Archive for the ‘English Grammar’ Category

An English grammar lesson for those whose teachers failed to teach them the fundamentals.

Written because I am so sick of the errors I see in places where the editors and/or writers should know (and do) better.

1. “Lie,” “lay,” and “laid” – simplified!

a. Lie (verb) means “to tell a falsehood.”
Present tense: lie
Don’t you lie to me!
Past tense: Lied.
I lied when I told my mom I had done my homework.
Participle: lying.
I had been lying when I told the cops that I had witnessed the scene.

b. Lie (verb) means “to recline”
Present tense: Why don’t you go lie down for a nap?
Past tense: lay, lain (past participle, which always requires a ‘helper’ verb)
He lay on his bed for an hour before he got up for dinnertime.
He had lain there for 3 hours before he was found.
Participle for this verb: lying
I was lying on my bed when the doorbell rang.
The dead body had been lying by the side of the road for 2 days.

c. Lay (verb) means to “put” or “place”
Present tense: Please lay that book on the shelf before you leave the room.
Please lay the table for dinner.
A bricklayer lays bricks!
Past tense: laid
My father laid down the law to me last night: no more skipping my     homework.
The table was laid for 8 for dinner.
She had laid the table for 6, but 8 people appeared for dinner.
Participle: laying
Mom is laying the table for dinner.
George is laying out his game of Solitaire on the table.
They are laying the foundation for the house  in several stages.

George is called a bricklayer because he lays bricks!


‘Lying low’ vs ‘laying low’
‘Lying down’ vs ‘laying down’

laying low” is always wrong!
It should be “lying low” or “was lying low,” or “has been lying low.”
“Laying down” is usually wrong (unless one is “laying down the law“)
I have been lying down for a nap before dinner.
The criminal we sought had been lying low at his mother’s house.

Don’t bother mom because she is laying down for a nap. (WRONG!)

Don’t bother mom because she is lying down for a nap. (CORRECT!)

Simple present tense:
Why don’t you go lie low while the cops are searching for you?
In the simple past tense: lay low
Sam lay low while the cops searched for him.

“Laid low” is always wrong except in the grammatically correct expression: “I was laid low by the flu bug.”

This is correct because the flu bug literally forced you down onto your bed.

The incorrect usage of lie, lay, & laid has been common for more than 30-40 years – dating back to when North American schools stopped teaching grammar. (Yes, you know that they did.)

Somehow the education establishment thought that young people could absorb correct grammar usage by osmosis, and so stopped instruction in the fundamentals of English grammar.  The saddest thing is that the teachers working today were therefore never taught English grammar rules, and so the kids today don’t get the lessons either. If I were still teaching English in a high school, I would teach this lie/lay lesson to every class.
Lucky children have parents or grandparents with good grammar. The unlucky others have been failed by their schools.
It’s probably a futile task to try to correct the usage of these verbs, but it’s worth a shot. English grammarians don’t get it wrong, but the average Joe or Jane on the street could not care less (and there is another lesson in that expression!)
The differences between these uses of  ‘lie’ and ‘lay’ were always taught (drilled into us) up until the cessation of grammar lessons in English.

Unsolicited advice: if you cannot remember the distinctions between these variations of lie, lay, and laid, may I respectfully suggest that you use another verb instead. This advice is especially useful for anyone who wants to be upwardly mobile. (‘By their grammar ye shall know them.’)

Another clue: ‘laid’ is only correct if something has been put or placed somewhere.

2. For our next lesson: “sink, sank, & sunk”
I notice the journalists are getting these verbs wrong all the time now.
Makes me crazy.

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