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.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."
The hen lays her eggs.
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?