Ampersand tells me that I promised him he could be in charge of writing tips. Frankly, he doesn’t write all that well; cats have terrible penmanship, except for the polydactyls. But he really, really wants to do this, so….
Ampersand’s Writing Tips, #1 – Lie/Lay
I have a mnemonic for lie/lay – this is one that really bugs me, not least because I once got a rejection letter from Asimov’s magazine in which they detailed the reasons they turn down stories (it’s a form letter, so it wasn’t personal). One of the reasons was “maybe you didn’t know the tools of your trade” followed by the importance of grammar, punctuation and so on.
The very next issue contained a story in which the opening paragraph talked about “clouds laying over the mountains”. Shoulda been “lying”. The problem is the colloquial use of “lay” as in “have sexual intercourse”. If someone says he was laying on the couch, I don’t want to know any details! La-la-la, fingers in my ears.
So here’s my mnemonic – just a series of short vignettes.
I lie down for a nap every day after lunch. (present)
I lay down yesterday as usual. (simple past)
I was lying on the couch, just drifting off to sleep. (present participle)
After I had lain down, the phone rang. (past perfect)
I lay my books on the table when I come in from school. (present)
I laid them there yesterday as usual. (simple past)
I was laying them down when the phone rang. (present participle)
After I had laid them there, the cat jumped up and knocked them off. (past perfect)
Lay (the naughty one)
I lay my husband every chance I get. (present)
I laid him yesterday before he even got his coat off. (simple past)
At least I’m laying my husband, and not other men! (present participle)
I’ve laid him twelve times in the last week. (past fanta…uh, perfect)
Hope it’s worth a laugh. Ampersand is snickering, anyway, probably because of the books-on-the-floor thing.