Which is correct?

  1. My vision widened that day, and I began to see the trap that lay ahead for most people.

  2. My vision widened that day, and I began to see the trap that lie ahead for most people.

Or maybe both are incorrect and some future tense of lie must be used?

I am confused because someone is talking about his past and others’ future that may or may not have faced the trap by the present. The trap the author talks about is kind of a fact of life.

  • 1
    To improve my answer, in your examples, are you speaking in the past tense or in the present tense? – user305707 Jul 28 '18 at 17:30
  • It is a statement from a book.He is talking about 'that day'. – Learner47 Jul 31 '18 at 14:22

Assuming you change 'lie' to 'lies' in the second variant, both sentences would be correct, but have a slightly different emphasis.

You need to change 'lie' to 'lies' because 'the trap' is third person singular and requires an 's' in present indicative. (If you google: "Lie verb table" you will get lots of hits on the grammatic form. I'm linking to one here).

In the first, the past tense is used consistently. The account is all in the past: began to see the trap that lay ahead. (From the perspective of the writer both events are in the past. But at the point that he began to see the trap, the trap was in the future; thus 'ahead')

In the second the indication is that at that (past) time he began to see a trap that still or generally lies ahead for most people.

I realise from your comment that you didn't quite understand, so I'll see if I can make it clearer. Imagine I'm writing now as an adult about an event from childhood. I was learning to swim.

I had had three swimming lessons and decided I could swim, but I did not know about the trap that lay ahead. I swam out into the ocean as far as I possibly could, but there were strong undercurrents and I could not swim back. In the end I was rescued by a lifeguard.

(In the example, the trap does not lie ahead from my present day perspective. But it lay ahead before I swam out into the ocean -- thus 'lay'.)

I'm still an adult and writing now about something else from childhood.

I was 4 years old and assumed I would live forever. I did not know then about the trap (death) that lies ahead for all of us mortal creatures.

(This 'trap' lies ahead from my present day perpective.)

I hope that helps.

  • Good and to the point answer but are you sure ?, I am asking because you wrote 'imo'.Can you confirm from a resource ?.Also in the book the 1st statement was given(not second) and the trap was kind of a fact of life and is general ,so I thought the second statement should be used that's why the question .Also what is wrong with lie ? What would the sentence mean if lie is used instead of lies ?. Sorry for the late reply I'm new here and forgot that I had an account. – Learner47 Jul 31 '18 at 14:50
  • Yes, I'm sure! I wrote 'imo', because the other commenter had a different opinion. The resource in this case was my own knowledge of English as a native speaker. I don't have time at this moment, but if noone else does, I'll search out some verb tables and references later. Grammatically you cannot use 'lie' in the second sentence; 'it lies' is the present form, third person indicative. – S Conroy Jul 31 '18 at 18:04
  • @Learner47 In the meantime I've put some more info into the answer which may help. – S Conroy Aug 1 '18 at 0:00

Lay can either be used as a transitive verb (one that requires a direct object) or as the past tense of lie. If you’re speaking in the present tense in your example, then you should use lies ahead, since there is no direct object. And make sure to say “lies ahead,” as “trap” is singular, not plural.

Then again, if you are speaking in the past tense, then you would say that the trap “lay ahead,” even though it sounds like a present usage—the past tense for the transitive verb lay would be laid.

  • Which sentence do you prefer ? The author talks about his past but others future . – Learner47 Jul 26 '18 at 15:05
  • 1
    @Learner47 It’s not about what I prefer. It’s about what is grammatically correct. – user305707 Jul 26 '18 at 15:13
  • @Learner47 If you are talking in the past tense in your example, then you should use the singular intransitive past verb “lays.” – user305707 Jul 26 '18 at 15:14
  • Sorry, but this is very confusing. Are you advocating the usage of the past tense of the verb lie with an "s" (lays)? In other words forming a past tense inflection? From your answer : "if you are speaking in the past tense, then you would say that the trap “lays ahead,” " – Cascabel Jul 26 '18 at 15:50
  • The OP wanted to know what is correct. As there is no direct object in the OP’s example, the OP must use the intransitive verb “lies.” If the OP is speaking in the past tense, the OP must use the past tense of “lies”, which is “lay.” – user305707 Jul 26 '18 at 15:55

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