Monday, June 1, 2015

Lie versus lay

Today’s item is the old bear trap, “lie” versus “lay.” In grammatical terms, it boils down to a reflexive function of the verb as opposed to the verb modifying a direct object. In the case of “lie,” it is a thing one does with one’s self, or that someone else does with him or herself. You lie down. I lie down. Why don’t we lie down together? So, lying down can get you laid. This brings us to the word “lay,” which is used when the action of setting something down is perpetrated on an external object or person. You lay a baby in the crib, you lay bare your soul, and you lay down the bass line to Low Rider. Where it gets nasty is that “lay" is the past tense of “lie.” Whereas I lie on the couch every day, yesterday I lay on the couch. The best “lie” versus “lay” story I have ever heard is taken from the final moments in the life of a friend of mine’s mother. Her hospice nurse was working with her and said, “Lay down, please.” My friend’s mother said, “It’s lie down. You lay a thing down, a person lies down.” She was dead within minutes.