Buck's English: More about lay and lie

Buck’s English
By Gene Owens Published: April 13, 2014

Buck’s comments on the use of “lay” and “lie” reminded Stan Newman of a bedtime prayer he had cherished since childhood: “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

“I don’t know if it was good English,” said Stan, who lives in Oklahoma City, “but apparently it was acceptable to God. I’m still here at the age of 90.”

And Buck hopes he can continue to say it when he’s well beyond the century mark. It is offensive neither to God nor to grammarians. Had the line read “Now I lay down to sleep,” the grammarians might have griped, but God probably would have forgiven that minor trespass.

The prayer has been uttered at bedtime since at least the 18th century, when it was printed in The New England Primer.

Stan’s note gives Buck a chance to elaborate on the difference between the two verbs.

As Miss Prunella Pincenez taught him in eighth-grade English, “lay” is a transitive verb, which means you do it to something. “Lie” is an intransitive verb, which means you just do it.

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