Is it natural to say "lying supine"?

The word supine, by definition, already suggests lying [See: http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/supine]. However, I was just confused because one of the sample sentences from the Learner's Dictionary goes this way: He was lying supine on the couch.

I hope someone can shed some light on this.


'Lying supine' is just another example of the type of redundant description that is so common in English, like 'hollow tube', 'period of time', 'free gift', 'frozen ice' etc.

If you're interested in reading more examples, you'll find an extensive list of them here.

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  • Thank you for sharing this information. :) Indeed, it sounds awkward to use "lying" with "supine." I wonder why Learner's Dictionary included a sample sentence with that phrase. – phantomthief Jan 27 '15 at 5:05
  • @phantomthief - Good point. I think we often grow up hearing expressions like this, and because they are such familiar collocations, we tend not to inspect them more closely or question their usefulness. I suspect that sometimes the redundant element is used to add rhetorical impact even though it adds no descriptive value. Probably the compilers of the Learner's Dictionary, on the other hand, were just being complacent or lazy. – Erik Kowal Jan 27 '15 at 5:11
  • Just to be sure, I also sent them this concern. I also want to hear their take on this. ^_^ – phantomthief Jan 27 '15 at 6:06

As a medical term, supine denotes a position or orientation, eg. "with the patient supine". The opposite is prone (stomach to floor).

Technically, it's not really redundant to say lying supine (ie. What are you doing? Lying. In what orientation? Supine'), although it's hard to be supine if you're not actually laying down!

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    I actually think the terms prone and supine imply laying down. You don't use either term standing up. I use them everyday while conferring with several colleagues in relation to biomechanics and we never use them unless considering laying down positions. – Stan Shunpike Jan 27 '15 at 5:25
  • @StanShunpike: no, the terms aren't limited to laying down (medically anyway) eg. the forearm can be in a prone position, although for non-forearms, you would generally say ventral or dorsal. Prone for the forearm is quite common though. – Pete855217 Jan 27 '15 at 5:30
  • Huh. Although we only use it in laying positions, I have heard it used that way in relation to forearms. – Stan Shunpike Jan 27 '15 at 5:35
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    @StanShunpike - You are using prone and supine correctly. When anatomists (or doctors) describe a forearm with the palm upward relative to the ground, the forearm is pronated, not prone; supinated means palm facing the ground. – anongoodnurse Jan 27 '15 at 5:47
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    @medica thank you for clarifying. That makes much more sense. That agrees with how we use it with respect to the foot, ankle, tibia as well. Runners talk about this issue all the time with excessive pronation and supination. – Stan Shunpike Jan 27 '15 at 5:50

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