Below is an excerpt from an article, "Lie and Lay Continue to Cause Confusion," written by the syndicated columnist, James Kilpatrick, in the Bioomington, Indiana, Sunday Herald-Times, March 2, 1997.
A few weeks ago, such are the vicissitudes of advancing age, I spent 2 uneventful days in a hospital while a doctor checked my valves. The experience confirmed an impression that has been developing for years: The two most abused verbs in the English language are "lie" and "lay."
Nurses came and went by night and day, each lovelier and more solicitous than the one before. They gave firm instructions:
"Lay down," ordered the first angel of mercy.
"Lie down," I said.
"That's what I said," she said. "You lay down and just stay there."
Five nurses popped in and out. Every one of them insisted that I lay down. So I did. I lay down, using the simple past tense of "to lie," and in time, the senior cardiac mechanic decreed that all my valves were humming, and I went home.
Do you think it is the responsibility of nursing faculties to hold students accountable for speaking and writing in a manner consistent with rules of grammar? I certainly do, and yet I find myself frequently having to explain myself if ever I correct students' grammar. I am told that the misuse of grammar is cultural, and I should respect students' cultural differences. Does the fact that students hear poor English being spoken in their communities excuse them from using the rules of grammar they have been taught throughout their education?
The profession of nursing is struggling to gain respect from associates and the public, but how can this be accomplished if nurses hide their extensive educational backgrounds behind the use of poor grammar? How can nurses engender confidence in their knowledge and skills when they send verbal messages of their lack of education?
Now, I am not advocating that nurses go out and try to impress people with their superior verbal abilities, and I certainly do not believe that being more fluent in nursing jargon will persuade others that nurses are well educated. On the contrary, I believe that simplicity in language use is most often beneficial in our roles as nurses, and the use of good grammar enhances rapport and communication with clients and associates.
I would like to encourage nurses to begin changing their habits of poor grammar usage by the practice of repeatedly using commonly misused verbs in their correct form, for example, when meaning to recline: "Lie down, Mrs. Jones. Lie down, John. Lie down, Sally. You and I lie out in the sun."
The past tense of that verb can also seem confusing, "Yesterday Mrs. Jones lay down. Tuesday John lay down, Friday Sally lay down, and last week you and I lay in the sun." The past participle of that verb is used so infrequently that it hardly deserves to be of major concern. Having used it about five times in my entire life, I know it is, "I have lain in the sun."
What confuses people is that the word lay can also mean "to place," in which case it always is followed by an object. "I lay the book down. Mr. Marsh lays the pillow on the bed. Susy lays the pills down, and now I lay me down to sleep." The past tense is laid. "Mr. Marsh laid his hand on her shoulder, Susy laid the medication on the counter, the hen laid an egg, and I laid my head in my hands." The past participle is also laid. "Susy has laid the book down, and I haue laid my books down also."
Although nurses commonly misuse the forms of lie and lay, other forms of verbs are also misused. I frequently hear misuse of the forms of the verbs to see, go, give, do, eat, and drink. I believe that if nurses could learn to use these verb forms correctly, they could eliminate most of their common errors.
When I hear students using the wrong form of a verb in a sentence, and others are not present, I repeat the sentence, encouraging them to make the correction. If students frequently make mistakes in form usage, they take a short written exercise to help me assess whether they need additional guidance. They write the correct tense of the verb in the following sentences:
In previous attempts, they have (to do) worse.
You have (to do) very well with the amount you have (to eat).
Just as long as she hasn't (to overdo) it, she'll be OK.
I have not (to give) an intramuscular injection.
That's the way she is (to lie).
I signed that I (to give) it.
Judy (to give) it to me.
I've already (to do) this.
I don't think it should have (to go) through.
My patient has just (to drink) it.
After I (to give) it, I signed for it.
He (to sit) up to give his bath.
Earlier we (to give) him his medication.
We (to give) him two eggs for breakfast.
He (to come) in with pain.
He would (to he) and do nothing
Yesterday we (to do) it for them.
I've never (to do) this.
When I (to see) them, I chose them.
Yesterday I (to drink) the milk.
He has been (to he) around the house.
Where has Mr. Linton (to go)?
How much has your client (to eat) today?
John has (to give) me a hard time all week.
Yesterday, I (to come) to the hospital at 7 a.m.
If they make more than one mistake, I instruct them to use correctly the following verbs in writing different sentences for each in the past and past participle tenses: lie, lay, give, do, go, eat, and drink. The students grudgingly complete the exercise and reluctantly accept the worth of the lesson. Is this enough to change these habits of poor grammar? No- but that makes students more aware of their usual mistakes, and when they repeat them, they feel uncomfortable enough to correct themselves. After correctly completing this exercise, one of my students wrote, "I learned a lot, and I done good." I hope she was joking about the latter.
I teach many very bright students. They learn a great number of concepts and facts, and they learn how to use information to solve highly complex problems. There is no reason that they should diminish others' respect for their educational preparation because of grammatical ignorance.
(By the way, the answers to the exercise are as follows: done, done, eaten, overdone, given, lying, gave, gave, done, gone, drunk, gave, sat, gave, came, lie, did, done, saw, drank, lying, gone, eaten, given, came.)
- Kilpatrick, J. (1997, March 2). Lay and lie continue to cause confusion. Sunday Herald-limes, p. A15.