Monday, November 14, 2011

Lay versus Lie

Today's rant is brought to you by the ever-confusing pair of verbs: to lay and to lie*.


Here's the trick: to lay is transitive. That means it takes an object. So you lay something down.
  • Watch as I lay down my book.
  • I lay the blanket softly over the sleeping baby so as not to awaken him.
Its conjugations are lay, have laid, laid. (Full conjugation may be found here.) 
  • Present: He lays the hammer on his workbench. 
  • Perfect: "See?" he retorts, "I have laid the hammer in a safe place." 
  • Past: Yesterday he laid the dangerous hammer within reach of the toddler, and the child had mangled her doll house. 

On the other hand, to lie is intransitive, which means it does NOT take an object. 
  • I lie down and weep.
  • The shelf lies perpendicular to the wall.
Its conjugations are lie, lain, lay. And therein lies the confusion! Lay is the past participle. 
  • Present: She lies silently under the bed so that the assassin will not know she is there.
  • Perfect: She has lain thus for more than an hour and now needs to empty her bladder.
  • Past: And so she lay for the rest of the day, finally drifting off to sleep and snoring, which revealed her hiding place to the murderer. 
  • Future: She will lie in state on Saturday.
(Sorry about introducing another tense there. I couldn't leave the story hanging!)

Still confused? Here's an audio to help you remember. Unless he is talking to a chicken, asking her to lay her eggs all across his big, brass bed, he is using the WRONG VERB!

He also screws up the "Eat your cake and have it, too" quotation. But I will forgive him both these sins because this song is just sweet. And "Lie, lady, lie" just doesn't have the same ring to it. Poetic license.

But I don't like that he says, "Stay, lady, stay." Sounds like he's talking to a Labrador retriever.

And now I can't stop picturing him reaching (with hideous intention) for a terrified chicken or big dog in the middle of the night.

(Grammar Girl points out that "Lay Down Sally" also gets it wrong, unless Eric Clapton is asking a third party to lay Sally down and then take him [Clapton] in her/his arms. Maybe Sally is an infant and Clapton wants the baby's mother to lay the child down so that the two of them (Clapton and mother) can get it on?)

Oh, this is so complicated. Why can't we all just get along?

*Note, I do not mean "to lie" in the sense of to tell an untruth. That just further confuses the issue.

1 comment:

  1. I confess, I screw these up. But my alibi is that I'm an engineer. I don't expect you to build a shed, now, do I?


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