Digest of Lay vs Lie Responses

Subject: Digest of Lay vs Lie Responses
From: Richard Mateosian <srm -at- C2 -dot- ORG>
Date: Sat, 10 Sep 1994 10:26:48 -0700

A while ago I posted the following request for opinions:

This is one of those surveys, a la the American Heritage Dictionary. Do
people consider it important to distinguish between these words:

lie: achieve a reclining position

lay: put; or past tense of lie

People, even on this list, seem to accept "I'm gonna lay right down and
program my VCR" as correct. I would always say "lie" in that sentence. I
also refrain from splitting infinitives, and I never use "media" as
singular, although I do say "the press."

The problem arises when I need to read and comment on someone else's work.
Should I point these out as errors or simply accept them as evidence of the
language's evolution.

Please send me your votes on lay vs lie, and I'll post the results. ...RM

Below I've reproduced trimmed down versions of the 21 responses I received.
All but one seem to agree that you shouldn't say "I'm going to lay down" in
formal communication, but several people said it was OK informally. One
thought that "lie down" sounds pretentious in ordinary speech.

IMPORTANT: If you see anything here that you'd like to respond to, please
don't include this entire posting in your reply. Excerpt the line or two
you're responding to. Assume that anyone interested in your response
remembers enough of the original to understand the context of your reply.
Thanks, ...RM

Digest of responses:

My vote for these definitions is yes.

I would make the correction in someone else's work.

Lie/lay is one of those "hit list" items I always screen
for before putting something into review.

The grammar books still list the correct forms, so treat the deviations as
irregular. They're ok for informal writing, but not for manuals, etc.

I really don't think that the language has "evolved" to the point that
there is no purpose in distinguishing between *lie* and *lay.*
Splitting infinitives, more often than not, results in less stilted
sentences, and I prefer less stilted sentences. So I can go along with
that more easily than the blending of *lie* and *lay.*

Is the person asking for you to correct spelling and grammar, or what?
Find out.If spelling and grammar, then enlighten him/her. If no, then
keep your lip zipped.

Evolution of the language? I got no patience for that bull****. Advocates
of that kind of laissez-faire are intellectual slack-asses. A spade is not a
hoe. A lay is not a lie (unless ... ;-)

I taught English as a Second language for many years and inevitably had to
teach this one to my students.

Lay is a transitive verb, always taking an object as in "Lay your cards on
the table" and "Now I lay me down to down to sleep..."

Lie is not transitive so you can simply lie down to rest.

The confusion comes because speakers can't differentiate between the past
form of the verb "to lie" and the present tense of the verb "to lay", e.g. "I
lay down" and "I lay my cards down". The first example is past tense, the
second is in the present. If the latter were in the past tense, it would be
"I laid down my cards then shot the scoundrel between the eyes".

Since moving to the US, I have had to adjust my tolerance level for this
sort of thing. The only reason the language is evolving is that the rules
are not being taught as rigorously. Word-of-mouth (music, movies, etc) now
influences usage as it did for centuries before the printed word imposed
rules. IMHO, the written word should be slave to what is *finally* accepted as
"proper" spoken language. But who defines "finally accepted". And you're
right, I think. This is an evolutionary thing.

In written text, I would use lie. However, it sometimes sounds
pretentious when used in casual speech. But, then I'm torn between the
two words because I don't want to sound ignorant either. So, I usually
have to consider my audience.

Yes, point them out as errors. A lot of people might have a bit of a problem
with "I had lain right down to program my computer," but there are a few
people out here who aren't quite ready for "laying down on the job" or
anywhere else in that sense.

Of course, Noam Chomsky years ago stated that to occasionally split an
infinitive was okay, and that the distinction between "who" and "whom"
was long dead. The point he makes is that English is a dynamic or changeable
language. We don't have an academy to keep it pure, and even English
teachers aren't capable of it. A quick look at Shakespeare, or worse,
Spenser's Fairie Queene (written in a dying dialect in the late 1500s) will
point all of this out. As an aside, I have heard some pretty lousy English
come out of the mouths of local English teachers.

I have no doubt that since written English follows the mannerisms of spoken
English by about 25 years, by the time I retire I will be laying down, too,
to my certain displeasure.

I'd vote for correcting "I'm going to lay down" to "lie down": it
maintains a semantic distinction as well as keeping the author from
looking ignorant in print.

Of course "lay" is wrong in the sentence you gave as an example. But you
are also wrong to imagine that such errors are acceptable to people who
read this list. The sad fact is that anyone who attempts to correct
such errors is deemed to be flaming the perpetrator of the error and is
flamed to a cinder in return. The grammatically ignorant who write this
crap always claim (if someone has the temerity to correct them) that the
error was simply a typo and that their mail tool won't let them edit.

I believe that the distinction is useful and should be kept.
Recline is lie-lay-lain. Put is lay-laid-laid. Fib is lie-lied-lied.

Not every distortion of traditional English necessarily has evolution
on its side.

Using "lay" instead of "lie" is one of my pet peeves. But
sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who notices. I think
you're right, that it's one of those changes evolving in the
language. That doesn't mean I won't fight the good fight, though...

It's a distinction worth keeping, especially in formal writing. "Lay"
is a transitive verb, as you point out, and needs an object. I used
to have trouble remembering this, but I only had to remember my
childhood evening prayer: "Now I lay ME down to sleep."

I vote for "lie"! Also for not splitting infinitives (although I can't bring
myself to say "to go boldly").

Count me as a `lie down' vote.

IMHO, there's a big difference between evolution and correctness. <g>

this is one grammatical error that drives me crazy....I believe that
the more we conflate terms, the more impoverished our language becomes.

I'm the new guy around here, but I would accept it as part of evolution.
We all realize that the way we speak is entirely different from the way
we write. I would never write "What are you guys doing tonight,"
(Remember: I'm only 23) although I say it all the time.

I know that lay is proper, but I think it gets the message across when we
write in familiar language. And that's our goal, right?

Lay and lie are *not* interchangable. Lay is a transitive verb meaning
"place" or "put," while lie is an intransitive verb meaning "recline."
Of course, the tendency to use the two words interchangably is somewhat
understandable, since the past tense of "lie" is "lay.") And yes, you
should correct this error whenever possible.

I try to distinguish between lay and lie, but don't always succeed in
informal writing, usually due to the speed at which I'm typing (my brain
goes WAY faster than my fingers). I'd say, point it out in formal (i.e.,
to be printed in some kind of permanent way) writing.

I feel you should point them out as errors!

I vote for using lay/lie correctly.

However, you may want to read the historical basis of the "don't split
infinitives" rule; I understand it's more or less erroneous. ;-)

******************************End of Digest*************************************

Richard Mateosian srm -at- c2 -dot- org srm -at- radiomail -dot- net (510)540-7745

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