The Grammar Belle

Spiffing y'all up, one typo at a time

I think I need to lie down.

Can somebody help me fix all the mattress commercials?* I can’t hear the first notes of the ooooh-aaaaaah Mattress Giant jingle or a couple of words in the syrupy sweet voice of Sleep Expert’s president, Christine Cook, without bracing myself for the offensive grammar that’s to come. How is it that the folks whose entire business model revolves around people reclining in their beds don’t know the difference between “lie” and “lay”? I hear that at Mattress Firm, it’s easy to get a great night’s sleep. And I’m telling you, it’s easy to figure out which verb to use to describe said sleep. Your cheat sheet:

LIE: rhymes-ish with “recline”
LAY: rhymes-ish with “place”

If you’re reclining, you’re going to LIE down; if you’re placing something on the table, you’re LAYing it down. (I told ya it’s easy!)

To take it one step further: You lay something else down. Someone or something just lies there all on its own. (It’s transitive vs. intransitive verbs, for all you gotta-know-the-details folks. I’m guessing those of you who fall into that category already know when to use “lie” versus “lay.”)

Even if you’re fairly confident with whether you’re talking about reclining or placing, much confusion arises when you get to different tenses. (You know, past and future instead of present.) And here’s why: The past tense of “lie” is, wait for it, “lay.” Yes, that’s cruel and evil and whoever first invented English is a sick and twisted individual. Sorry, y’all.

When you need to use one of those verbs, follow this handy flowchart, and it’ll all work out fine:

If reading this flowchart has exhausted you, you may need to go lie down.

And that, my sweet friends, is how crazily complex “lay” and “lie” can be. This reminds me of something else: There’s no shame in using your resources when you need them. You can’t even imagine how many times in the course of a normal workday that I take out my Webster’s (my favorite dictionary†) and look up something. Invest in some good resources, download the app on your phone, and feel great about using them all. I’d recommend a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a grammar guide‡ or two. And if anyone harasses you about needing a dictionary, just tell ’em The Grammar Belle says it’s OK.

*Y’all might need to help me with my television addiction too.
†Wow. I am a serious dork.
‡My VERY favorite is The Gregg Reference Manual. Check it out. You just might love it too!

12 comments on “I think I need to lie down.

  1. mamarific
    October 5, 2012

    I’m putting that reference manual on my Christmas list 🙂

  2. outlawmama
    October 5, 2012

    Omg. I can’t ever learn this. So embarrassing.

  3. The Grammar Belle
    October 5, 2012

    Just stick with me, y’all. I’ve got ya. 😉

  4. Sheri Czapla
    October 5, 2012

    The whiteboard flow chart may be my favorite thing ever.

    • The Grammar Belle
      October 5, 2012

      With my awful handwriting and all? Thanks a bunch! The art directors here at the office all cringed and offered to make it look nice for me. Thanks for stopping by, girl!

  5. Kayla
    October 5, 2012

    This is exactly the subject matter I was going to request. Thank you! I also want you to know, it is very intimidating to make a comment on your blog. 😦

    • The Grammar Belle
      October 5, 2012

      No fear, Kayla. I promise I don’t edit comments. And I don’t judge. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  6. Phil Anderson
    October 5, 2012

    Kay Anderson wants to know: do you have a degree in English?

  7. Phil Anderson
    October 5, 2012

    I am biting my fingers so they don’t type anything, but they seem to have a mind of their own. What is the pluperfect tense for lie? How does one differentiate the past perfect progressive of lay from the future progressive and the conditional progressive of lie? And as Ernie Kovaks used to say: :”What about Naomie?” dr p

    • The Grammar Belle
      October 5, 2012

      Tell Kay that I have a degree in foreign languages (Spanish & Russian) which forced me to know my native language’s grammar details inside and out. As for your other questions . . . I ran out of room on my flowchart paper for all that nonsense. Think of my blog as Grammar 101, not Grammar 3100! 🙂 (I’ll tackle the pluscuamperfecto in Spanish at a later date and time.)

  8. Larissa
    October 6, 2012

    I’ve been made fun of for telling my dog to “lie down”, but I knew I was using it correctly. Even dogs deserve good grammar!

  9. Pingback: A Year of Grammar Goodies (With Bonus Pop Quiz) | The Grammar Belle

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2012 by in Grammar Dilemmas, When Spellcheck Won't Help.

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