You’ve just finished mowing the lawn. You come inside and announce to your partner (as you wipe the sweat from your brow), “I mowed the lawn.” Then you see a dog outside, about to do its business—on your property. You open the door and scream,
“Stay away from my freshly mowed grass!”
You scratch your head and wonder if you should have said, “Get off my freshly mown grass.”
In this scenario, either mowed or mown is correct. (You would not, however, say, “I mown the lawn.” Mowed is the past tense of the verb to mow.)
The lyrics of the 1966 hit song “Daydream,” written by John Sebastian (of The Lovin’ Spoonful), include the following:
“I’m blowin’ the day to take a walk in the sun
And fall on my face on somebody’s new mowed lawn”
Although “newly” mowed would be the grammatically correct phrasing, as I discussed in a previous post, stylistic choices often favor deviating from rulebooks. That extra syllable would throw off the meter (metre), and newly “mown” might be harder to sing. Or maybe John Sebastian just liked the sound of “new mowed” (or likes breaking the rules!).
The choices you make as a writer create an effect; whether that effect is deemed artful or clumsy will depend on a variety of factors, including the expectations and preferences of your intended audience. When you know what the rules are, you can consciously choose to break, bend, or ignore them; the danger lies in unwittingly creating errors.
If your editing skills are limited, find a proofreader or editor, or ask a trusted friend who is a careful reader to review important projects before you finalize and submit them.