Lay a lie on me

Snow Patrol’s hit song “Chasing Cars” is well known:

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Of course, song lyrics often disobey the normal rules of English usage. But technically, “If I lay here” is past tense. The opening lines of this song are actually saying If I was lying here, If I was just lying here. But this isn’t what they mean to say. They mean to say If I lie here.

By the time we get to the question, in the third line of the song — Would you lie with me — they get the present tense right. (Why did they change from lay to lie? Is there a rule that says you switch to lie if you add with? Nope.)

English is a complicated language, especially when it comes to lay and lie and all their various forms.

I lie today — meaning I’m lying down. (You can say, for example: “Leave it where it lies.”)

I lay yesterday — meaning I was lying down. (Leave it where it lay. Meaning: It was fine right where it was.)

But you can also lay something down today — although this is a different word, actually. And if you did it yesterday, you didn’t lie it down; you laid it down.

None of which has anything to do with telling a lie. You lie today, you lied yesterday. If you fibbed in bed, you lied as you lay. It sounds wrong, but it’s right.

Then again, if you’re writing a song, you do whatever sounds right, I guess. La la la!

3 thoughts on “Lay a lie on me

  1. LOL – you’re right of course! In trying to make the transitive/intransitive point (and sneak in the lovely “lain”), I bungled the past/present tense! So yes, Today I lie on the sofa, yesterday I lay on the sofa, I have been lying on the sofa, I have lain on the sofa … At some point, with all this lying about, I will be “laid” to rest – because then I will be an object! (I think … this verb muddles my brain!)

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  2. And just to make it even more complicated – it also changes (lie versus lay) based on transitive/intransitive factors. So I “lay” the book on the table (transitive – action of the verb moves forward onto “book”), but I “lie” on the sofa (too much, really). Add the past, and it becomes hideous – I “laid” the book on the table, but also, I “laid” on the sofa (you can see why the present tense has blurred when the past tense can’t keep itself separate). Past participle – just to make everyone completely insane – used to be I “have laid” the book on the table, but (wait for it) I “have lain” on the sofa for much too long. “Lain” has gone the way of “proven” and “shall” … but it’s a lovely old chestnut to pull out at parties and “lay” on the table.

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    1. Huh. I thought “I laid on the sofa” was wrong. I thought it had to be “I lay on the sofa,” meaning “I reclined.”

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