It Sounds Wrong, but it’s Right

rogersgeorge on December 12th, 2017

Okay, the intransitive verb “lie-lay-lain” is one we often get wrong in the present tense. We say “I’m gonna go lay down,” when we mean “I’m gonna go lie down.” (note there’s no direct object.)  “Lie,” the correct word, sounds okay even when we often say “lay.”

Ah, but the past tense of lie, which is “lay,” sounds wrong even when it’s correct! I think we’re just too used to something like a “-d” at the end of past tense verbs. Here’s a guy (Mike Peterson of Comic Strip of the Day for December 7, 2017) using it correctly. It’s the past tense:

He may not have been the worst of the lot, but he lay down with the dogs and now he’s getting up with the fleas.

Sorry, he’s right. It’s “lay.” “Laid” is wrong. I suppose Mike could have written, “…he laid his body down with the dogs…” That would be a little strange, but also grammatical.

The rule: “lay” is past tense of “lie.” Deal with it.

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Pillow talk

rogersgeorge on December 6th, 2011

My wife suggested I post this conversation, no lie. And no pictures, either.

Recently I mentioned how to use the verbs “lie” and “lay.” “Lie” is intransitive—it doesn’t take a direct object. When you stretch out on the bed, you lie down. “Lay” is transitive—it takes a  direct object. You lay the book on the bed. Recently also I posted the hundredth post on this humble site, a post about good writing.

One fine evening, as we prepared for bed, my dear sweet wife and I were talking about the hundredth post on The Writing Rag, and things grammatical in general. As we lay there (past tense of lie), she complained that due to some recent minor surgery “I wish I could lay on my left side.” I waited two beats and said “It’s lie,” and fortunately for my life, she laughed (I long ago learned never to correct someone’s grammar unasked). Then she turned toward me, and asked, with a twinkle in her eye, “So do you wanna get laid or do you wanna get lied?”

Ah, yes, the life of a grammarian can be exciting. The question was strictly academic, of course.

Verbs can be tricky

rogersgeorge on October 17th, 2011

Regular readers of this humble site know that I’m a frequent reader of Scientific American. I can generally count on its English being as good as its science, though in recent years I manage to find more examples of how not to do something than I used to. Solecisms in that fine magazine are still few and far between, and perhaps my own increasing experience enables me to pounce on these misshapen gems. This item is a couple months old now, but the error is still a good warning to be careful what word you use.

English has two classifications of verbs, transitive and intransitive. You probably remember from high school English that transitive verbs take a direct object, intransitive verbs don’t, and some verbs can go either way. Sometimes a verb starts out innocently enough, but when you get into the past and perfect tenses, the forms differ depending on whether you want transitive or intransitive.

On to our example, taken from an online article earlier this year, Ten Things You Want to Know about Tornadoes.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the death toll had already raised to 118, ranking the event among the top 10 deadliest U.S. tornadoes of all time.

Our guilty word is “raised.” It’s transitive, but the usage here is intransitive—no direct object.  Here’s how these deceptive words go:

Transitive: raise, raised, raised—I raise the flag, I raised the flag, the tornado had already raised the, um, death toll.

Intransitive: rise, rose, risen—The sun rises, the sun rose yesterday, the death toll had risen every day last week.

Some words are the same in the present tense: “Shine,” for example. I can say the sun shines, and he shines my shoes, but in the past: the sun shone and I shined my shoes. Same thing for the perfect: The sun has shone every day this week, I have shined my shoes every day this week.

Some verbs are even more mixed up, the famous “lie” and “lay” mix-up. “Lie” is intransitive, and it goes lie, lay, lain. “Lay” is the transitive one, lay, laid laid. And let’s don’t even get into falsehoods: lie, lied, lied

We’ve all seen pictures of tornadoes, so here’s a NASA picture of a 39-mile tornado track in Massachusetts

Visible from space!

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