I Lied—Or is That Laid?


Elizabeth Creith

I love the English language dearly, but it shows all the signs of having been designed by a committee, probably the same committee that abandoned the Tower of Babel. As a result, whether “sch” is pronounced “sk” or “sh”, for example, has become the stuff of morpheme warfare. (Say that one five times after a few “shooners” of ale!)

Perhaps the most confusing piece of word used—and one of the most often bungled—is the lie/lay boondoggle. I’ve seen big-name-press publications misuse this one, and it drives me up the wall. (Probably up the last standing wall of the Tower of Babel.)

I could stand on the rooftops and shriek “Learn your transitive and intransitive verbs, people!” but there are problems. One—it's not the catchiest battle cry in the world. Two – the police have told me that if I keep doing it, they will have to charge me under the city noise ordinance. However, rather than gnash my teeth and wail (because my dentist complains about the teeth and my neighbours throw shoes if I wail) I decided to come up with a handy mnemonic to help sort out the confusion. Here it is:

I lie down for a nap every day after lunch. (present)
I lay down yesterday as usual. (simple past)
I was lying on the couch, just drifting off to sleep. (present participle)
After I had lain down, the phone rang. (past perfect) 

I lay my books on the table when I come in from school. (present)
I laid them there yesterday as usual. (simple past)
I was laying them down when the phone rang. (present participle)
After I had laid them there, the cat jumped up and knocked them off. (past perfect) 

Lay (the naughty one)
I lay my husband every chance I get. (present)
I laid him yesterday before he even got his coat off. (simple past)
At least I’m laying my husband, and not other men! (present participle)
I’ve laid him twelve times in the last week. (past fanta…uh, perfect) 

There you go—lie versus lay well and truly sorted out.

No, no, you’re quite welcome.

Elizabeth Creith is a biblioholic and incurable librocubicularist. Not only does she buy, read, shelve and stack books, but she also writes them and on occasion makes them by hand. Elizabeth lives and writes in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog, and cat. The Scriptorium is where she blogs about writing and life. Contact Elizabeth.



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