Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Grammarmama: Lie or Lay?

As both a mother and the former teacher of Dude Where's My Comma? (a groundbreaking if poorly received grammar seminar for apathetic high schoolers in Wyoming), I feel myself to be in a perfect position to help parents when faced with one or both of the following problems: children with sloppy grammar, and/or parents who themselves are embarrassed about their own sloppy grammar (and therefore unable to correct their children's sloppy grammar).

Gramms is important; I truly believe it. If you have a decent grasp of it people will think you're very smart. Even if you're not. Also good gramms gives you the ability to say what you mean, mean what you say, and understand what others are saying to you even if they don't exactly know what they are saying, and even if what they are saying isn't very nice or interesting. In short, good gramms is good. And it's extremely hard to learn to speak gooder as a grownup if nobody ever taught you how to talk good when you were little.

Thus today I morph into Grammarmama: improving your grammar, one child at a time. At the end of this Grammarmama series I will test willing readers with a super-tough quiz. The first set of correct answers will entitle that Grammarmama to a delicious prize, perhaps even one of these tee-shirts from the Semicolon Appreciation Society.

Lesson the first: Lie or Lay?

My pet peeve: When Crabhubby tells Crabtot to "go and lay down and Dad will be in to tell you a goodnight story." "Lie, not lay" I correct him. Even at her tender age Crabtot knows this irritates me. So she frequently tells me to go and "lay" down. "Daddy and I say 'lay,'" she tells me. Not for long, little girl!!! Grammarmama will beat it out of you!!!

"Lie" vs. "lay" is a tough one to explain without resorting to dry terminology involving transitive and intransitive verbs. So I'm just gonna tell it to you straight: if you're thinking about reclining or having someone else go and recline or take a nap or have a horizontal Time Out or whatever, you speak of "lying down." Like so:

Mommy attempts to lie down for half an hour during the child's Quiet Time.
If, however, you are thinking of putting something down, or having someone else put something down—like having Grandma put the baby in the crib—then it's "lay" you're looking for, e.g.,
Grandma lays the baby down to sleep.
The hen lays her eggs.
You see, in the above, someone or something is actually doing more than merely snoozing. So please, tell your teenage daughter she isn't going to "lay out" and get a tan. She's not doing anything except reclining her lazy body. So, schlubby and diffident adolescent that she is, she's off to "lie" out and get a tan. Not "lay."

Things do, however, get trickier in the past tense. When it's been and done, "lie" turns to "lay" and "lay" turns to "laid." But "lay" never turns to "laid."** So you never "laid" down for three minutes before the baby started fussing, you merely "lay" down for a few before it all went bust. Let's reprise that first sentence, but now put it into the past tense:
Although Mommy lay down for an hour, she could not sleep, for the child made too much noise.
So, in the past tense, it's "Mommy lay down on her bed for a while." NOT "Mommy laid down..." The mommy hen, however, laid her eggs last week. And Grandma laid the baby down to sleep before sneaking outside to smoke cigarettes and quaff a bottle of sherry.

Phew! Indeed, the issue gets much more confusing with tenses and so forth. Man! Kind of makes you want to go and lie down, doesn't it? But for now, let's stick to the main problem, shall we? If you want to learn one thing and one thing only about all this lay/lie biz, just know that you mostly just wanna lie down. So next time someone in your house goes to "lay" down, you lay down the law. The law of grammar, that is.

Anyone else got a grammar pet peeve?

And if anyone knows why Blogger insists on randomly mixing single- and double-spaced formatting in one blog entry, DO DIVULGE!!!

**Lay never turns to laid in past tense, unless someone is involved in something sexual. But if you aren't getting laid (which also involves a process in which someone doing more than merely snoozing [one hopes]) then it's lay you're looking for. Get it?


Anonymous said...

I think it is 'lie' you are looking for not 'lay'.

Was that the test? Did you tell a lie? If so go lie down. I wish I could go lie down, but I remembered that I had lain in bed two afternoons earlier this week and Mr. MK ... well he's ready to lay me out cold (not really) if I go lie down this early!


Ummm ... Grammar isn't my strong suit.


Anonymous said...

Anyone else have a grammar pet peeve?

I am a sucker for a prize.

I don't got a pet peeve, but I have one.

It's when people say, "I wish I was ... not I wish I were".

However, my grammar isn't all that so I tend not to correct others, in hopes I too will be spared.


Last comment ... I promise.

Crabmommy said...

MK! Quite right! bring your subjunctive rage ON! Crabmommy loves to hear it. And you can comment 1000 times on my posts; you know I adore you.

Crabmommy said...

and you say you're no Grammarmama but then you throw in a "had lain." You sassy grammarstrumpet, you.

kpmac said...

I have a grammar pet peeve and terrible grammar. So I'm really looking forward to the grammarmama series. Thanks!

Can you do punctuation when you're finished? Commamama perhaps?

M said...

I hate, hate, hate when people use the plural their when they should have used the singular his or her. Everyone does this, including newscasters, and it drives me through the roof!

jenarow said...

My biggest grammar pet peeve would be there, their, and they're; to, two, and too; and the biggest one of all, people are hanged, not hung!

skape7 said...

I second all of the grammer peeves above!

M said...

My grammar pet peeve is something I can't actually be "peevy" about since no one actually seems to do it: it's the usage of the word "whom." I say things like "you can pump off whomever you choose," and I get made fun of. All the time. It's actually weird that I'm so exact since both of my parents learned English as their second (or third) language. My parents didn't teach me correct grammar because they were struggling with the language day by day. So, here's proof that you can go ahead and expect good grammar from anyone and the "my parents were immigrants" excuse is a bunch of bubkis.

girlsmom said...

Lie vs. lay bugs me too. I am no grammar queen when it comes to casual writing or emails but I sure have my peeves. Double negatives, for one. Or "seen" instead of "saw". Put them both together, I'm gonna lose it. As in, "I never seen nothing". Urg!

Mommyrella said...

I go nuts when I see "Ten items or less" at the grocery store. Or when someone says, "I'm not feeling good." Or "it's" vs. "its."

Anonymous said...

That was great. Can you do something about people who don't understand the difference possessives (cat's toy) and plurals (cats)? I was able to teach FIRST graders when to use apostrophes, but I see signs everywhere with apostrophes being used in plurals. It's driving me insane.

Anonymous said...

Spelling errors are my big pet peeve, especially because spellcheck is so available! I enjoyed the lie vs. lay. Funny, but true!

tonypark said...

Entertainers have a lot to answer for.

Bob Dylan should have been shot for saying "lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed" (and for his inability to actually sing).

I suppose that strictly speaking, Simon & Garfunkel were correct to say "like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down", but that's only if you believe it's acceptable to talk about yourself in the third person (and as a thing).

It sounds a bit cow-pokish to me, as in "I'm going to git me some chilli for my corndog" or whatever it is people may say in Crabtown.

Bring it on Grammarmama.

Bad grammar impacts society way too much, and so, too, does the verbing of nouns.

The semi-literate people of Australia salute you.

Lisa said...

I too hate double negatives. I also have to grit my teeth when somebody starts a sentence with "What it is, is..." (maybe it's a Liverpool thing?). (Let me know crabmommy if there was far too much punctuation after that bracketed sentence!) Having said that, my grammar isn't the best and I always struggle with "written" and "wrote". In fact there is probably a plethora of incorrect grammar in this whole paragraph for your delectation!

Anonymous said...

OOOh a can of worms opening here eh?
I am both pedantic and wrong about gramm. I do hate the lie/lay thing and less/fewer. A big one that really gets me going is disintersted/uninterested.
I love the random use of apsostrophes in shops e.g. tomatoe's and I wait in hope for the day I see gateau'x in a cake shop.

gmoney said...

Can we please address the use (misuse?) of being 'on line/in line'?
When you are at the grocery store, waiting to check out...are you in line or on line?

Crabmommy said...

ooh yes, jane. less/fewer makes me all peppery too. And quite right, Kate, let's get in line as far as in and on line are concerned.

Grocery store: in line.
What I'm doing right now: I am online

"On line" as 2 separate words: Can't think of an appropriate context for that one as of this moment. Or maybe it's just that Crabtot just released a jar of marbles onto the wood floor...Aieee!!!

gmoney said...

Thank you for clearing that up Crabmommy.
I tend to get a little, ahem, cranky when respected news journalists say things like "Today, hundreds of people stood online to try the new Starbucks coffee"

You are standing IN a line not ON a line!

Alexis said...

I've only ever heard peopl say "on line" in New York City. Maybe it's because they tend to be right on your proverbial ass instead of standing nice and orderly behind you.
Grammar things don't bother me that much (which is funny since I have an M.A. in English and haave taught composition), but I hate the overuse of certain words. For example, the use of "gift" as a verb. Why say you "gifted" someone with something when you can just say you gave it to them? Another one I hate is when people say they are "growing their business," as if it were a tomato plant. It just seems like lazy verbiage to me. How about enriching your business, or making it more productive, or ensuring its success? Wouldn't any of those be more specific descriptions of what you're doing?
Phew. Glad I got that of my chest ;)

Crabmommy said...

Now I'm starting to think "on line" is ok Flashbacks to my former life in NYC, Alexis. Hey, grammar evolves. Maybe "on line" is ok now. Have to check the dikshinry on that one.

meanwhile, "gifting" as verb. UGH. That's a good one, Alexis. Truly do I heap hate upon it!

Anonymous said...

The one that makes me crazy is "Where is that at?" or any other use of "at" at the end of a sentence.

One Hot Single Mama said...

Oh my gosh! I have one!! My students-college students at that-say:

Youse guys come over here!

Uh, no. That is NOT a word. I will USE my pen! I told them I will write them up for USING that word again! haha.

I know this isn't a grammar issue...but I HATE HATE HATE when people say that they are going to shop at is JEWEL!! agh

Fall From Grace said...

I wasn't going to, esp since I'm feeling particularly crabby myself this am, but... A friend spent the last 18 months writing a 534 page novel. Heart, soul, entire being went into this novel. All friend wants is for me to read it and give 'an overview. Does it work as a novel?'


Aside from the fact that it's a genre I'd never read, ugh, it's riddled with poor sentence structure (I assume the dry leaves crunched underfoot, not the unicorn), obvious spelling mistakes that spellcheck didn't catch because they are words ('on' instead of 'one'), and grammar...

'A person that...' Shouldn't it be 'a person who/whom...' ? Isn't 'that' reserved for nonsentient things? (should nonsentient have a hyphen? should it be two words?)

This task is making me nuts. I can't get beyond the mistakes and concentrate on the plot.

crabmommy said...

Fall from Grace: yeesh. I think you have to tell her what any editor/writing teacher would: grammar counts. Get the syntax cleaned up (by a pro if need be) so the reader can concentrate on the rest without being distracted. Except it sounds as though the rest is awful too...
But "a person that" is ok. A person who/whom [context-specific]" is better to my ear but "that" is onsidered acceptable with people too when I last checked my Chicago Manual of Style.
Here's a good bday present for your friend: pocket style MLA guide by Diana Hacker.

Anonymous said...

I cried tears of joy last week when my five year old asked me "what shall I try on first" in the dressing room. She also uses the be irrealis- were- in statements of distant possibility. The sublime subjunctive out of the mouth of a Texas kindergarten student!

It's probably not a surprise that two of my favorite books for leisure reading are The New Well-Tempered Sentence and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, both by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.

Anonymous said...

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then pulls out a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation:

"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."