Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Grammar Gripe: Lie or Lay?

Warning: Educational content follows. If you were expecting a post about Japanese beetles gone wild, a border collie demonstrating she's smarter than your honor student, or how I finally got my husband to start bush-hogging my trails so the weeds are no longer chest high, you might want to skip this post.

At least five times in the last week, I’ve seen errors involving forms of the verbs lie/lay. The English teacher* in me has had enough. I'm sure most of the readers of this blog never make such heinous grammatical mistakes, but I can't be too careful. Pay attention; there's a quiz half-way down this blog post.

WRONG: As I was laying on the beach, I saw a whale.
Laying what? Laying is a transitive verb. It needs an object.
CORRECT: As I was laying my beach towel on the sand, I saw a whale.

USUALLY WRONG: I’ve been laying around all day.
This sentence is correct if said by a hen. Humans, however, need to lay something:
I’ve been laying cable all day.
I’ve been laying plans to overthrow a third world country.
I’ve been laying something!

The verb lay means put or place. It’s a transitive verb. (In case you forgot what you learned in junior high, that means it requires an object.)

The forms of lay are lay (present), laid (past), laying (present participle), and laid (past participle).
Now I lay me down to sleep.
Yesterday I laid my pen on the desk.
I’m laying the bricks for the new patio.
I have laid my pen on the desk every day this week.

The verb lie means rest or recline. It’s intransive (no object).
I lie on the sofa.
Yesterday I lay in the tall grass.
Now I’m lying here scratching my tick and chigger bites.
I’ve lain here for hours.

Think you understand? OK, take this quiz:

If you didn’t do well, read the info on the following sites:

This one is succinct:

But “You’ll lay an egg if you don’t lie down” is more fun:

Lay or Lie? gives easy-to-understand explanations and good examples:

Here’s another that makes the difference perfectly clear (Gotta love that graphic at the bottom!):

If you’re not confused enough, let me throw in another verb: Lie (to tell a falsehood) has as its forms lie, lied, lying, and lied. You probably don’t have trouble with this one, though.

*I taught English at high school, junior high, and middle school levels for twenty-eight years. I taught college grammar and comp for seven years. I’m a trained professional.



Blogger House on the Glade Hill said...

okay - you are probably talking about me - most of all. I am educated enough to know that I am probably incorrectly using these words. This was very helpful in my quest for the correct use of the English language.

I am going to lay my towel by the pool and read a book.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Not necessarily. I just saw so many misuses of lie/lay this week that I wondered if there was an epidemic or something.

1:19 PM  
Blogger House on the Glade Hill said...

My husband has the worst grammar in the world and he drives me crazy.
As a retired english teacher, I am sure you just want to educate everyone! I feel the same way when I see a preschooler grabbing things and not using polite words.

1:27 PM  

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