Lie or Lie?

Lying is bad. Except when you’re tired, and need to go to bed, in which case, it’s good.

Of course, both verbs are identical, but with very different meanings. As is often true in such cases, the resemblance is coincidental, as the two verbs are derived from similar, but distinct Old English verbs.

And, the meanings are so different, that it’s unlikely that one might be confused about which one was being used in a particular case. Still, it’d be nice to have some way to tell the difference between the two, wouldn’t it?

Well if either the past simple form or past participle form of the verb is used, life gets much easier. The verb we use to refer to not telling the truth is a regular verb, which means that the past simple and past participle forms are identical, and resemble a lot of other common verbs. Look:

I don’t lie. (present simple).

I lied to you yesterday. (past simple)

I’ve never lied to you. (past participle)

Easy!

If we’re talking about getting horizontal, that lie is irregular, which means its past simple and past participle forms don’t follow the regular -(e)d pattern. For example:

Actually, no, I won’t give you an example. Not yet. I’m curious to see what you think the two forms of the verb are. So let’s have a little test. Fill the following gaps:

  • I usually lie down for a while if I’m tired. (present simple)
  • Yesterday I ________ down for a while because I was tired. (past simple)
  • Recently I’ve _________ down for a while every time I’ve been tired. (past participle)

What do you think? Not so obvious, maybe? Before you answer, let me confuse things further. Complete this little test:

  • I always lay the table at six. (present simple)
  • Yesterday, I __________ the table at six. (past simple)
  • I’ve _________ the table at six every evening this week. (past participle)

Ah ha! The old lie/lay conundrum! They’re confusing enough on their own, but trying to figure out the past simple and past participle forms of both is very difficult. Here are the answers:

  • I usually lie down for a while if I’m tired. (present simple)
  • Yesterday I lay down for a while because I was tired. (past simple)
  • Recently I’ve lain down for a while every time I’ve been tired. (past participle)

and…

  • I always lay the table at six. (present simple)
  • Yesterday, I laid the table at six. (past simple)
  • I’ve laid the table at six every evening this week. (past participle)

To sum up, these three verbs are conjugated thus:

  • to lie/lied/lied (not telling the truth)
  • to lie/lay/lain (e.g. in bed)
  • to lay/laid/laid

Of course, these three are confusing because they’re so similar, even in their different forms. The past simple form of to lie is lay, which is identical to the base form of to lay? Sure, why not! And if you said I laid down yesterday when I was tired, it wouldn’t sound so odd, would it? Or, I lied down. Sounds kind of OK, doesn’t it?

No wonder it’s hard to know exactly what word is the right one to use.  Just when you think you know your native language you realise that there are some basic things that you’re at least not so sure about. Still, at least you’re not alone in that. I even have to think about if I need to use laid or lain, sometimes.

6 thoughts on “Lie or Lie?

  1. “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” was a question related to one of the conundrums in Lost. it seemed at first that the question was asking “what is located in the shadow….”. However, it was also possible that the question cryptically related to deception (a mysterious shape-shifting smoke-monster perhaps?).

    Turns out, the answer was neither. And we all realised we had wasted innumerable hours watching the show, and reading and discussing countless theories as to all the mysteries it teased us with. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

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