Saturday, October 16, 2010

Another Grammar Rant

Sometimes small things irritate me.
Right now, I have just finished reading a very good short story. It held my interest in the plot and characters and their development but ... Several times the writer used the verb 'to lay' when he should have used 'to lie.' No great matter, you might say, people make mistakes. True enough, but this was the same mistake over again. Several times.

I admit to my own faults and quirks, but I usually catch them when I reread a raw manuscript. Before publication, an editor or proof reader should catch them. Or are line editors and proof readers extinct, wiped out by Spellcheck and the like?

The difference (with exceptions, of course. After all, this is the English language.) is that 'lay' is a transitive verb, 'lie' is intransitive. In other words, 'lay' means something is being done to something else. Action. 'Lie' refers to a passive state of being. No action. The only thing they have in common is that the simple past tense of 'lie' is 'lay' which is the present tense of the verb 'to lay.' In a small example: "I lay the book down. (Action, now.) It lay on the floor before I found it. (No action, and in the near past.)

Somewhere in my first few years of dealing with our language, I realized the difference; I've never, even in conversation to my knowledge, interchanged these verbs. In conversation the misuse doesn't seem as glaring, probably because there is greater context. But printed on the page, or on a website? Very annoying.

I tell you no lie.

1 comment:

Virginia Simpson Geffros said...

thanks for that one..I'm a stickler for grammar myself, but I'm not sure I would catch this error! I will watch for it in future.