The Grammarian: Teachers as
By Rayni Joan
A former English teacher, I'm constantly amazed at how few Americans
know and use the verbs to lie and to lay correctly. Most don't care
Last night, I lay in bed and imagined a stand-up routine in which my
classroom had morphed into the Hollywood Improv and I stood on stage
with my chalkboard just beneath the Improv sign.
I write "lie" and "lay" on the board and I challenge anyone in the
audience to give me a past-tense sentence using each verb - and I say I
don't want a sentence about lying the way politicians lie except when
they're in bed. Uh, let me amend that since clearly female politicians,
like females of all professions lie, right? Oy. What I mean to say is I
want you to use "lie" as in rest or lie down, and "lay" as in put.
Preempting the chorus of boos, since this isn't a required course, I
take a breath and say, Okay I'll give you a hint. I was lying in bed the
other night getting laid. I lay in bed and lied. I don't always lie when
I get laid but I've lain with a number of liars who'd lied about being
good lays and because they lied, I lie too - so we're lying together
Now you Lakers fans know what a lay-up is. But to be grammatically
correct, there is no lay down. You lie down. It's all confusing because
of the truth telling that lies in the midst of this, uh, layer.
Actually, it's simple. I lie down when I'm tired. I lay down last night.
I have lain down most nights to go to sleep because I don't sleep well
standing up. Lay is the past tense of lie. You guys - don't lie - I'll
lay money on this - you guys say, you laid down and you tell your dog
Lay down, Fido. My dog only responds to grammatically correct English.
If you tell him to lay down, he waits to hear the rest of it. He sits
and looks plaintively, come on, finish the sentence. Do I lay down my
songs for the new recording? Do I lay down my weapons and surrender? Do
I lay down the law? Lay a fart, maybe? No down, huh?
English is confusing. English teachers are like comedians, constantly