What You Can Get at Trader Joe’s

For those of you who do not have a Trader Joe’s in your community, that is unfortunate. I have two of them no more than a five-minute drive from home. If I were to move away, they would likely have to close. Or so it seems to me.

Yesterday I stopped by my TJ’s to pick up “a few things”— you know how that goes. In the produce area, three employees were having a very serious discussion about whether to use lie or lay in a sentence. They were confused. After a minute, I somewhat hesitantly said I was an English teacher, and they seemed glad to see me. (Crazy, I know.) I then explained the words’ distinct uses and how each one is conjugated. When I explained  the past participle of lie, which is lain (as in I have lain in the hammock every day this summer), their jaws dropped. About five shoppers had gathered with my mini-class, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing. I swear, you can find anything at TJ’s, even a wacko English teacher.

In case you’re wondering about the differences between lie and lay, here you go:

I’m guessing that within 10 years the distinctions between these two words will have disappeared. But until July 2028, you might consider sticking to the following rules.

LIE (we’re not going to deal with the situation in which the truth is ignored)—Lie means to lie down, to rest or recline. Every day after lunch, I lie down. I don’t lay down. I lay something down.

LAY means to put or place: Every day when I lie down, I lay my head on my pillow.

That sentence covers the present tense of both verbs. It gets a little sticky when you go into past tenses:

LIE in the past tense is (wait for it) LAY. Yesterday after lunch, I lay down. In the present tense you lie down, but in the past tense you lay down! Remember, I don’t make these rules up; I just teach them.

It gets even worse: in the past perfect tense, when has, had or have is part of your verb, you need LAIN. (I bet you’ve never written or spoken that word in your life—but it’s not too late to start.) Every day after lunch, I always have lain down.

As for the past tenses of LAY, here is what you want: Yesterday I laid my head on my pillow. I always have laid my head on my pillow.

If your head is aching, perhaps you should lay your head on your pillow.

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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