It’s time for “Confusing Words of the Week” where I take a set of two or three words that get confused and give you definitions and try to give you a memory trick to help you remember when to use which word. If you have words that confuse you, use the Ask PTB tab on the website or send an email to [email protected] and they may appear here soon!
This week’s words were part of yesterday’s Grammar Giggle. They are:
Passed – moved along; transferred (past tense of past)
He passed along his notes from the seminar to Jean.
Past – time gone by
In the past, our televisions had five channels.
Passed – Think of the “ss” as tracks where you are moving something along
Past – Think of “ast” as like “aft”er as in something that has already happened.
The words lie or lay seem to cause problems for people. How do you know when to use which one? Let’s see if we can clear it up a little bit.
Lay (lay, laid, laying) means “to put” or “to place.” Because it’s a verb (action word) it requires an object to complete the meaning:
- Please lay the groceries on the counter.
- She laid her resignation letter on the boss’s desk.
- He is always laying his schoolbooks on the kitchen table.
Lie (lie, lay, lain, lying) means “to recline, rest, or stay” or “to take a position of rest.” Unlike lay, which requires it, lie cannot take an object.
- She said she was going to lie on the bed to test the mattress.
- The pleading was lying on his desk for him to sign.
A way to remember the difference is that if you can replace the questionable lie or lay with place (or the correct version of it), then you need to use the correct version of lay. If it doesn’t, use the correct version of lie.
- She wanted to (lay or lie) down for a nap. Would you say “She wanted to place down for a nap.”? No! So the proper word would be lie.
- He (laid or lay) the coffee on his secretary’s desk. Is it “He placed the coffee on his secretary’s desk.”? Yes! Then laid is correct.
Another reminder hint might be if you are going to plAce something, then you are going to lAy it, but if you are going to rEst, you are going to liE.
So is it “attorney’s fees” or “attorneys’ fees”? I see it both ways in all kinds of documents. According to Bryan Garner, it seems that “attorney’s fees” is used most frequently, but that “attorneys’ fees” is acceptable in cases where more than one attorney is charging fees for services. Some people use “attorney fees” to avoid making decision altogether.
Other sources I found say:
- The U.S. Department of Justice U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, Civil Resource Manual has a section on “Attorney’s Fees.”
- A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case (Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., No. 15–375) talks about “attorney’s fees.”
- The American Bar Association published an article in 2016 about “attorney fees.”
- Black’s Law Dictionary uses “attorney fees.”
No wonder people are confused. While it isn’t really a big deal, your firm should decide which form they want to use and then everyone should use that form. My biggest fear is always that different briefs from the same firm will have it different ways. Remember my mantra–consistency is good.
Here is my take: If there is ONLY one attorney charging fees, I think “attorney’s fees” is correct. They are the fees of that attorney. However, if there are multiple attorneys charging fees even in one firm, it should be “attorneys’ fees.” They are fees charged by multiple attorneys.
Do you agree?