Lie, Lady, Lie: The Enduring Mystery
Okay, take a deep breath. This is a hard one for people. At least it is
if it hasn't been drilled into your head, the way it used to be.
Without getting into too many technicalities, lie is what I do (more than but verbally):
I ask our Italian greyhounds,
Sasha and Rambo, to quit
flying that carpet and lie down.
What contributes to the rampant confusion is two grammatical states that native English speakers generally observe seemingly instinctively with the notable exception of the verb lie, even if we may not know the names for these states, as yet.
Whatever are these states, you ask? The answer you crave is case and tense.
Case indicates the status of the nouns in the sentence (you might consider them actors—who acts being subject and who or what is acted upon being object).
Tense, in English expressed in the verb, is the time at which the event described in the sentence occurred—now versus earlier versus later, dude.
For reasons I will theorize shortly, the verb lie is mangled not only by tense, but also by case, routinely.
Today I laid down. Subjective case, past tense.
Right now, subjective case, present tense, I lie down. I is still subject.
And if I have an object in my hand, I, as subject, might lay it down.
I can convert myself to object, however: Now I lay me down to sleep. This brings us to the colloquial practice of converting oneself to object, sex object ooh la la in fact, and the tsunami of misuse of the verb lie that this common folly has engendered. The fault lies squarely, if not utterly, on the shoulders of that colorful and ever-changing, fluid and descriptive medium by which we, and in particular the young and connected, commune. I'm all for slang—fascinated by its eternal shape-shifting—but in this case it stands condemned. Breathless questions and pronouncements about whether one got laid or laid X or Y have hopelessly scrambled the righteous use of this verb.
Contemplate in addition the contribution of song lyrics, even song titles, to the general confusion (here, rather compulsively, I admit, corrected): Lie, Lady, Lie!
Lie Down, Sally!
No wonder we're confused.
I suspect that at this point the only remedy with any prayer of succeeding is rote memorization.
Even with my mother's drone in my head ever instructing me, in speaking I sometimes hesitate—maybe even get it wrong!—woe is me—while placing the correct tense of this very active (yes, in more ways than one) verb.
What to do?
It helps me if I picture the dog making those compulsive and inexplicable (to us) circles around the place that she evenually lies upon. "Lie down, Tango. Tango, lie down." I lie down now. Yesterday I laid down—past tense.
Sasha, [understood "you" subject] lie down.
And sometimes she complies!
I laid the comb down somewhere [comb is object] and can't find it now—it is mislaid.
Does that help—you don't mislie it, you mislay it. But you don't get mislaid (I know, you might get less-than-explosively ...).
If all this mental posturing gets me too tired, I may just lie down for a spell myself. Omitting the preliminary torso-curling.