I Won’t Lie To You, We Get Lay Wrong A Lot

What are the most common emails to our corrections inbox? (Besides those accusing us of favoring one side or the other in whatever is the hot debate of the day.)

They’re the ones that go something like this:

“Thanks for the reporting! Please apprise [insert name of NPR staffer here] of the difference between ‘to lay’ and ‘to lie.’ It should be ‘if everybody is lying low’ not ‘laying low.’ “

Or:

“Thanks for the reporting! Please apprise Mr. Clapton of the difference between ‘lie down’ and ‘lay down.’ It should be ‘lie down Sally’ not ‘lay down Sally.’ “

Many grammarians have posted about lie vs. lay. The University of Kansas has guidance under the headline “You’ll lay an egg if you don’t lie down.”

Arizona State has guidance and a practice exercise here.

The Associated Press begins its style guide entry this way:

“The action word is lay. It takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying. Lie indicates a state of reclining along a horizontal plane. It does not take a direct object. Its past tense is lay. Its past participle is lain. Its present participle is lying. When lie means to make an untrue statement, the verb forms are lie, lied, lying.”

I bring this up for two reasons.

1. We get on average several emails a week about it.

2. It underscores something: Many in NPR’s audience (radio and online) pay very close attention to our grammar. While it’s true that we want to sound conversational and that some grammatical rules are being bent all the time across the nation, it does offend some of our most dedicated fans when we get things wrong.

Note: This is a bad thing for a Standards & Practices editor to admit — I’m not a grammarian. I’m in the camp that needs to look some words up every time I use them (principal? or principle?). Or, I turn to some of the better linguists in the room. There’s somebody who can help on each desk, show and online team. The librarians are here for us too.

There, I’ve put ┬ámy cards on the table. (Notice how I avoided the whole lay vs. lie issue there.)

(Memmos; Aug. 29, 2014)

August 29, 2014

Comments are closed.