7 troublesome verb pairs

‘Swam’ or ‘swum’? ‘Dived’ or ‘dove’? Try these tips when you can’t figure out the difference.

Ragan Insider Premium Content
Ragan Insider Content

In last week’s post, I wrote about the basics of verbs. These words power our sentences, but they can cause trouble even for the most experienced writers and editors. Test yourself on the use of verbs in the following sentence:

Not sure of the answers? You’re not alone. Troublesome verb pairs trip can trip up anyone. Below is the sentence with the correct verbs, along with a few rules about verb pairs.

Lay and lie

Lie means to rest or recline. Its tense forms—lie, lay, lain—are intransitive and do not have a direct object.

Here another way to remember it: chickens lay eggs; people lie down.

Sit and set

Sit, sat, sat are intransitive, meaning they do not have direct objects.

Set, set, set does not change tense forms and the verb is transitive. There must be a direct object in the sentence.

Remember: Sit down and let me set the scene.

Swam and swum

Swim is the present tense of the verb.

Swam is the past tense.

To read the full story, log in.
Become a Ragan Insider member to read this article and all other archived content.
Sign up today

Already a member? Log in here.
Learn more about Ragan Insider.