Welcome to the first of MEI’s Grammar Hacks, a handy little series that’ll give you the chance to brush up on what you already know, or get introduced to some fresh grammatical concepts.
Today we’re looking at Transitive vs Intransitive verbs.
You can see in the above that the dog is humorously correcting his owner for the misuse of the transitive verb “lay”, when he should have used the intransitive verb “lie”. The dog is right of course. Are they ever wrong?
Let’s break down the reasons why.
“To lay” means to “to put something or someone down” and is an example of a transitive verb. A transitive verb is one that must be followed by a direct object, the receiver of the action.
For instance, the sentence “Jessica lay the bedsheet on her son as he was sleeping” is grammatically correct, as the transitive verb “lay” is followed by the direct object, “bedsheet”.
Now let’s look at “lie”.
“To lie” is defined as “to rest or decline” and is an example of an intransitive verb. An intransitive verb requires no direct object, no receiver.
For instance, the sentence “the kids are driving me crazy, I need to lie down” works grammatically, as “lie” is not followed by a direct object.
Back to the cartoon. We can see that the dog is indeed correct and the owner is wrong – “lay down” makes zero grammatical sense. Nada. Zilch.
As “lay” is a transitive verb, it needs to be used in conjunction with a direct object, which the owner doesn’t use. If the owner was telling someone to “lay the dog down”, he would be in the clear. In this example, “the dog” is the direct object.
As it is though, he’s just been outsmarted by a dog. Oh oh.
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