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He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set.

Is to lay a typo? If I'm not mistaken, one can only lie on one's stomach, not lay on it.

For this to be a duplicate question, I would have had to ask, again, what are the differences about the intransitive verb to lie and the transitive verb to lay. But this is not what my question is about. Since this question is not about the textbook differences between these two verbs, it cannot really be a duplicate question as some people on this site vehemently, though pointlessly, have been arguing. Rather, my question is contextual, not theoretical. I don't want to know what these difference are in general (as they're theoretically laid out in every English grammar). I merely want to know why in the context of the excerpt I've quoted the verb that was used is not in keeping with the grammatical guidelines laid out in the answer to the question that my own is supposedly a duplicate of. So anyone insisting on saying that a contextual question is the same as a theoretical question is just ill-meant and ignorant of the actual thing that I have in fact asked. I hope this is a clear enough edit for everybody on this site.

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    Then you must know your answer, is that not so? It is probably not a typo; people make that mistake all the time. It's the NYT; they don't edit typos out of first-hand accounts. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 18:10
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    Of course you can. Are you actually telling me that if a man with a gun screamed at you, LAY DOWN ON YOUR STOMACH RIGHT NOW!, you would answer, "I can't do that, but I can lie down"? Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 18:21
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    But then you can lay things on your midsection or your abdomen, kind of like the way those scrumptious, half-naked woman lay all kinds of fruits and delicacies on their tummies for men to partake of. Reminds me of how literal those news readers are who say, "The victim was shot in the stomach." How do they know he was shot in the stomach? Perhaps he was shot in the ABDOMEN and the bullet completely missed his stomach. As they say in western movies, "He was gut shot"! Now even I can understand that. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 18:34
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    @PatrickCălinescu you have stumbled upon one of these hot-button issues in English language usage. There is a long history of people coming to this site with the intention of promoting their personal agenda on some question of usage, and it seems you were inadvertently fingered as one of those people.
    – nohat
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 19:36
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    Susan is quite correct in her initial judgement. it is petty to argue that the question is not identical when the syntax and semantics involved are. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 20:45

2 Answers 2

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As one definition for lay, Merriam-Webster gives

intransitive verb

2: nonstandard: LIE

they add the following usage note on use of intransitive lay meaning lie:

Lay has been used intransitively in the sense of “lie” since the 14th century. The practice was unremarked until around 1770; attempts to correct it have been a fixture of schoolbooks ever since. Generations of teachers and critics have succeeded in taming most literary and learned writing, but intransitive lay persists in familiar speech and is a bit more common in general prose than one might suspect. Much of the problem lies in the confusing similarity of the principal parts of the two words. Another influence may be a folk belief that lie is for people and lay is for things. Some commentators are ready to abandon the distinction, suggesting that lay is on the rise socially. But if it does rise to respectability, it is sure to do so slowly: many people have invested effort in learning to keep lie and lay distinct. Remember that even though many people do use lay for lie, others will judge you unfavorably if you do.

In short, yes, you can lay on your stomach, and folks have been doing so since the 14th century. Educated native speakers of English use the verb lay in this way all the time, and, as such, it is perfectly grammatical. It is, however, “nonstandard”—meaning dispreferred by those who would exert power by controlling language.

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  • Not to mention the fact that the OP's question was completely sidestepped. Nice manoeuvre.
    – MPW
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 4:25
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You're correct: it should be "lie". If the subject is performing an action on another object, use lay: "John told me to lay the dress on the bed for you." If the subject is performing the action on him- or herself, use lie: "John told me to lie on the bed for you."

Note that you can cause a weird structure using these rules; when talking about yourself, for example, you can make an object out of yourself and successfully use lay: "Now I lay me down to sleep" as the popular prayer goes.

EDIT: In your case, you could use lay if you said "He told me to lay my stomach on the floor and play with my brother's electric train set", but this is awkward to me; best to use "lie".

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  • No, me is quite simply the object. It is just an older usage, a survival of a time when the oblique forms of personal pronouns were used as reflexives as well. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 19:19

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