Grammar Wednesday

Alternately titled: The Post that Came to Me Already Written.

Here’s the email that CTG (re)sent to me with his question about the differences between lay and lie.  I don’t think that I need to add anything to it, do you?

My dear Mrs. Chili,

Sort out the verbs lie (to recline) and lay (to place or put in a recumbent position) for us, please. I submit these three sentences for your consideration:

“So I lay down the board and got on with my life.” (Careless in Red by Elizabeth George)

Mac slipped the Uzi off his shoulder and lay it on the ground. (The Remnant by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins)

Mac lay in the dewy grass next to the jeep… (The Remnant by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins)

All three of these sentences are copied verbatim from the novels cited. In only one of them is the correct form of the verb lie or lay used. Which is it?

Now I shall lay me down to sleep while you sort this out!




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9 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. lay has been used intransitively in the sense of “lie” since c1300. Whether this makes it acceptable or not depends on your point of view I guess. Some people call it illiterate, but many literate writers have used it.

    Anyway, lay was originally the causative of lie. lie was an intransitive strong verb, and lay was a transitive weak verb meaning “cause to lie”. We find the same thing with sit and set (“cause to sit”).

  2. oh yeah, and I can’t tell if the third sentence is prescriptively correct without knowing if it’s present or past tense.

  3. I think the third one’s right and the other’s ought to be “laid.”

    But I’m an amateur.

  4. The third sentence is correct. The other two sentences each contain two verbs, which, in the absence of “clue” or “permission” words such as “now,” or “yesterday,” etc, must agree in tense.

    In other words, sentence one should have “lay” and “get” or “laid” and “got”. Sentence two should have “slips” and “lay” or “slipped” and “laid.”

    Even though we are not sure of the context in sentence three, “lay” is correct.

    I love Grammar Wednesday. LOVE IT.

  5. larasseeser

    I believe the third is correct, though I admit to a longtime struggle with lay/lie, especially when speaking.

    Coincidence Alert: Elizabeth George (a nom de plume) is a family acquaintance. Her now ex-husband was my dad’s boss at one time and my mom was a substitute teacher at the same high school at which E.G. taught.

  6. Sentence 3 is the intransitive lie, so it might be “wrong” if it is in the present tense. In this case, it “should” be
    Mac lies in the dewy grass next to the jeep…

  7. I’d also say the third one is correct. I remember the long hours of English grammar focussing on this issue. Sadly, I can’t remember much of their content, only that I found it very confusing!

  8. meatloaf tuesday

    Should I worry about getting laid?

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