The Alphabet of Errors: L, M & N

lay and lieHave you told people a 1000 times not to use lie for lay? Are those people, after all your well-meant though prescriptive advice, still lost as to when to use the one and when the other? Do they forget your advice?

Elizabeth Richardson, about whom I earlier wrote the post The Alphabet of Errors, thought of a long-lasting solution: rhymes. In an article she sent to The English Journal in 1921, she reports of a group of senior pupils on a girls’ high school in Boston, Massachusetts who composed verses that had to help them pay attention to their speech. Standing on an assembly platform, the girls recited:

L is for lie
Used often as lay
An easy mistake,
But cast it away.

M is for may,
Twin sister of can;
Using one for the other
Is under a ban

N is for no,
Which often we say
Together with not
Beware, it means yea.

designed by Alanna Cavanagh (

designed by Alanna Cavanagh (

The usage problems dealt with in these rhymes (lie/lay, may/can, double negation) happen to be in the HUGE database. Though I have read quite a few usage guides by now, I haven’t come across series of poems (yet).

As I mentioned in my other post, I wonder whether similar attempts have been made to correct pupils’ speech. Would you happen to know a rhyme about a usage problem similar to the ones quoted above? Do you think they are effective?

Richardson, E. (Oct. 1921) “The Alphabet of Errors.” The English Journal, 10.8: 472-473

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1 Response to The Alphabet of Errors: L, M & N

  1. I think that rhymes and songs can be an effective way of drilling rules since they seem to be easier to remember in rhyme or song. I certainly haven’t been able to get the song Conjunction Junction from Schoolhouse Rock out of my head for a week after first hearing it when my assistant Cynthia was writing a post about it for this blog.

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