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lie or lay

Posted: Mon Jan 06, 2020 6:01 am
by Cynthia Moore
Is this sentence correct?
His sympathies laid with the South.
Or should it be:
His sympathies lay with the South.
These are both to be past tense.

Re: lie or lay

Posted: Mon Jan 06, 2020 11:25 pm
by Erik_Kowal
Hi Cynthia,

Emily Brewster, associate editor with Merriam-Webster, talks about the confusing landscape of lie and lay in a short video which I think will answer your question.

Re: lie or lay

Posted: Tue Jan 07, 2020 5:25 am
by Cynthia Moore
Well, Erik, I guess I am too dense to get a clear answer from that video, charming as it was.

My guess is that what I want is the past tense of "lie", which would be "lay", right? That would make my second option the correct one:
His sympathies lay with the South.

Re: lie or lay

Posted: Tue Jan 07, 2020 8:27 am
by Erik_Kowal
Yes, that's right. :)

Re: lie or lay

Posted: Tue Jan 07, 2020 8:33 pm
by trolley
I've always struggled with those two (those, too). My mom always used "lay-down" as a noun, meaning a nap.
"I have a headache. I'm going for a little lay-down"
Should she have been saying a "lie-down"?

Re: lie or lay

Posted: Tue Jan 07, 2020 8:56 pm
by Erik_Kowal
Yes, according to most grammarians.

I lived in the US for 14 years, and in that time I heard people say something like "I'm going to lay down for a while" much more often than "I'm going to lie for a while". This applied equally to my own circle of friends and acquaintances and to what I heard on broadcast media.

If my experience is truly representative, this means that both usages are 'correct' — what people actually say in real life is ultimately more decisive than what cultural gatekeepers (real or aspiring) think they should be saying.

Re: lie or lay

Posted: Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:31 pm
by Phil White
Quite so, Erik! It is frustrating to have the education and linguistic knowledge to know for certain what the "rules" are while at the same time having the accumulated wisdom to know that that knowledge counts for nowt!

But "lie down/lay down" is interesting in itself.

Many people try to adhere to the convention that "lay/laid/laid" is transitive (to lay something on something else) and "lie/lay/lain" is intransitive (something or someone lies on something else). But when it comes to the verb of motion "lie down", the confusion sets in properly. According to the convention, "lie down" is still intransitive, and we should therefore be using "lie" and not "lay". But for some reason, the use of "lie" or "lay" with "down" is even less stable than the use of "lie" and "lay" in other contexts.

But as Erik intimated, I shall not be losing sleep over it.