Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 6:16am

Ok, I am officially confused.

Lie is an intransitive verb. Past tense lay.

ex: "I lie down." "Yesterday, I lay down."

Lay is a transitive verb. It takes a direct object. Past tense laid.

ex: "I lay some flowers on the tombstone." "Yesterday, I laid some flowers on the tombstone."

I get all of that. BUT.....

How does one deal with one's own head? My instinct is to use the transitive verb "lay," because a head seems like a direct object:

"I lay my head down." "Yesterday, I laid my head down."

But then I think, how can my head, which is a part of my body, be a direct object? It's not an object at all. It's my head! So, the grammar nut in me wants to write:

"I lie my head down." "Yesterday, I lay my head down."

WHICH IS CORRECT? Authoritative sources would be appreciated.

Thanks!

Pushpaw

 

manda lynn's picture
manda lynn from Ohio is reading Of Love and Other Demons (again) June 1, 2012 - 6:39am

lay my head down. yesterday, i laid my head down.

 

this is one of those cases where brain-logic and reading flow are gong to win out whatever the actual gramatical rule here is. sometimes you have to do that.

because "I burst my elbow on the doorframe" is never going to be RIGHT. even if it's technically CORRECT. 

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 1, 2012 - 6:49am

I busted the doorframe to splinters with my totally manly elbow.

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 6:58am

Thanks for the response Manda Lynn. It could of course be a stylistic choice. But what I really want to know is what is the grammar rule? I would tend to always default to the grammatical choice. So does anyone have a definitive source for the lie/lay grammar rule as it pertains to heads, specifically? (There are lots of sources for the lie/lay grammar rules in general, just not specific to heads.)

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 1, 2012 - 7:01am

@Manda - I love you. Best post ever.

manda lynn's picture
manda lynn from Ohio is reading Of Love and Other Demons (again) June 1, 2012 - 7:01am

i don't know if you'll find one for this reason, is the thing, i mean. like when rules break rules even n the rule books simply because they sound and look wrong so an exception must be made.

maybe YOU are making the rule/exception to the rule right now.

manda lynn's picture
manda lynn from Ohio is reading Of Love and Other Demons (again) June 1, 2012 - 7:03am

@ dwayne - i love you, mr. kentucky - i'm close to you, being in that dirty south southern tip of ohio that pokes between KY and WV.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 1, 2012 - 7:04am

I usually go to Grammar Girl for these questions.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 1, 2012 - 7:09am

You're going to make me blush Miss Lynn.

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 8:12am

Hi howie - yes, I checked grammar girl. No dice. Lots of lie/lay rules, nothing specific to heads that I could locate.

But...I did just find this post in the Grammar Check archives. http://www.grammarcheck.com/archives/07-2005.htm

Note the sections in bold.

Highlights from the post:

"Let's begin with two easy ways to remember when to use "lie" or "lay." If the first one doesn't help, move on to the second (or vice versa).

1. Try the "rest/place" test. Substitute a form of "lie" or "lay" with a form of "rest" or "place." If a form of "rest" makes more sense, use a form of LIE. If a form of "place" makes more sense, use a form of LAY.

Rest (rested, resting) = lie (lay, lain, lying)

Place (placed, placing) = lay (laid, laid, laying)

2. Use LIE (or one of its conjugated forms) when referring to something physically "connected" to the person or thing doing the lying or laying. Use LAY (or one of its conjugated forms) when referring to something physically "disconnected" from the person or thing doing the lying or laying.

Before we move on to some examples, let's look at why using "lie" and "lay" is so problematic.

PAST TENSE: LAY OR LAID?

Example: Yesterday, I (lay/laid) my head on the pillow for comfort.

1. "Yesterday, I rested my head on the pillow for comfort" makes more sense than the macabre "Yesterday, I placed my head on the pillow for comfort," but both may make sense to some people, so move on to the second method if you're not sure.

2. Who lay or laid something down? I did. What was lay or laid down? My head, which is connected physically to the person who did the lying or laying (one hopes). The correct verb is "lay."

Yesterday, I LAY my head on the pillow for comfort."

manda lynn's picture
manda lynn from Ohio is reading Of Love and Other Demons (again) June 1, 2012 - 8:42am

does the song "Lay Lady Lay" make you insane?

manda lynn's picture
manda lynn from Ohio is reading Of Love and Other Demons (again) June 1, 2012 - 8:45am

okay, so it sounds okay if you're using lay with head in past tense, but lie with head in present still sounds way off. 

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 10:22am

I tend to agree with you manda that it sounds kind of strange to say "I lie my head down." What also doesn't sound right to me is the past tense "I laid my head down" which I find all the time in use. I just can't get the image out of my head of someone setting their decapitated head down as though it were a cabbage.

I guess that, following this rule, the following would be correct grammar too:

"I lie my arm on the table." "Yesterday, I lay my arm on the table."

"I lie my foot on the ottoman." "Yesterday, I lay my foot on the ottoman."

Of course, that doesn't mean they sound good. Most people would probably say "set" or "placed" or "rested" instead of lie/lay when arms, feet and other body parts are involved.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 1, 2012 - 12:06pm

Pretty sure it's "I lay my head on the pillow" like "I lay my notebook on the table." This is sort of ugly because it reads like there's a disembodied head, like said above, but by confining it to a singular body part you're treating it as an object, I believe.

I usually just try to find less invasive sentences that skim over this body orientation information and get to the more interesting stuff faster. It's hard, and if I can't figure out a way to show where a person's body is like that then I'll just detail it more or make it weird, so the person reading might take a pause and physically try to stick their own head behind their armpit or something. I feel okay with taking a reader out of the story if it's something kinda fun, and it's better than taking them out of it by using boring, shitty descriptions, at least if they're like me.

manda lynn's picture
manda lynn from Ohio is reading Of Love and Other Demons (again) June 1, 2012 - 12:12pm

i've really enjoyed this discussion, though :)

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 1:04pm

So, basically, Renfield, you agree that saying "I lay my head down" instead of "I lie my head down" makes it sound like the head is cut off or a separate object, but this is ok with you because using the transitive verb makes the "singular body part" into a direct object. 

I hate to split hairs (actually, I love to, which is what makes me a grammar geek), but aren't you saying that using the transitive verb turns the head into a direct object, and therefore the head is a direct object? I think the issue is that the head is never a direct object when attached to the subject, even if you try to turn it into one by using a transitive verb with it. This is because the head, when connected to the subject of a sentence (whether that subject is first, second or third person), is a part of the subject. So it can never be a direct object to that subject in the way that a ball or a hat can be.

This grammar issue is fascinating because it becomes somehow ontological. The subject (grammatically) refers to a real person (ontologically), and that ontological subject's head is attached; therefore, the ontological subject's head cannot be turned into a direct object (a separate ontological thing) by a trick of grammar. In essence, real life prevails over words when "I lie my head down" is used. The fact of the head being a part of the "I" is given precedence over the fact that the sentence form matches exactly that of a transitive verb, in which the noun coming after the verb is a direct object.

In any case, it really does seem to be a stylistic thing for writers...but I'm going to stick with the grammatically correct way (when I am able to edit my own work well enough). If only because it soothes my nerves to do so.

And the fact that I've gone on so long and in such detail about this says nothing about me at all. No stick up my arse, and no obsessive tendencies.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 1, 2012 - 1:22pm

I will never use lay/lie in a story again.  You've cured me of those words.  My head hit the pillow.  My head sunk into the pillow.  I pushed the pillow down on her face to smother the screams.  I pillowed my head.  I headbutted the pillow to death.  I skullfucked the pillow.  I threw my head into the pillow like an ape on fire.

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 1:28pm

Howie - your solution seems escapist, but I like it.

GaryP's picture
GaryP from Denver is reading a bit of this and that June 1, 2012 - 1:37pm

Now I lay me down to sleep....

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 1, 2012 - 3:18pm

So, basically, Renfield, you agree that saying "I lay my head down" instead of "I lie my head down" makes it sound like the head is cut off or a separate object, but this is ok with you because using the transitive verb makes the "singular body part" into a direct object.

 

Yes, also from everything I've heard it's technically correct.

(In these examples, 'your head' is the direct object.  Remember, lie cannot have a direct object.)

 

Who lay or laid something down? I did. What was lay or laid down? My head, which is connected physically to the person who did the lying or laying (one hopes). The correct verb is "lay."

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 4:45pm

Except the "lay" in the example is for an action that happened yesterday - it's the past tense of "lie," the intransitive verb.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 1, 2012 - 5:04pm

In the original example of, "Yesterday, I lay my head down," according to those links it would correctly be, "Yesterday, I laid my head down." You, your metaphysical sense of being, which is the subject, did the act of laying, while your physical body is the object being laid down.

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 1, 2012 - 6:56pm

According to the link I posted, "Yesterday, I laid my head down" is incorrect. It makes the head a direct object, when it's attached to the subject's body, so it's part of the subject. The subject cannot be it's own direct object. So "Yesterday, I lay my head down" is the correct way to write it.

It's confusing but it's all in the link.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 1, 2012 - 7:29pm

Ah yes, you're right about that link, I read it wrong. I'm sorry. I totally disagree with that one, then. Every other place I see says different after some googling. Here's another:

You almost never mean: I need to lay down You almost always mean: I need to lie down Why: This is another case where people think (wrongly) that a particular word sounds more “educated.” Lay and lie are not interchangeable. Lie doesn’t require an object: “I need to lie down.” But lay does: “I need to lay my head down.” Confusion kicks in because of the past tense of both verbs—lie becomes lay; lay becomes laid—but the usage stays the same.

and here's an article using "my head" as a direct object example

"Dinsdale, he was a nice boy. He nailed my head to a coffee table." [Their italics]

Maybe think of it more as if your head was the subject of the sentence, then it'd be "Yesterday, my head lay down."

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons June 1, 2012 - 8:21pm

The head is a direct object. If it is the same as the subject, you would not need to use the specific word in the first place. Simply an opinion, not grounded in any real scholarship.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind June 2, 2012 - 1:06am

I like Howie's way of doing things. Whenever something confuses me and I don't know the proper way to use it, I find an alternative. 

I'm a grammar geek, too. But I made the decision a long time ago to not concern myself with grammar while writing; rather, I like to write the way people talk. Minus the ums, uhs, and awkward pauses, of course. 

I'm of the mindset that you must know the rules before you break them, so you know when and where to do so for the best effect. "The box in which I keep my love letters" has a different feel than "The box I keep my love letters in." 

When it comes to puzzles like the one you've come across, however... I choose to avoid the issue completely.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind June 2, 2012 - 1:07am

I think we need to sticky this thread. For grammatical purposes and such. 

/double post

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 2, 2012 - 1:36am

Please no sticky.

Pushpaw's picture
Pushpaw from Canada is reading Building Stories by Chris Ware June 2, 2012 - 5:35am

Renfield - That's why I was hoping for Authoritative Sources (capitals intended). You can find both options on the internet. But, quite frankly, regarding grammar issues, I don't trust the general internet. So, although I found a website supporting my position, I feel shaky about both positions still.

Very upsetting.

Covewriter - my head can be a direct object to you, but not to myself. Of course, this is where the confusion sets in, because in the sentence "I lie my head down" the head appears grammatically as a direct object. But in reality, it's unable to be a direct object. It seems I'm in the minority in thinking it makes more sense to respect the subject's wholeness and connectedness to itself. Probably very old fashioned of me. But I still don't think we've arrived at a definitive answer on this discussion thread.

 

J.Dulouz's picture
J.Dulouz from New England is reading The Sirens of Titan June 2, 2012 - 6:45am

But I still don't think we've arrived at a definitive answer on this discussion thread.             

 

That answer may never come, Pushpaw. I'm still living my life in fear that someone will ask me what shape a tire is. Not because the question itself is frightening, but because I honestly don't know! Sure, there were a few times I thought I knew. I even said "yes, that's it!". But then someone else would come along and offer another equally valid arguement. To this day, the mere mention of the word "tire" makes me want to lay/lie my head on some railroad tracks and wait for a train (with wheels) to come along.

 

(I've had a lot of coffee this morning.)

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 2, 2012 - 6:55am

It varies by tire.

J.Dulouz's picture
J.Dulouz from New England is reading The Sirens of Titan June 2, 2012 - 6:57am

Exactly!

J.Dulouz's picture
J.Dulouz from New England is reading The Sirens of Titan June 2, 2012 - 6:57am

*twitch*

 

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money June 2, 2012 - 8:04am

@Pushpaw -- Hmmm... I've never heard of an english grammar rule before that said, "transitive verbs take direct objects except when those direct objects are body parts." Body parts can be direct objects too.

Look at common phrases we use every day:

"I had my back against the wall."

"I broke my neck getting the groceries in the car"

"We busted a gut laughing"

"The sight of that hairless cat really curddled my blood."

'flexing my muscles'

'shooting his mouth off'

We use body parts as direct objects all the time... why shouldn't we?

And to bring lay/lie back into this, don't forget the very old fashioned children's prayer:

"Now I lay me down to sleep..." Where the entire subject is taken as the direct object. The subject can also be the object, that's the beauty of having both a subjective and objective case for personal pronouns. If we couldn't have them both, we would never have needed to make a distinction between the two.

And these conceptual inferences are more than 'old-fashioned' but timeless: the snake eating its tail, Zeus birthing Athena from his own head...

While this has been somewhat interesting, I can't find any evidence to back up your premise. I've been looking all morning for another reference to that rule and have only found the negative in an MIT linguistics course exam:

3. Body-Part Objects
In English descriptions of the natural movements of body parts use a transitive verb, as in She raised a hand or She tossed her head, taking the body part as object. In some languages, however, the body parts are expressed as obliques in such descriptions. In Russian, for instance, they are expressed as instrumental NPs, as in (7). This possibility suggests that these (uses of) verbs should be distinguished from prototypical agent-patient verbs. Is there semantic and/or syntactic evidence from English or another language you know for not treating these verbs as prototypical transitive verbs?

(7) Moved body parts are objects in English, but instrumental NPs in Russian: vskinut’ golovoj ‘toss head-INST’, dvigat’ kryl’jami ‘move wings-INST’, ˇsevelit’ pal’- cami ‘move fingers-INST’

Now, your stipulation here seems to be asserting that there is indeed a difference in the use of body parts as objects in English, and while there is a weird sort of reasoning behind it that I can kind of grasp, simply putting your foot down and saying that "if it's part of the subject, it can't be a direct object" is just you running your mouth off. I've given many, even idiomatic cases, that we use our own body parts as objects in our transitive verb constructions. (There's evidence to suggest that our whole conception of consciousness (indeed perhaps conscioussness itself) was born from a place of not understanding the connectedness of things we take for granted today... including body parts at a conceptual level if you want to extrapolate, but to be precise Julien Jaynes' work was primarily about conceptual constructions and not physical ones... but I digress.)

Now, that's not to say that there aren't remnants of other borrowed languages that do indeed make these sort of distinctions... and English is excellent at appropriating other languages. But it seems to me that in usage, "my head" can be a separate grammatical object from the rest of my body, even if "I" is the implied subject, otherwise "I" would never be able to stick "my head" up "my own ass..."

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated June 2, 2012 - 6:00pm

There ain't no reason to keep going on this.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 3, 2012 - 12:00pm

There ain't no reason to not keep going on this.

Suprtay's picture
Suprtay September 15, 2014 - 11:27am

@Pushpaw that was an awesome way to explain what to do with ones head. :-) (I know I'm a little late, but...)Thank you!

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami September 15, 2014 - 3:31pm

Well that depends, do you wish to tell not tell the truth or go to sleep?