Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Quill Pig’s Handy Grammar Guide: Lie vs. Lay

It would have been nice if “proper” English had followed simple logic: lie would always mean to tell an untruth and lay would always mean to make something, either the self or another object, horizontal. Any four-year-old could understand that.
But apparently the spirit that messed up language at Babel has been put in charge of the language as spoken in academia, so we’re stuck with a system based not on meaning, but on whether the verb takes an object. Wrap your four-year-old’s mind around that one. Wait. Don’t.
Take a deep breath and have him memorize this simple table. At that age he’s a sponge and should get it down in, I don’t know, an hour or two. Piece of cake. Parent-kid bonding time.

Kind of verb
Present tense
Past tense
Past participle
make something horizontal
transitive (always takes an object)
lay, lays
make self horizontal
tell an untruth
Intransitive (never takes an object)
lie, lies

The good news is that most English speakers today speak it as a second language. I expect them to hijack the language in a few years (as did the Singaporeans, who don’t “buy a pair of pants”; no, they “buy a pant” like any sane person would). Then my grandchildren will “lay on the couch” with no fear that this grandpa will beat them with a cane until they can “lie on the couch” while telling the truth.

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