Monday, May 4, 2015

Play It as It Lies

I think it’s only a matter of time before no one will lie anymore.  And by that, I mean people will only lay.  

As your uptight high-school English teacher no doubt became exasperated telling you over and over again, if you use the verb “lay” in the present or future tense, it must include a direct object.  “Lay” doesn’t require a direct object only when you use the word in the past tense.

Incorrect: “I’m going to lay down.”

Correct: “I’m going to lie down.”

Correct: “I’m going to lay my body down.”

Correct: “I lay down a few minutes ago.”

I think that before too long, no one will need to worry about the correctness or incorrectness of these sentences in the eyes of the grammar gods.  

Virtually everyone I know uses the present-tense, intransitive “lay” on a regular basis — to the extent that I now notice myself “correctly” saying “lie” by second nature and wondering why I didn’t use the more common colloquialism.  I have even seen published non-fiction, expository books that say “lay” where a grammarian (or, one would presume, proof reader) would say “lie.”  I get the idea that before another decade passes, the present-tense, intransitive “lay” will become grammatically acceptable because its use is so widespread.  

One casualty of this impending change will be (if it isn’t a casualty already) the haunting irony of the title of William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying.  Within that title, the “I” — the one speaking, presumably the character of the dying mother — is already dead.  To whom is she speaking?  I’m not sure if anyone is wondering anymore.

The trailer for James Franco’s 2013 film adaptation of William Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’

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