Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Grammar moment: Confusing verbs redux

OK, so it’s a rerun. But it’s a goodie

Yes, this is a repeat of a post I’ve posted before. But that was back in the extremely early days of this blog, when I had maybe three visitors a day, and the topic is one that does often arise: How do you know which verb to use? Here is that early post, with a few minor alterations:

A comment on another post raised the question of the difference between the verbs lie and lay. In addition to that pair, two others often cause confusion: sit/set and rise/raise. All three pairs have the same problem ― one verb is intransitive, meaning that when you do it, you do it yourself and you don’t do it to some other person or object, while the other is transitive, which means you do it TO something.

Intransitive: lie ― to recline
Present tense: I lie on the beach all the time. Tad lies on the beach all the time.
Past tense: I lay on the beach yesterday.
Present participle: I like lying on the beach.
Past participle: I have lain on the beach every day for a month.

Transitive: lay ― to put (something) down
Present tense: I lay flowers on the memorial every month. Tad lays them too.
Past tense: I laid flowers there yesterday.
Present participle: Laying flowers is a valuable tradition.
Past participle: I have laid flowers for many years.

Intransitive: sit ― to be seated
Present tense: I always sit in the front row at the cinema. Tad always sits in the front row.
Past tense: I sat in the front row yesterday.
Present participle: Sitting in the front row is good.
Past participle: I have sat in the front row for ages.

Transitive: set ― to put (something) down
Present tense: I set cookies on the table every day. Tad sets cookies on the table every day.
Past tense: I set cookies onthe table yesterday.
Present participle: I really like is setting cookies on the table.
Past participle: Tad has set cookies on the table for years.

Intransitive: rise ― to get up
Present tense: I rise every day at noon. Tad rises every day at noon.
Past tense: One day, many years ago, I rose at eleven.
Present participle: Rising earlier doesn’t work for me.
Past participle: I have risen at noon for most of my life.

Transitive: raise ― to lift or bring (something) up
Present tense: I raise well-behaved cats. Tad raises well-behaved cats.
Past tense: My English teacher raised well-behaved cats when I was a kid.
Present participle: Raising well-behaved cats is essential.
Past participle: Smart people have raised well-behaved cats since the days of ancient

All of this may be difficult to memorize; the best way to learn is through practice. But the key question to ask, whichever of these verb pairs is giving you trouble, is “Is there a direct object? Is this action being done TO something?” If the answer is yes, you use the transitive form. If not, use the intransitive.

Finally, a word to all of the dog owners and trainers out there: Please stop teaching your pets improper grammar! Don’t command them to “lay down” when what you really want them to do is “lie down.”

Byrnes, Carol Anne. “Grammar moment: Oh, those confusing verbs!” Five O’Clock Somewhere. 28 July 2005. 9 Oct 2007.

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Blogger Tillerman said...

So when Bob Dylan san "Lay Lady Lay" what on earth did he mean?

Wed Oct 10, 08:24:00 AM MDT  
Anonymous bigfoot said...

And when Tillerman wrote "san" what on earth did he mean. sang?

Wed Oct 10, 08:26:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

That was an example of the one usage of lay as an intransitive verb -- colloquially, it can be used to mean "to engage in sexual intercourse."

Wed Oct 10, 02:58:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Mom said...

It's really amazing how many "educated" people do not use these verbs correctly--TV newscasters, for example. I always wondered why John Denver wanted all those feathers in his bed when he sang "Come lay down beside me. . ."

Here's wishing you all the success!

Wed Oct 10, 04:11:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Thu Oct 11, 11:45:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Lay lady lay
on your big brass bed

lay me an egg,
so I can get fed.

And, if you tell a Border Collie to lay down, will she come back with a sleeping bag and tear it open for you?

Thu Oct 11, 11:48:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

Hmmm - not to pick an argument with an expert (in grammar) but since when was "lay" an intransitive verb for sexual intercourse?

It can be a noun. "She's a good lay."

Or a transitive verb, often in the passive voice. "Did you get laid?"

I just can't think of a good example where it is used in that sense intransitively. Which leads my to believe that Bob Dylan really meant for the lady to lie across his big bed.

In any case how much fun is intransitive sex?

Sat Oct 13, 11:44:00 AM MDT  

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