You say ‘laying,’ I say ‘lying’
OK. Stop what you’re doing. I want a quick show of hands. How many of you out there in readership land know the difference between the use of the word ‘lay’ and ‘lie’?Before we get into this, let’s acknowledge we’re not talking about the sexual innuendo surrounding the word ‘lay,’ so don’t even go there. This is already confusing enough.What we’re talking about is when it’s proper to use the word ‘lay’ and when it’s correct to use the word ‘lie.’I missed class the day the difference between these two words was taught. I know the difference between ‘it’s’ and ‘its.’ I understand when to use ‘I’ and when to use ‘me.’ But lay and lie? Uh-uh. About a month and a half ago, in Rifle’s weekly newspaper The Citizen Telegram, of which I’m the editor, we featured a cover photo of an ice fisherman and a deceased trout.We wrote, “Greg Avila of Rifle tries for another rainbow trout like the one laying in front of him.” Because I missed the laying vs. lying class years ago, it didn’t register with me that we’d made a grammatical faux pas. And nobody else brought it to my attention until last week, when I got an e-mail about the mistake.”How many notes did you receive regarding the sentence on the front page of the Jan. 26 issue with ‘laying’ used instead of the proper ‘lying?’ This is the sort of thing that used to earn my students extra credit, spotting errors in respectable places.” Whoopsie. I immediately felt like a dunce. More importantly, though, it reminded me of the responsibility we journalists have not to erode the English language. So, into the grammar books I “dived.” (and yes, that’s correct. I just checked.)After looking through pages of grammar manuals and perusing countless Web sites taking more time than I should to understand this, I think I’ve got it. To figure out whether to use lie (lay, lain, lying) replace it with the word “rest (rested, resting)” i.e. “… like the one ‘lying/resting’ in front of him.”Replace lay (laid, laying) with the word “place (placed, placing)” to see if that’s the correct word to use. ” … like the one “laying/placing” in front of him.” See? That sounds stupid, so it means you’d use laid in this instance. We could make this more complicated, because Greg placed the trout was placed in front of him. But the sentence would have to be re-written: “Greg … tries for another rainbow … like the one he laid/placed on the ice in front of him.”Of course, nobody’s perfect. Even Bob Dylan blew this rule when he wrote “Lay, Lady, Lay.” Using the “rest/place” rule, the tune should have been called “Lie, Lady, Lie.” But that’s not nearly as catchy, and besides the sexual innuendo makes the song. But we’re not going there … I’m already confused enough. This grammar lesson is brought to you by Carrie Click, the editor and general manager of The Citizen Telegram in Rifle, who still isn’t sure whether she’s lying about laying and lying – though she’s pretty sure she’s not. Carrie can be reached at email@example.com, 625-3245, ext. 101.
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