Archive | November, 2011

Lay vs. Lie Lady Lay vs. Lie

20 Nov

My fiancé’s name is Evan.  I say this because I will from now on refer to him only as Evan.  Why?  Because there is nothing–and I mean nothing–more toolish than making references to one’s fiancé.  I feel like it is name dropping at its most obnoxious: which is to be expected, since it requires the use of a French word.  Even when the speaker doesn’t intend it, using the word “fiancé” in a sentence is a red flag upon which is written, “I need attention. VALIDATE ME.”  Incidentally, I believe that exact sentence is written on the French flag.

Above my bed is the large Bob Dylan poster you see below, and so while I write these, it appears that he is looking over my shoulder.  Because of this, Evan’s (see, I only call him Evan now) favorite new game is to give me grammar blog ideas in Bob Dylan’s voice, quoting the most ridiculous Bob Dylan lyrics he can.  You have to imagine the following suggestions in the most exaggerated, nasal-y Dylan voice possible.

“Hey. Hey. You should write  a blog about Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, with his memories in a trunk.”

“Hey. You should write a post about how Aladdin and his lamp sit with Utopian hermit monks side saddle on the golden calf.”

“Hey. Write about how Georgia Sam, he had a bloody nose, and the Welfare Department, they wouldn’t give him no clothes.”

A few minutes of silence go by as I’m typing.  Then, from across the room, Bob Dylan’s voice suggests:

“Hey. I know. Write a post about how I walked by a Guernsey cow who directed me to the Bowery slums where people carried signs around saying, ‘Ban the bums.’  Write about how the funniest woman I ever seen was the great-granddaughter of Mr. Clean, and how she takes about fifteen baths a day and wants me to grow a moustache on my face.  Write about the ghost of Belle Star–she hands down her wits to Jezebel the nun, and she violently knits a bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits at the head of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Now, I like to think that I have subtly woven these themes into my writing.  But there’s one piece of advice I have to reject from my talking Bob Dylan poster.  If he ever wanted me to write about his song “Lay Lady Lay,” I would have to put my proverbial foot down.  “No, Bob,” I would say.  “I cannot write about that song because it is grammatically incorrect.”

So while Bob fumes on my wall, let’s explore lie vs. lay.  Let’s also ignore that I am talking to a poster.

In the present tense, it’s pretty simple: lay is used when there is a direct object.  You would lay down a blanket (if you were putting a blanket on the ground or on a bed).  You would lay down a book (if you put it on the table or on the floor).  Remember it this way: a bag of Lay’s potato chips is a physical thing.  If you need to stop eating those chips, you would lay down the bag of Lay’s.  Lay Lady Lay would only be correct if the Lady was actually laying something across Bob’s big brass bed.  I would completely accept the song if it went something like: “Lay lady lay, lay a plastic sheet across my big brass bed, because I suffer from incontinence.”

Lie is used when there is no direct object involved: just a single person.  You would lie down to take a nap.  You might tell somebody to lie still.  Remember it this way: you are lying to yourself when you say that you’re only going to lie down for a 20 minute nap.  It’s cold, and your blankets are warm, and once you lie down, you ain’t going nowhere.

It’s a little tougher once we get to the past tense and past participle tense(the latter of which will be preceded by has, had, or have).  First, I’ll give you the chart.

Present Tense         Past Tense                  Past Participle 

Lie                                   Lay                                  Lain

Lay                                  Laid                                 Laid

Here is what the verb “lie” looks like conjugated out into sentences.


I have to lie down because I am tired.


I lay down yesterday because I was tired.

Past Perfect:

I had lain there for hours before anyone woke me.

And here is what the verb “lay” looks like conjugated out into sentences.


“Lay down that remote!” she yelled.


He laid the baby down in the crib.

Past Perfect:

He has laid bricks for twenty years.

These are tough to remember.  There is crossover and repetition, and it’s frankly ridiculous.  The present tense of lay is the same as the past tense of lie?  The past and the past perfect of lay are both laid?  And don’t tell me that lain is a word.  Lain can’t be a word.  It sounds like the name of a character on a show like Gossip Girl.  “Hello.  I’m Lain Rotisserie van der Mario Cart.  I am 16, but I have a receding hair line, I run a hedge fund, and bars apparently never card me.”

But it’s all true.  The best you can do is try to memorize that chart, and if you can’t, print a copy  and keep it with you at all times.  No one wants to be at party and be caught using the wrong form of lie or lay, that’s for sure!

It’s like the old saying goes: “Boys don’t make passes at girls who don’t have a laminated grammar chart in their purse.”


Thanks A Lot, Baby

14 Nov

On Sunday, instead of blogging like I usually do, I was in Chicago, meeting my brand new nephew : Augustin Charles Cartwright Richardson.  His name has more letters than there are comma rules.  And there are a lot of comma rules! That’s why that is a hilarious thing to say.

In honor of his birth, and because our impromptu, middle-of-the-night trip to Chicago to meet this little buddy completely disrupted all homework and work plans, please accept these recommended links for your week’s grammar-learning pleasure.  We’ll be back with a full sized post on Sunday!


A look at troublesome pronouns from the point of view of comic strip dinosaurs.  Studies show that this is the best way to learn.  Or that it was until all the dinosaurs died.  (Should’ve had a V8.)

2. Here is a bit of ranting, raving, and education about apostrophes (and other problems) in the comic book world.  The post focuses on comics, but the grammatical ideas are important and universal.  Consider it supplemental reading to our previous post on apostrophe use.


A funny look at the difference between “alot” and “a lot.”

4. This is just basic.  Most of you have probably used Purdue OWL, but if you are a college student who is not familiar with it, your life is about to get much, much better.  Any questions you have about APA and/or MLA formatting can be answered here (everything from what an abstract should look like to how to cite two works by the same author on your reference page), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  But remember, the tip of the iceberg is a powerful thing.  Just ask Jack Dawson*.

Enjoy your browsing, and we’ll see you next week.  And happy birthday, Augustin.

*My editors** have just informed me that this is impossible, as Jack Dawson is dead.  Also, fictional.

**I have just informed myself that I am the only one on this website and therefore have no editors.

***P.S. How David Foster**** Wallace is this?

****For those of you I have just alienated with my literary name-dropping, I would like to say this: what about David Bananas Foster Wallace?  That would be–and pardon the impending wordplay–smart eating.

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

6 Nov

When I asked  my best pal what I should write about this weekend, she responded in her usual helpful and specific way, and said, “I don’t know.”  So I said, “Please help me.”  And she said, “Grammar.”  And I said, “Like what kind of grammar?”  And she said, “I don’t know.  All grammar.”  And I said again, “Please help me.”  And she said, “I don’t know.  How about how people are idiots and always say things like, ‘I broughten that in yesterday’ or ‘I boughten groceries last week.’  Those aren’t words!”

Then she cursed a lot, because she does not like when people make up fake past tenses for words.  Also because I had just hit a deer with my car.

People do like to make past tenses up sometimes, and it’s painful.  I suppose, just to be safe, I should say right now that “broughten” is not the past tense for “brought.”  “Brought” is.  Similarly, “boughten” is not the past tense for “bought.”  “Bought” is.  So I told my friend that I agreed with her–“broughten” and “boughten” are awful, non-real words, and if I ever heard someone using them, I would subject them to the most painful punishment imaginable: having to watch an entire episode of the NBC sitcom Whitney.

Unfortunately, as I also told my friend, I was going to have a hard time stretching that one complaint–however valid–into an entire post.  The post would be so short, Kim Kardashian would call it a successful marriage.

I eventually decided to dedicate this post to a few words and phrases that otherwise intelligent people (and plenty of un-intelligent people) use incorrectly.  This post will be the first in a long series tentatively titled When You Use These Words and Phrases Incorrectly, A Bunny Gets Strangled by a Rainbow: Part I.

1. Irregardless.

Irregardless is not a word.  Regardless is a word.  Irrespective is a word.  Irregardless is not a word.  Whenever you are tempted to say irregardless, just say regardless.  Think of the extra i and r at the beginning as saying, “I r stupid if I use this word.”

2. For all intensive purposes.

Do not say “for all intensive purposes.”  That is not what people are saying, even though it kind of sounds like it.  What you mean to say is for all intents and purposes.  That is the actual phrase–it means “virtually” or “for all practical purposes.”  For all intensive purposes is meaningless.  Like Kim Kardashian’s wedding vows!

3. I could care less.

The phrase you’re searching for is I couldn’t care less.  If you say I couldn’t care less, you’re saying that you care about whatever it is so little, it is literally impossible for you to care any less.  If you say–as many incorrectly do–I could care less, then it means that you’re capable of caring less.  And that means that you care a little.

4. Literally.

Literally means ACTUALLY or WITHOUT EXAGGERATION.  It signifies that you are not being metaphorical or symbolic.

Unfortunately, literally has come to be little more than a verbal exclamation point to follow something you obviously just fabricated.  You did not just literally eat a million hamburgers.  That old lady was not literally a billion years old.  And I never want to hear you say, “I literally died” unless you are a ghost.  And even then, duh, I can see that–you’re a ghost.  Leave me alone, ghost.

5. Nauseous vs. nauseated.

If you say, “I feel nauseous,” you’re actually saying that you are a force that makes other people feel ill.  When you’re feeling sick about something (like the incorrect use of literally), what you should actually say is, “I feel nauseated.”

That’s a lot to digest (and if you digest things too quickly, you could become nauseated. Ha-HA!), so we’ll stop there.  I wouldn’t want to drag this thing on for 72 days or something.  I mean, come on, what is this?  A marriage?

No, I can do better than that for a concluding Kardashian joke.  Here, how about this: Kim Kardashian was not married for a very long time, especially considering how much money and publicity went into that marriage!

There we go.

– – –

Editor’s Note: 

Most dictionaries have, by now, changed to accept the general populace’s use of nauseous as an adjective meaning “feeling sick.”  So you can use it freely knowing that most dictionaries–however happily or begrudgingly–support you.  American Heritage Dictionary concedes, “Since there is a lot of evidence to show that nauseous is widely used to mean ‘feeling sick,’ it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect.”  Other dictionaries have jumped on the train more wholeheartedly and basically slap me in the face.  Merriam-Webster’s says, “Any handbook that tells you that nauseous cannot mean ‘nauseated’ is out of touch with the contemporary language. In current usage it seldom means anything else.”

Oh yeah, Merriam-Webster’s?! I’m out of touch with contemporary language? Well, try this list on for size: texting, kool, pwned, and, um, Tosh.0!

I rest my case.

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