24 January 2006

grammar police: lay vs. lie

Indeed I have weightier issues to ponder than word usage, but I find it prudent to balance valid worries with trivial ones.

And lately the confusion between the words Lay and Lie has been bothering me. Allegedly, I've been taught the difference before, but, because of its inherent complexity, it didn't stick. I thought perhaps I would never discern the proper usage,
but, dangnabbit, my English-major nerdiness won't allow such laziness.

Hearing "Lay, lady, lay" today on the radio struck the editor in me; I thought, wait, I don't think that's the correct usage. The most I understood about lay and lie was that you lay something down. You need a direct object.

The possibility of proving someone wrong—Bob Dylan, nonetheless—provided me the push I needed to laboriously type in "lay lie" into Google.

Of course, it points me directly to Bartleby. Oh, Bartleby, how I adore thee. Here's what my main man says:
Here’s how to keep them straight. Lay is a transitive verb—it takes an object. Lay and its principal parts (laid, laid, laying) are correctly used in the following examples: She lays down her pen and stands up. He laid (not lay) the newspaper on the table. The table was laid for four.

Lie
is an intransitive verb and cannot take an object. Lie and its principal parts (lay, lain, lying) are correctly used in the following examples: She often lies (not lays) down after lunch. When I lay (not laid) down, I fell asleep. The rubbish had lain (not laid) there a week. I was lying (not laying) in bed when he called.


Granted, this complexity has led to an almost acceptance of its misusage. Even Bartleby references Dylan: "What if Bob Dylan, in a fit of zeal for correctness, had written 'Lie, Lady, Lie/Lie across my big brass bed?' Somehow it’s hard to imagine the lady sticking around."

I would have stuck around. Proper grammar is a turn-on.

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