lie/lay alternation - not US

Damien Hall D.Hall at KENT.AC.UK
Wed Oct 5 08:52:13 UTC 2011

Benjamin wrote:

"In the song "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol, the words lay and lie appear as intransitive verbs.

One stanza has both and is repeated four times (

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

The enunciation is clear in each instance. Although it's possible that "lie" means "tell a lie," it looks like euphonic alternation to me."

I think _lie_ here does mean "be recumbent" and not "tell a lie". However, there's still a problem here.  It's true that for some speakers of British English there can be alternation between _lay_ and _lie_ in the senses "be in a prostrate or recumbent position" (as in (1)) or "be positioned on" (as in (2)).

1)  He lies / lays on the floor. (persons / animals)
2) The fork lies / lays on the table. (inanimate objects)

I don't think this is an instance of the alternation, though.  The instances of _lay_ in this quotation are both from the verb whose infinitive is _lie_.

The clue is in "Would you lie with me": "would" cues a (?counterfactual) past-tense antecedent, so that past-tense antecedent has to be the only verb preceding "would" in the sentence, ie _lay_.  As _lay_ therefore has to be a past tense, it is the past tense of the verb whose infinitive is _lie_ (the past tense of the verb whose infinitive is _lay_ is, of course, _laid_).



Damien Hall

University of Kent (UK)
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, 'Towards a New Linguistic Atlas of France'

English Language and Linguistics, School of European Culture and Languages

The American Dialect Society -

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