The Grammarian: Teachers as Performers Lie
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 either.

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 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 laying eggs.