View Full Version : "Lie" and "lay"
One of the best ways to remember the difference between "lie"and "lay" is to remember that the first is intransitive (no direct object) and the second is always transitive (must have a direct object). There are several other similar pairs of verbs in English...."sit" and "set", or "rise" and "raise", for example.
Well, yeah, but most folks can't remember the diff between transitive and intransitive. Also, unlike "sit" and "set", lie and lay have the problem of overlapping tenses -- past tense of lie being lay, doesn't help unconfuse.
Yes, but "lay" is intransitive when used as the past tense of "lie", as in, "Yesterday I lay on the bed." Then you have to factor in that "lied" is the past tense of "lie" in the prevarication sense. So we have "lie, lied, lied", "lie, lay, lain", and "lay, laid, laid". I think that's enough to qualify as the most confusing set of words in the English language.
In one section of the Dilbert newsletter, Scott Adams will answer the letters/emails of readers under the nom of Dogbert. One time someone wrote him citing 2 instances in the previous letter when he said "lay" where he should have said "lie." "Dogbert's" response: "It sounds to me like you need to get lied."
"I wept because I had no shoes, then I met a man with no feet. So I took his shoes" - Dave Barry
So.. Bob Dylan should have written "Lie, lady, lie across my big brass bed"? I wasn't confused before, but I am now. I gotta stop reading grammar threads!
Fortunately, Minnesota Mudmouth wasn't too concerned about prescriptive grammar rules, but, yeah, if he had been following what his seventh-grade grammar book said, it would have been "Lie Lady Lie".
01-14-2000, 09:29 PM
I know this is an old thread, but I've been going through the mailbag archive.
I understand the grammar book rule about lie and lay, but I'm going to argue it should be tossed out or at least heavily modified.
When I was in about the 6th grade, the teacher had to spend a solid week of English classes trying to drill the lie/lay rule into our heads. I'll wager that for most of the students in that class, the rule didn't stick much past the next test, if that long. When they grew up and had kids of their own, it's almost certain that they all told those kids to "lay down and go to sleep". Even the ones that still understood the rule, although perhaps they used "lie" in this situation sometimes.
And this illustrates exactly why this artificial distinction should be dropped. Believe it or not, you don't learn grammar in class. At least not the grammar of your native language. The kids in my class and their kids learned their grammar from their parents and the teacher was actually teaching them a rule which contradicted that grammar. Thus the week of teaching that still didn't take.
So what I propose is that someone ask a linguist what the real rule on lie/lay usage is (I'm afraid I've never bothered to ask, figuring I use it correctly anyway) and incorporate that into the grammar. It would take zero time to teach and they could spend more time on important things like, say, algebra.
C K Dexter Haven
01-15-2000, 07:19 AM
There is a difference between the language as she is spoke, and the formal language as she is written.
Bill Bryson, in THE MOTHER TONGUE, makes the wonderful point that the spoke language includes "Jeetjet?" where the written and formal language would have to pt that as "Have you taken sustenance recently?"
01-15-2000, 10:30 AM
Please remember that, while a "good lie" has to do with golf or politics, a "good lay" is something else altogether. Sometimes, though, a good lie will help you find a good lay.
--Nott, the large
01-17-2000, 11:50 AM
Also, unlike "sit" and "set", lie and lay have the problem of overlapping tenses -- past tense of lie being lay, doesn't help unconfuse.
Depends on where you hear people saying "sit" "sat" and "set", I'd suspect. People in my home tend to merge these three, with the addition of "sot" as a past tense for both sit and set.
01-31-2000, 05:00 PM
My old drama instructor had an awesome mnemonic for keeping this one straight: "Lay takes an object". It's sufficiently imbued with innuendo that I will never forget it. ;)
"Science without the humanities is aimless, but the humanities without science are groundless." --anon
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