Raising Voices and Rising Up: A Tale of Verbs and Freedom (Adventures in Grammar #5)

Two brothers, Dash and Dormi, once lived together in Obdura, a peaceful nation where each day passed like every other.

Every morning, Dash and Dormi woke at sunrise. They and their neighbors reported to their jobs via assigned buses and security checkpoints. By dusk, everyone went into their homes and slept all night with the help of a pill, just as the law required.

Dash, Dormi, and their neighbors acted only in accordance with the rulers’ laws, for the rulers maintained Obdura’s prized sameness. The people never feasted, but they never went hungry. They were never overwhelmingly happy, but they were never desperately sad. For decades, the rulers had carefully, firmly kept Obdura just as it was.

Like all their neighbors, the brothers obeyed. They never resisted, questioned, or wondered.

And they never dreamed.

One warm night, though, Dash couldn’t sleep. His pill simply didn’t work. This had never happened before. Tossing and turning didn’t help. Neither did a cup of tea. Dash counted, stretched, and breathed deeply, but nothing worked.

Dash considered. “I can’t lie awake all night. Maybe…”

It wasn’t allowed, but maybe a short, quiet walk would help. Just this once. Hesitantly, Dash rose, dressed, and left. The front door softly shut.

In his own room, Dormi slept on.


The street sign was difficult to read in the dark, but it was familiar. As Dash passed by, though, something occurred to him.

“I wonder why there’s a curfew.”

A few houses later, watching out for patrolling Peacekeepers, he looked around the quiet, tree-lined street. He was alone. The outlines of all the silent homes were identical.

“I wonder why they’re all the same.”

At the end of the street, Dash looked up into the clear, moonless sky, at all the uncountable flecks of light. His feet stopped. His jaw dropped.

For the first time in his life, Dash saw the stars. And he whispered:

“I wonder what’s out there.”

He had never broken curfew. He had never asked questions. And all his life, this beautiful sight had awaited him, right outside his door. Why had it been hidden?

Dash slowly returned home, sifting more questions in his mind. As he laid himself down, Dash considered everything he knew of Obdura: the rigid rules, the nightly pills, the Peacekeepers on already-peaceful streets, the unabating sameness… He spent the whole night thinking thoughts he had never thought before.

When the sun rose, Dash shook Dormi awake.

“Brother! I saw the stars last night. I’ve never seen anything like them. Will you come with me tonight?”

“What are you saying?” Dormi sputtered. “You went out after curfew? That’s against the law!”

“Yes, but why? Why do we have a curfew? Why are our houses identical? Why does every day look like every other day? Why do the rulers order us to work the same jobs and eat the same food and take the same pills at bedtime? Don’t you wonder?”

Dormi stiffened where he sat. “No, I don’t. Neither should you. Wondering isn’t safe.”


“Don’t talk like this to anyone else, brother. You’ll only be unhappy—or worse, get into trouble.”

Dash heard his brother’s warning, but he couldn’t contain the new thoughts. After so many years of being stifled and pressed down, they confronted him at every turn. Why were they scanned and searched upon arrival at the factory? Why was everything, from the meals on their lunch trays to the assigned buses to and from work, so tightly regulated? Why were they required to take pills at bedtime?

Why weren’t they allowed to see the stars?

Dash quietly told his friends at work what he had seen.

“Are you going out again?” asked one.

“Can we come?” whispered two others. They lived on the next block.

Dash considered Dormi’s words of caution. But between wondering and safety, he had already chosen wondering. “Very well. But keep it quiet.”

That night, Dash didn’t take his pill. He retired to bed right after supper, just as he had told his friends to do, and woke near midnight. When he slipped out the front door, he found a half-dozen neighbors waiting in the shadows. Tears sparkled on their faces in the starlight.

“Why?” they demanded. “Why have we never been allowed to see this?”

On that night, as they crept to the dark end of the street to watch the stars and dove into bushes when a Peacekeeper vehicle rolled past, Dash and his neighbors realized what they needed, what they had been missing—the reason they were never overwhelmingly happy.

“We want freedom,” they whispered to each other. “We need freedom.”

In the days that followed, that whisper of freedom slipped through neighborhoods, along noisy factory floors, and across bus aisles. Word spread of the stars, and Obdurans everywhere began throwing away their nightly pills so they, too, could slip out their doors and catch glimpses of the night sky.

Dash invited his brother every night, and every night Dormi refused. He lay in his bed, captive to sleep. Upon waking every sunrise, though, Dormi hurried to his brother’s bedside to be sure he had returned safely.

Dash’s followers grew bolder. In the moonlight, a few teenagers pushed through the cracked window of an abandoned building and found it full of ancient texts. They had never seen books before. They took as many as they could carry and began to share them.

The rulers of Obdura, unfortunately, were not ignorant of these happenings—far from it. They gathered in secret and demanded reports from their Peacekeepers. They increased their patrols and began arresting anyone suspected of breaking curfew or other laws. Anyone caught disposing of their nightly pill was imprisoned and forced to take it under guard. Anyone caught with a book disappeared.

Dash and his fellow citizens began to raise their voices. They joined marches and waved signs. They demanded change. They set new expectations. They asked more questions by the day, even though the only answer ever given was, “You’re not permitted to ask.”

Sometimes, saying goodnight to Dormi, Dash felt a desperate sadness. However, when he watched someone open their first book or see their first stars, a taste of overwhelming happiness gripped him. Wherever he went, that hope was written on his face.

And the rulers could see it.

That hope could not be quashed by threatening Dash, they realized—not even by threatening his life. That threat would not stop him, and if they martyred Dash, the people would rise. The rulers could see only one way to break him:

Threaten his brother.

Dash was detained and brought into the Hall of Governance, a stoic building at the center of Obdura. The leaders told him plainly: Cease his protests, or Dormi would disappear.

Dash stopped.

When the Peacekeepers deposited Dash at his house, he went in without a word. That night, he slept under the influence of his pill until sunrise. He went quietly to work, ate quietly at lunchtime, and returned quietly to his home.

For days, Dash stayed silent and obedient. His followers were puzzled, discouraged. The leaders were pleased.

One night before bedtime, Dormi finally asked, “What’s happened, Dash? I thought that you were a leader with… Why have you stopped—stopped wondering?”

Dash shrugged. “The leaders threatened what I cannot lose.”

“Your life?”

“I wish,” Dash whispered. “Freedom isn’t worth losing my family.”

Dormi’s eyes went wide. For the first time, he truly saw his brother: the desperate sadness in his face, the yearning, the fear. Dormi saw what the rulers had taken from Dash, and what he saw angered him more deeply than he had ever thought possible.

“Don’t.” Dormi stopped Dash’s hand. “Don’t take that pill. Take me to see the stars.”

Dash blinked. “But—”

“I’ve been silent too long,” said Dormi. “I should have joined you long ago. Please, brother, forgive me. Let me fight them alongside you.”

That night, Dash took Dormi to see the stars. Side-by-side, hand-in-hand, the brothers finally saw the world not only as it was, but as it could be.

When the sun rose the next morning, the brothers left their house with signs in their hands. As they traversed the neighborhood, they raised their voices and signs.

Street by street, their friends and followers, parents and children, old and young, grabbed signs and joined Dash and Dormi. The growing army fairly shook the ground. Obdurans left their assigned buses mired in the clogged streets and joined the march. By the thousands, they pushed back the Peacekeepers, all the way to the doors of the Hall of Governance.

Inside the Hall, the rulers huddled. Their grasp on power was slipping.

Outside, the crowds chanted mantras of freedom and dignity. They demanded justice. They rejected feigned attempts to placate them. They scorned threats of retaliation.

After all that had happened, the people had realized the cost of losing. They had lost much and many already. They would risk their lives rather than give up hope.

And they would keep up the fight for as long as it took.

Surrounded, disgraced, and reviled, the rulers finally surrendered. The outnumbered Peacekeepers laid down their weapons.

The people won.

As their last act of leadership, the rulers transferred power to the people.

Together, the people built a new system of government. They granted equal rights and ended unjust systems. They restored dignity and freedom.

They changed their world.

Alongside their neighbors, Dash and Dormi began to build new, freer lives. They chose new careers and found opportunities that brought them overwhelming happiness. They found hope in the future.

And on every clear night, they took a long, peaceful walk to admire the stars.


I hope you enjoyed this story of intransigence and resistance! It was a challenging story to write on a structural level because I constrained a key component of composition: my verb choices. That brings me to our current grammar topic: transitive and intransitive verbs.

hocus pocus shock

First, what is a verb? It is a word that describes an action, occurrence, or state of being. Verbs comprise a fundamental, nearly universal part of human language because they tell us what “is” or what “happens.”

A verb is conjugated, or shaped, into different tenses (such as past, present, and future) to give it context. A verb also varies depending on whether its subject (the noun doing the action) is singular or plural.

In short, verbs are complicated! For today, we’re just going to focus on two specific types of verbs that are commonly misunderstood: transitive and intransitive verbs.


Transitive verbs are verbs that act upon direct objects (these are different than subjects). A direct object does not follow a preposition; rather, the action directly impacts it. Consider this sentence: “Dash invited his brother every night.”

  • The verb is invited.
  • Who did the inviting? Dash, which makes him the subject.
  • Whom did Dash invite? His brother, the direct object.


Here are a few more examples of transitive verbs in the story (verbs bold, objects underlined):

  • For the first time in his life, Dash saw the stars.
  • They joined marches and waved signs. They demanded change.
  • They would risk their lives rather than give up hope.

A good way to check whether a verb is transitive is to see if you can reverse the order of the sentence into passive voice. For example, “The stars were seen by Dash.” If you can, it’s transitive!

Also, note that verbs tied to emotions or states, like “Dash stayed silent” or “Dormi was frightened,” are not transitive verbs. You wouldn’t say, “Silent was stayed by Dash.”


Next, let’s talk about intransitive verbs. These are… all the verbs that aren’t transitive! If it doesn’t have a direct object, it’s an intransitive verb. Examples from the story (verbs bold):

  • Every morning, Dash and Dormi woke with the rising sun.
  • The people never feasted, but they never went hungry.
  • He went quietly to work, ate quietly at lunchtime, and returned quietly to his home.

No problem, right? Besides, this is the kind of esoteric grammar gobbledygook that isn’t super useful in real life…



There are three pairs of very commonly confused verbs, and the primary reason for this confusion is that one verb in each pair is transitive, and the other is intransitive—kind of like the brothers in the story. Here are the mixed-up verbs and how to use them properly:

Lay: transitive (needs a direct object)

  • Now I lay me down to sleep. (“me” is like “myself” here—a direct object)
  • The Peacekeepers laid down their weapons.

Lie: intransitive (no object needed)

  • I can’t lie awake all night.
  • He lay in his bed, captive to sleep.

Raise: transitive

  • Dash and his fellow citizens began to raise their voices.

Rise: intransitive

  • If they martyred Dash, the people would rise.

Set: transitive

  • They set new expectations.

Sit: intransitive

  • Dormi stiffened where he sat.

Exception alert! “Set” can be intransitive when referring to the sun: “The sun set at eight o’clock.”


Weird, right?

The common confusion between these transitive and intransitive verbs inspired this story, including its title: “Raising Voices and Rising Up.” Voices can be raised, but up cannot.

But what made this story particularly fun (and frustrating) to write is that I got the bright (ridiculous) idea to align my transitive and intransitive verbs to the plot!

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If you read back through, you might notice that I use only intransitive verbs at the beginning to describe the citizens of Obdura, indicating their lack of action or impact on the world around them; the rulers are the only ones with transitive verbs to describe them.

As Dash, his fellow Obdurans, and finally Dormi begin to rise up, their choices and actions are described with transitive verbs (except, of course, when Dash backs off to protect Dormi).

One laborious heck of an Easter Egg, but when you’re writing a grammar blog, you either go big or go home, right?

“Go big” is intransitive, by the way; “go home” is transitive. These verbs are everywhere!


I hope today’s story and explanation have provided some clarity about transitive and intransitive verbs. Remember, the key difference between them is a “transfer” of action. If you’re unsure whether a verb is transitive, look for a direct object!

What other questions about verbs do you have? Let me know in the comments section, and check back in late September for our next Grammar Adventure.

In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!



A Tense Process (Adventures in Grammar #3)

Almost nine years ago, my husband David and I bought our first house. A sturdy, brick “kit house,” built in the 1920s in a quiet, blue-collar Pittsburgh neighborhood, our new place had decrepit bathrooms and a semi-finished attic with camouflage-print shag carpeting.

We loved it.

To be fair, our first house wasn’t the first house we had tried to buy. Other buyers had outbid us on two different Victorian four-squares across town, and another deal on a fixer-upper had fallen through after a failed plumbing inspection. When we finally found our house, we looked at it with weary eyes (I can only imagine how our unbelievably patient realtor’s eyes felt).

As we looked around at the original glass doorknobs and worn-out hardwoods and plastered walls, though, our excitement for the house hunt returned. This was a diamond in the rough, and we felt ready to give it all the TLC we could muster.

We really had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into—we merely had the confidence and energy of mid-twenty-somethings in love, access to do-it-yourself tutorials on Youtube, and just enough money to keep going. If necessity isn’t the mother of invention, then it is certainly the mother of learning. It’s incredible what you can learn to do when you can’t pay someone else to do it.

When our contractor vanished after move-in day and left us with a half-finished bathroom and piles of tiles, David and I hung plastic sheeting around the bathtub for a week or two while we learned from the Internet how to tile a tub surround.

Once we had finished, we tiled the bathroom floor, too.

When we realized, as new parents, that hiring a contractor to remodel the powder room was beyond our budget, my Eagle Scout husband ripped the tiny bathroom down to its studs and built it back up again. I ventured into a herringbone pattern for the powder room floor, then I got bold and replaced the entryway’s chipping linoleum with a mosaic.

When a subcontractor replaced one of the old radiators with a newer wall-mount variety and left behind big square holes in the hardwood floor, David took the salvaged floorboards from under the old linoleum and asked, “OK, Google, how do you patch tongue-in-groove flooring?”

David learned to build radiator covers. I sewed curtains. He installed baseboards. I learned to mow the lawn. And together we learned, again and again, how generous and helpful our family and friends were. Inside and around the brick walls of our beloved kit house, we kept learning and learning until we had our home exactly the way we wanted it. We poured ourselves into its nooks and crannies with every new project.

That’s where we are now. We have loved this house for nearly a decade.

We love it.

And now, it’s time to move.

The babies we brought home to this house are now ages six and almost-three. We want to give them (and our dog) more space to run around. We are getting ready to start our older son in kindergarten. And as much as we love our house, we are ready for a new adventure.

After massively de-cluttering, touching up paint, and finishing a few final projects, we signed the listing paperwork. Last Saturday, while camped out with our kids and dog following a scheduled showing, we agreed to a contract with an expecting couple who fell in love with our house. In two months, it will be their house.

I hope that they will love it, too.

Even so, as I guided our six-year-old up our refinished stairs last Saturday night, after we had accepted the offer and returned to our house, the words slipped out of my mouth automatically:

“Let’s brush teeth and put on jammies. Isn’t it good to be home?”

As he continued up the stairs, I stopped halfway and burst into tears.

Were we doing the right thing? Was it too soon to leave this house behind? Would we regret letting it go so quickly? Even with everything we had learned so far, about houses and about ourselves, was this too great a leap to take?

I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes. When I lurched into our bathroom, our son was pushing his stepstool across the tiles I had laid. He climbed up to reach his toothbrush. I wiggled his loose tooth for him when he was done brushing, and we walked hand-in-hand into his light-green bedroom. As I tucked him in, recited our bedtime prayer, and sang him a Mister Rogers ditty, I wiped my eyes again.

We love this house. We love our home. And we are utterly privileged that, for almost nine years, they have been the same place.

It was good to be home. It is good to be home.

And when we move, wherever we move, it will be good to be home.

Homebuying is a tense process almost by definition. Buyers have to balance their needs and wants for a home with their budgets, commutes, taxes, and other prosaic details; sellers have to balance their future plans and wishes with their financial and logistical obligations. There are contingencies and allowances, clauses and deposits. All these things remain in tension with one another.

Alongside that meaning of “tense,” I thought I could lay out a quick definition of common verb tenses from this personal reflection. Past, present, and future are central to my thoughts of home, so they emerged as natural guideposts for me as I wrote about my feelings and memories of our first house.

With that in mind, here is the grammar topic for the day:

How do you use simple and perfect tenses to describe past, present, and future?


Verb tenses are used to clarify and give context to our actions. “I went,” for instance, has a very different meaning from, “I will have gone.” There are many verb tenses in English, but today we’ll quickly review two of the most common: simple tenses and perfect tenses.


Simple tenses are used to show things like completed actions in the past, regular or scheduled activities in the present or future, facts and theories, and feelings.

The past simple changes the predicate (verb), usually by adding “-ed,” so that it describes a completed action:

  • We learned from the Internet how to tile a tub surround.
  • He climbed up to reach his toothbrush.


The present simple conjugates based on whether the subject is singular or plural, and it shows a fact, feeling, or scheduled/habitual event:

  • We are ready for a new adventure.
  • It is good to be home.


The future simple uses an auxiliary, or helping, verb (“will”) to bump the action into the future:

  • I hope that they will love it, too.
  • It will be good to be home.


Perfect tenses use auxiliary verbs as well—sometimes more than one. Perfect tenses are used to place actions or states in time relative to other things.

The past perfect illustrates a past action that was completed prior to something else. It uses the auxiliary verb “had” along with the past participle, a different verb form:

  • Other buyers had outbid us on two different Victorian four-squares across town.
  • We really had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into.

(That second one is tricky! The first “had” is simple past. You can tell because it’s not followed by a participle.)


The present perfect shows an action that began in the past and continues into the present. It uses the auxiliary verb “have/has” along with the past participle:

  • We have loved this house for nearly a decade.
  • For almost nine years, they have been the same place.


The future perfect illustrates a future action that will be completed in the future. It uses two auxiliary verbs, “will” and “have,” with the past participle to place it in time:

  • By the time we move, we will have packed countless boxes.
  • The buyers will have requested their home inspection by the end of the month.


I hope these examples have helped to clarify how the simple and perfect tenses are used. When you’re sorting out your verb tenses, think about the chronological order of your actions or states, as well as whether they are completed or continuing.

What other questions about verb tenses do you have? Let me know in the comments section, and check back on April 30 for our next Grammar Adventure.

In the meantime, happy reading and happy writing!