Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lay, Lie, ESL and TV Shows

I was watching a rerun of "Cold Case" last night. One of the suspects in a murder was an ESL teacher. He taught adults. At the beginning of the episode, we saw the detectives interview the ESL teacher/suspect in his classroom. On the chalkboard was written "Dogs lay. People lie." The TV audience may or may not have caught this background scene. I did.

Later in the episode, another suspect corrected himself in an interrogation when he said a sentence that included these words. This tipped off the detectives that there was a connection between this ESL speaker and the ESL teacher.

As it turned out, both the ESL teacher and his student were accomplices to the murder. It was actually the ESL teacher who turned out to be the mastermind behind the murder, and ultimately the murderer. The ESL student was supposed to do the actual dirty work, but the teacher committed the murder before the student could get around to it.

So it was interesting to me that there was actually an ESL teacher as one of the main characters in a TV drama. That doesn't happen too often. Actually, I don't remember it ever seeing it before.

The other interesting thing to me was the use of "lay" and "lie." To this day, this is still one of those things that has not sunk into my head no matter how many times I teach it. I always have to review first before giving a lesson. Then I promptly forget the difference. I think this is the only part of the English language that has consistently given me problems. It's like I have a mental block for some reason. Oh well.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dogs lay? People lie? But that's not right. Dogs lie (for example, on a bed or on the ground) just as people lie (on a bed or on the ground). I'm not an ESL teacher, but my professional life is based on a good working knowledge of the language. (I'm a writer, editor and publisher.)

When is "lay" appropriate? It's correct to say a person lays a book on a table. But after he does that, then the book is *lying* on the table. Same with a dog. A dog could lay a book on the table. Then the book lies on the table.

When a dog or a person is asleep in his bed, he is lying in bed. When a book is reclining on a shelf, the book is lying on the shelf. (When a person, or even a dog, places a book on the shelf, he lays the book on the shelf. Then the book is lying on the shelf -- just like a book, if it could fall asleep, might be lying on a bed.)

That bit about dogs laying and people lying is pure confusion. It's lie, lay, lain (reclining, whether you're a dog, person or book) and lay, laid, laid (placing something or someone -- whether it be a book, dog or person -- somewhere). --DC