Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Terrible Lie...Or Is It?

--Adrienne Miller

I have a terrible confession to make. No, I didn't pull some giant con job in Las Vegas where I passed myself off as Lady Fiona Weathersby and separated wealthy middle-aged men from their money. Though now that I think about it, what are some of you Pens doing next weekend? Hmm....

Seriously, if any of you can rock an English accent, call me


Nope. This is worse. I can never remember how to use lie/lay.

Never.

Yes, I know one is a transitive verb and the other is intransitive, but I can never remember off the top of my head which one is which. Does my character lay the book down or does he lie it down? Hell if I know without looking it up.

And then comes the past tense confusion. The past tense of of lie is lay, and the past tense of lay is laid. Or is it the other way around? I don't even want to get into past participles.

The result of my confusion is that no one in the first drafts of my books ever puts anything down. Assumably all of my characters walk around with full hands and giant pockets. They sleep upright like astronauts.

It's not until I get into revisions that they can relax. That's when I pull out my big ol' spiral bound desk reference and go to work. You would think that by now, after dealing with this issue hundreds of times, I would remember which verb is which. But no such luck. I suppose it's just the way my brain is set up. I can remember all the words to Total Eclipse of the Heart but not this.

8 comments:

Rachael Herron said...

HAHAHAHAHA! Yes. I can present tense, fine. I can do third person past. But first person past, nope. Gotta look it up, so I always work my way around it instead of doing that. I love this confession.

Juliet Blackwell said...

HA! I can't do it either!!! My characters "set things upon" or "recline upon" or skip it altogether. Making matters worse are songs like "Lay Lady Lay" or "Lay Down Sally" --both of which are WRONG! Which is completely unfair since, like you, I can remember those lyrics just fine, and they molded my young self. Total eclipse of my brain.

Sophie Littlefield said...

you guys, I ROCK this one!! Seriously I'm absolutely bulletproof when it comes to lie/lay. Now if someone would just trade me for "that/which" we'd be in business.

aw, i love bonnie tyler. :)

Tom Neely said...

Great post sweets. I love the thought of you writing oodles of novels where every character is either empty handed or always clutching something like Bob Dole and his "pen in hand" prop. Funny stuff.

Oh and all I know on the subject is that we're supposed to let sleeping dogs lie. (or is it lay....)

Mysti said...

It's almost never the case that the difference between lay and lie is indecipherable from context. That, plus the overlapping forms of the words in different cases makes them annoying and largely useless. So, don't feel bad! Language is not fixed, it changes over time, sometimes sensibly.

I can no longer enjoy the song "Lay Down Sally" because that verb is used wrong. Years of sheer pleasure flushed right down the grammar tubes.

I use "set" down (or sit down), and I am much more likely to knock someone over than talk about them lying down (sp?)...arg.

sometimes being a failed linguist makes things *harder*...

Mysti said...

um, wrongly? see, it never ends...

Martha Flynn said...

Have you seen that episode of Friends where Phoebe's grammar has been corrected and freaks out and says "Who Who Who - sometimes it's WHOM!" - that's how I feel about lay/lie. I toss one out and hope it (lies?) and go on about my day. And you're on for Vegas, lady.

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