https://www.proz.com/forum/linguistics/205868-lie_and_lay.html

Lie and lay
Thread poster: Russell Jones

Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:47
Italian to English
Aug 20, 2011

It has always been a minor annoyance to hear people using the transitive verb "to lay" as if it were intransitive (to lay back / lay down).

Recently, it seems to me, the practice has become very frequent if not universal, especially in the American English that reaches the UK.

I would be interested in other people's views on its usage (or even defence or justification of it).


 

Sarah Swift  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:47
German to English
not exactly a defence, but ... Aug 20, 2011

Like the phrase "I guess," this is one of those faux-Americanisms derived from older British usage.

There is a usage note in the Merriam-Webster English dictionary which is probably fairly accurate.
See: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lay?show=0&t=1313877933

LAY has been used intransitively in the sense of “lie” ... See more
Like the phrase "I guess," this is one of those faux-Americanisms derived from older British usage.

There is a usage note in the Merriam-Webster English dictionary which is probably fairly accurate.
See: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lay?show=0&t=1313877933

LAY has been used intransitively in the sense of “lie” since the 14th century. The practice was unremarked until around 1770; attempts to correct it have been a fixture of schoolbooks ever since. Generations of teachers and critics have succeeded in taming most literary and learned writing, but intransitive lay persists in familiar speech and is a bit more common in general prose than one might suspect. Much of the problem lies in the confusing similarity of the principal parts of the two words. Another influence may be a folk belief that lie is for people and lay is for things. Some commentators are ready to abandon the distinction, suggesting that lay is on the rise socially. But if it does rise to respectability, it is sure to do so slowly: many people have invested effort in learning to keep lie and lay distinct. Remember that even though many people do use lay for lie, others will judge you unfavorably if you do.


I used to teach an advanced English grammar course to German university students, and transitive/intransitive pairs of verbs like lay/lie, raise/rise or fell/fall tended to feature; they do cause a lot of confusion, and they were ridiculously easy to test within the framework of an error-correction exercise. But I never tested the difference between lay and lie, because the usage is much too conflicted for me to have been willing to argue the point if that was the only thing standing between a student passing or failing my course. If a student were to come and quote Bob Dylan (Lay, Lady, Lay. Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed), what would I say?

But I would happily correct intransitive usage of LAY in a translation/editing context. Not because it is wrong - I don't - but because enough people think it is wrong for it to be worthwhile to pander to their sensibilities.

[Bearbeitet am 2011-08-20 22:36 GMT]
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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:47
French to English
+ ...
Difference still made by some speakers/contexts Aug 20, 2011

My observation would be that it's reasonably common to make the distinction between "lie" (intransitive) and "lay" (transitive), at least in formal contexts.

What I don't really see is why it matters terribly much, or what the reason is to get annoyed by it. Do you also get annoyed by the fact that, say, the verb "burn" can be both transitive and intransitive? There are plenty of verbs that can have multiple frames; I don't see why, say, there's a major need to make a special distin
... See more
My observation would be that it's reasonably common to make the distinction between "lie" (intransitive) and "lay" (transitive), at least in formal contexts.

What I don't really see is why it matters terribly much, or what the reason is to get annoyed by it. Do you also get annoyed by the fact that, say, the verb "burn" can be both transitive and intransitive? There are plenty of verbs that can have multiple frames; I don't see why, say, there's a major need to make a special distinction between "lie" vs "lay", whereas there's no reason to have separate verbs for intransitive vs transitive use of "burn", "roll", "wake", "crystallise"...


[Edited at 2011-08-20 22:45 GMT]
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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:47
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Other annoyances Aug 20, 2011

Russell Jones wrote:

It has always been a minor annoyance to hear people using the transitive verb "to lay" as if it were intransitive (to lay back / lay down).


To me too, Russell - but in my case it's a *major* annoyance.

Even more annoying is the seeming inability of many people to distinguish between "loose" and "lose".


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 10:47
Chinese to English
Hear, hear, Sarah & Neil Aug 21, 2011

I agree with the usage of lie & lay as suggested by everyone here. This is not one that bothers me particularly, but there are other dialect and lexis issues which do make my teeth grind. The important thing, though, is not to confuse one's own prejudices and preferences with "good practice". If I dislike a particular usage, I'm free to avoid it in my own work; but if it is common in a particular field, I shouldn't use my preference as a reason to edit or to criticise.

In this parti
... See more
I agree with the usage of lie & lay as suggested by everyone here. This is not one that bothers me particularly, but there are other dialect and lexis issues which do make my teeth grind. The important thing, though, is not to confuse one's own prejudices and preferences with "good practice". If I dislike a particular usage, I'm free to avoid it in my own work; but if it is common in a particular field, I shouldn't use my preference as a reason to edit or to criticise.

In this particular case, I'm struggling slightly to imagine in what kind of a formal context you'd find the present tense intransitive "lay"? If I found such a usage, I'd probably change it to "lie", but I really can't imagine what document I'd be working on. Some kind of psychological assessment? "He lays in bed every morning until the staff get him up"? Even there, I'm not sure I'd change it. And in a document with aesthetic aspirations - a song, poem or novel - I'd assume the author/translator had thought about the issue.
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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:47
Spanish to English
+ ...
Never the twain Aug 21, 2011

Neil Coffey wrote:

What I don't really see is why it matters terribly much, or what the reason is to get annoyed by it. ... There are plenty of verbs that can have multiple frames...



[Edited at 2011-08-20 22:45 GMT]


Well put. I tend to respect actual current usage to a certain extent rather than simply following the traditional prescriptive guidelines across the board.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:47
Spanish to English
+ ...
Lose living Aug 21, 2011

Russell Jones wrote:

Even more annoying is the seeming inability of many people to distinguish between "loose" and "lose".


Yes, or "could of /should of"... etc. People who consisently misuse these sort of items should be flogged to within an inch of their lives.

Seriously though, having given it some thought I realise that I do have several similar bugbears, but hey - acute pedantry seems to be an occupational hazard chez nous.


 

Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:47
Swedish to English
+ ...
Causative ? Aug 21, 2011

Perhaps another useful way of understanding the distinction is to recognise that "lay" is the causative form of "lie", so "lay" means "to cause to lie" (and that in fact is the Oxford English Dictionary definition of "lay"). Just as "fell" is the causative form of "fall" - "to cause to fall"
(again the OED definition). A tree may fall, but a lumberjack fells a tree - causes it to fall.

What's more, the causative form is indicated by a change in sound -- lie / lay, fall / fe
... See more
Perhaps another useful way of understanding the distinction is to recognise that "lay" is the causative form of "lie", so "lay" means "to cause to lie" (and that in fact is the Oxford English Dictionary definition of "lay"). Just as "fell" is the causative form of "fall" - "to cause to fall"
(again the OED definition). A tree may fall, but a lumberjack fells a tree - causes it to fall.

What's more, the causative form is indicated by a change in sound -- lie / lay, fall / fell. Umlaut in German, where the distinction is more evident – "fallen" means to fall, while "fällen" means to "fell".
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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:47
Spanish to English
+ ...
Keep the customers satisfied, no matter what! Aug 21, 2011

Sarah Swift wrote:

But I would happily correct intransitive usage of LAY in a translation/editing context. Not because it is wrong - but because enough people think it is wrong for it to be worthwhile to pander to their sensibilities.

[Bearbeitet am 2011-08-20 22:36 GMT]


Exactly. To me perhaps the most important point is whether the final product sounds/looks the part and does what it is supposed to do well.


 

RobinB  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:47
German to English
Discussed on Language Log Aug 21, 2011

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Language Log has discussed this particular issue, most recently here:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3348

which in turn refers back to here:

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000877.htm
... See more
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Language Log has discussed this particular issue, most recently here:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3348

which in turn refers back to here:

http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000877.html

Where would we be without LL? Linguistically Lost, I fear.
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Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 20:47
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Spoken vs. written language. Aug 21, 2011

I don't mind it too much when people make such mistakes in spoken language - it happens all the time - but it does bother me when such mistakes are made in written language, even by well-educated people. My biggest beef is "people that" and "companies who".

 

B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:47
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
What about tense? Aug 21, 2011

I lie down: present tense
I lay down: past tense

I lay the gun down: present tense
I laid the gun down: past tense

I have just noticed a YouTube posting - I shan't give the reference: "Beautiful Asian Girl Lays On Bed". My first thought was to wonder how long she needs to sit on that egg till it hatches; but just call me a grammatical stickler.


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:47
French to English
+ ...
Tense... Aug 21, 2011

B D Finch wrote:
I lie down: present tense
I lay down: past tense

I lay the gun down: present tense
I laid the gun down: past tense


In practice, I'm not sure it matters so much either that "lay" can be either a present tense (by speakers who use "lay" intransitively to mean "lie") or a past tense (by speakers who make the "lay"/"lie" distinction). After all, think about verbs such as "set", "put", "cast" which don't distinguish btween infinitive/present/past (except in the third person present).


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:47
Member (2008)
Italian to English
And ..... Aug 22, 2011

People who don't know the difference between "every day" and "everyday".

[Edited at 2011-08-22 09:09 GMT]


 


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