General Fiction posted October 14, 2021

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Writer's choice trumps rules

Grammar Lesson for Naught

by Elizabeth Emerald

Most of us get confused when conjugating the verb "lie" (as used in the sense of reclining, versus telling an untruth).

Occasionally, the past tense of "lie" in this sense will be misconstrued as "lied" (due to confusion with the past tense of "lie" as untruth). 

More often, the past tense of lie is rendered as "laid."

There are two reasons for the persistent error.

First, "lay down" is aurally indistinguishable from "laid down."

Second, "lay" is not only the past tense of "lie"; "lay" is a present tense verb in its own right, the past tense of which is "laid."

Yesterday, I edited my sister's story, in which she wrote: "last fall, the leaves laid on the pavement."

I explained that this fall we see leaves lie (or "lying") on the pavement; last fall they "lay" there; "laid" applies only if somebody placed them there.

I offered an alternative: "This fall, Mother Nature lays (or "is laying") leaves on the pavement; thus, last fall she "laid" them there.

In response, my sister said: Since I haven't managed to get laid these past seven years, I'm d@mn well gonna leave my leaves laid! 



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