Laying it down

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed Sep 19 19:12:26 UTC 2012

My ten-year-old grandson discussed an English assignment with me--addressing the (well-nigh obsolete) "lie" vs. "lay" distinction.  Specifically, the exercise called for the completion of sentences with either "lie, "lay," "lain," or "lying" or else "lay," "laid," or "laying."

The sentence in question was "I saw John _______ his book down."  Assuming that there must exist a single "right" answer, it isn't clear whether that answer should be "lay" (which my grandson had chosen) or "laying."  I endeavored to explain that both sentences would be fully grammatical (with shades of difference in meaning).  But I wondered if the "laying" version would be preferred by the exercise-deviser, since "laying" results in a less "complex" sentence?  It's even possible to understand "I saw John laid his book down" as a grammatical sentence.

Happy not to be in the fourth grade,


The American Dialect Society -

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