Monday, May 14, 2012

When laying is lying

Some of the challenges English language speakers face lie in knowing how and when to use the verbs “lie” and “lay”.

DIFFICULTIES arise because lie has two different meanings. Lying can also be the present participle form for lie irrespective of which meaning is used. Lay, depending on whether it is present tense form or past tense form, can also have different meanings.

Lie — The verb, lie, has two distinct meanings: (i) “to tell an untruth or a lie” and (ii) “to recline, to rest or to physically lie down”. The verb, lie, never means “to place down”. There are very few problems when lie is used to mean “to tell a lie or an untruth”. The verb and tenses of lie (to tell an untruth) are: lie - lied - lying - lied. Example: Don’t lie to me about what you and your friends did. Jade is lying about her whereabouts last night. I lied to the publican about my age.

The other meaning of lie is “to recline or to rest”. Example: My uncle likes to lie on the couch and watch TV after dinner. The verb and tenses of lie, when it means “to recline, to rest or to physically lie down” are: lie - lying - lay - lain. Example: I often lie awake at night thinking about my professional future. Shela lay on the beach for hours. The wounded soldier was lying in the trench. You should have lain there longer if you felt ill.

Regardless of its meaning, the verb, lie, never has an “object” because it is an intransitive verb. When lie, lying, lay or lain means ”to recline” or “to rest”, they are followed by words that can tell “where”, “how” or “when” but never “what”, i.e. never an object.

I sometimes lie in bed planning my future. (where) — The monitor lizard was lying on the road when the car hit it. (where) — The sniper lay still on the rooftop. (how) — That huge log has lain across that path since Tuesday. (where, when)

Lay — The verb and tenses of lay are lay, laid, laying, laid. Example: At work, I lay tiles and carpet in the new administration area everyday. Debra laid the patchwork quilt on her bed. The council workers are laying new bitumen on our road. The military have laid a cunning trap for the terrorists.

When the verb, lay, is used in its present tense, it means “to place down” and requires an object. Example: Joel and I lay the pipes for the sewerage. Learners become confused because lay is also the past tense form of lie when it means “to recline” and should never have an object. Example: The driver of the crashed truck lay trapped in his cabin.

The infinitive verb to lay, meaning “to place down”, is transitive and therefore has an object. Example: Our football coach is going to lay the groundwork for victory this year using new training strategies.

It is important to remember that the verb, laid, can never be used to mean “to recline, to rest or to physically lie down”. It is incorrect to say: The tired bushwalker laid under a tree to rest. The correct verb is lay. Example: The tired bushwalker lay under a tree to rest. The verb, laid, must always have an object. Example: That bantam hen laid six eggs last week.

Grammatical problems occur with “lie” and “lay” when lie is used wrongly to mean “to place down”. The first rule to remember is you can never “lie down” anything or anyone. It is incorrect to say: Lie those wires along the side of that wall. Did you lie that torn sheet on her bunk? The ambulance officer said to lie the injured motorist on the side of the highway.

The monitor lizard was lying on the road when the car hit it.

The correct verb to use is lay. Example: Lay those wires along the side of that wall. Did you lay that torn sheet on her bunk? The ambulance officer said to lay the injured motorist on the side of the highway.

Whenever the required meaning is “to place down” and there is an “object” that is something or someone “placed down”, lay and NOT lie, should always be used. Example: The gardener is planning to lay new lawn where the oil was spilt. Does Ryan know how to lay tiles?

The main problem between “lie” and “lay” arises because lay can mean both “to place down” and have an object, and also “to recline or physically lie down” when used in the past tense.

Compare these sentences: Those contractors lay thousands of metres of pathway around the city every month. (to place down) — The road accident victim lay in pain on a trolley in the hospital emergency centre for five hours. (to recline or physically lie down)

It is important to remember that only the verb, lay, can mean both “to place down” and “to recline, to rest or to physically lie down”. It is incorrect to say: An injured player was laying on the side of the field. It should be “was lying”. It is also wrong to say: The exhausted marathon competitors laid under some bushes. The verb should be lay.

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