and sharp, and unspeakably appalling. The storm culminated in one matchless effort that seemed likely to tear the island to pieces, burn it up, drown it to the treetops, blow it away, and deafen every creature in it, all at one and the same moment.

That last sentence shows one of Twain’s characteristic stylistic techniques, a technique one might call “piling.” Sometimes he piles description up to the heavens and then, with the reader smiling in admiration at the construction, twists it slightly with an amusing follow-up. These examples are too long to quote but fun to find.

Twain embraced the world as he saw it, and when he could not embrace, he found a way to laugh. That laughter is his gift to his readers; readers of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer will find themselves grinning, chuckling, smiling, and laughing aloud. A big laugh is still the best medicine, or, as one of Twain’s wise characters puts it, “money in a-man’s pocket, because it cut[s] down the doctor’s bill like everything.” Here we are today, a century after Twain’s death, no better behaved than in the time of that writer but every bit in need of the laughter that is his legacy. Click through two pages, and call him in the morning (I hear that the report of his death was an exaggeration).

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