Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Are You Lying or Laying?

Once again we welcome Terry Odell with a guest post. We like her so well, we have invited her to contribute regularly on the third Tuesday of every month. In keeping with our August theme of Back to School, Terry takes us back to grammar 101. This was covered a couple of years ago in a guest post by Lauri Kubuitsile, an award-winning writer living in Botswana, but it is always good to revisit this topic.

I was reading a book recently where a character saw the "break" lights on the cars. And someone was waiting with "baited" breath. Or the book where a character put "peddle to the metal." And one I've been seeing far too frequently: "peaking" where a character ought to be "peeking" – which is not the same as something "piquing" one's interest.

Are these simply typos missed by copy editors? One would hope that's the case, because if your editors are using Spell Check (or if you are), these aren't going to get flagged. Basic grammatical errors should be avoided, and if copy editors are too busy to catch some of these, then writers need to make sure they know the basics and don't make the mistakes in the first place.

Here's one of the most common problem children:

Lie/Lay (You'll notice the past tense of lie is the same as the present tense of lay, which is probably where the confusion starts.)

LIE:
means to rest or recline (also to remain or be situated)
never takes a direct object
has the following principal parts:

PRESENT INFINITIVE:
Lie

PRESENT PARTICIPLE:
(is) lying

PAST
lay

PAST PARTICIPLE:
(has) lain

LAY:
means to put or place (something)
usually takes a direct object: a word that tells what was placed
has the following principal parts:

PRESENT INFINITIVE:
lay

PRESENT PARTICIPLE:
(is) laying

PAST
laid

PAST PARTICIPLE:
(has) laid

Some examples:
LIE
If you're tired, lie down and take a nap.
Mother is lying down because she has a headache.
Your shoes are lying on the floor in your room.

Last summer, we lay on the beach every day.
The books lay unopened on my desk for three days.

I have lain in bed all morning.

LAY
Lay the baby down gently.
I was laying a new floor in the basement.
I laid my packages on the counter and sat down.
I have laid my cards on the table.

Hope this helps a little and doesn't add to your confusion.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who has never met a present participle she ever liked, whether it was lying or laying.

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22 comments :

  1. I tend to think I'm a decent writer when it comes to grammar, but I will admit that the lie/lay thing gets me every single time. Whenever I see the squiggly green underline in my word doc, I KNOW it's going to be on that very mistake. I'm not sure why I have a mental block on that

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  2. JM - I only need to check my grammar book about every 5th time I use lay/lie. But I'll do whatever it takes to write around wake/awake/awoke/awakened.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think we all have one or two grammar things that hang us up in the writing. I'm like you, Terry, I will do all I can to write around certain words, some of them being lie and lay. LOL

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  4. I had a character bend over at the "waste" through three rounds of edits and proofreading. Luckily someone caught it in the final round. "Peaking" someone's interest is a pet peeve of mine, but I do trip up on "sneak peek." The "ea" in sneak sticks with me on the next word, I guess. But it is the past tense of lie/lay I have to look up. Every. Single. Time. Like JM, I have a mental block on it. Thanks for clarifying. Maybe it'll finally stick with me! Oh, but now you have me second guessing my usage of wake/awake/awoke/awakened. LOL

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  5. Maryann - we all have those dreaded write arounds. We can only hope that when we're done, it looks like that's the way we wanted to write it in the first place.

    Kristie - those typos can drive you nuts. Especially when you know the right spelling, but your fingers simply refuse to obey.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  6. Excellent! Lie/Lay are two of the hardest words to use correctly. After 35 years as an author and editor, they still drive me nuts!

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  7. Hollee - we all have our problem children no matter how long we've tried to make them behave.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  8. I used to always confuse lie and lay. Now I remember it like this: Only people can rest or recline, and only people can lie (as in don't tell the truth) so use LIE with people and LAY with things.

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  9. Hi Terry- thanks! This is a helpful post. I've gone so far as to remove the words lie and lay all together using something else so I will be correct.
    Cheers~

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  10. "I have lain in bed all morning."

    This is exactly why we write around--when it sounds wrong, even if it's right. The reader will stop and say--is that right?--and get popped from the story.

    And if you get popped from the story, it's wrong no matter what!

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  11. Nancy - you're not alone in doing that.

    Kathyrn - so true. Anything that's perceived as wrong or wonky will yank a reader out of the story, and that's the last thing a writer wants.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

    ReplyDelete
  12. Have been enjoying the comments. Loved this from you, Terry: "those typos can drive you nuts. Especially when you know the right spelling, but your fingers simply refuse to obey."

    From now on I'm blaming all my mistakes on my fingers, not my brain. LOL

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  13. Excellent advice. And loved your examples. It's not easy to catch these sorts of things. You have to set aside your manuscript for days or weeks, then look at it with "new" eyes, sometimes.

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  14. Whew! So glad I'm not alone! I write around other words that throw me, but since my current WIP is about dreams there is a lot of laying. Or is it lying?

    Guess I'll just have to keep coming back to this post to clarify!
    :-)

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  15. I used to get lie and lay confused until I realized that Bob Dylan is a dunce. Now I just picture him in a dunce cap and have no problem. It's Lie, Lady, Lie, Bob.

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  16. This may be the #1 "bugaboo" in the English language--one that makes me go back to my reference books, even after all these years of writing and editing. Thank you.

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  17. Terry, excellent blog on the whole lie/lay thing. Really, I think it's time reinvent this whole thing in the English language, given when used correctly, it often doesn't look correct. Not to mention every time I see lying, I think of someone telling an untruth.

    The current correct usage of lie/lay is simply outdated.

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  18. Heidi - I have a great little reference book, long out of print, that my kids used in elementary school. It's geared to that level, and that makes it perfect for me!

    Savannah - good to see you here. And I wish we could make the rules, but I think we're stuck for a while longer.

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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