Causative verbs.

Lying about getting laid

by Dirk E. Oldman

The causative in English gives us what I like to call the frat-boy lexical problem.

You see, if you meet a frat boy at a party, he’s probably gonna have a lot to say about how many chicks he’s laying all the time. But you can never be sure how much he’s really laying, and how much he’s just lying.

Now, it’s true, lie and lay aren’t the only intransitive-causative pair in English. But in general the others don’t get confused so much. No one really says Are you gonna fall that tree? Because that tree might fell on you.

But someone might say Are you just gonna lay there, or are you gonna lie that cookbook down and pick up the whipped cream? And especially all sorts of people all the time say lay when they really are supposed to say lie.

I’m not some knuckle-rapping schoolmarm, but there are some things it’s just worth getting right most of the time, and knowing when you’re not getting them right. If you’re not really laying, if you’re just lying, you’re gonna get into trouble eventually if you really think you were laying. The person you think you were laying will have something to say about it. I don’t think that takes too much exercise of the imagination to figure out.

So here’s how it works. There aren’t too many cases of this left in English, but centuries ago it was a normal thing to use a past tense for a causative. What that means is that if you wanted to say “make A do B,” you could just use the past tense of B, use A for the subject, and skip the make. It’s sorta like our resultative conversion, where we say Take these panties and confetti them instead of and make them into confetti, only with the causative we used a past-tense verb instead of a noun, and we’re talking about an action and not a result.

Think about that. Imagine if, instead of

I’m gonna make you scream, I’m gonna make you squeal, I’m gonna make you come

you coud say

I’m gonna screamed you, I’m gonna squealed you, I’m gonna came you

That sounds pretty ████ed up to our ears now, so it’s no surprise that we might get a little confused about it. But just think of it in terms of frat boys. Those guys are always on the make. But you know, they have no self-control. It’s over before it starts. If one of them actually gets a girl to lie down, well, boom, that’s it, and it’s in the past already: lay.

Well, that’s fitting, anyway. Their entire approach to getting girls to go with them is to try to get something past them.

So, oh, yeah, if you’re not completely sure of the verb forms, now you can remember that lay is the past tense of lie. And you know, even if a frat boy does lay, he’s gonna lie about it anyway. He might, for instance, say it lasted more than 30 seconds, or that he even remembers it.

Here are the full forms for this one:

Today I lie down. Yesterday I lay down. All week I have lain down.

Now I lay you on the bed. Yesterday I laid you on the kitchen floor. I have also laid you in the garden.

You see that the past forms of lie end in y and n, as in yes and no. Think “Did you lie? Yes or no!” And you see that the past forms of lay both end in d. Which takes us back to the frat boys, who always want to lay girls with double-D’s. (That means big tits, in case that wasn’t clear.)

Probably one thing that’s gotten so many people confused is Now I lay me down to sleep. Maybe if whoever wrote that had written Now I lay myself down to sleep it would have been less confusing.

Now, how about those other causative forms? Well, there’s fall and fell, as in trees, and then there are some that were made that way originally but the forms have changed over time: drink and drench, rise and raise, sit and set. Some of the time we can just use the same form: Fly me to the moon, for instance. And there are a bunch of cases where it actually went the other way – we make an intransitive from the transitive but use the object of the transitive for the subject of the intransitive: Did you break the window? No, it just broke. So there are cases where it’s really easy.

Frat boys would like lie and lay to be easy. Sucks to be them.

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2 thoughts on “Causative verbs.

  1. Reblogged this on Project Chiron and commented:
    The Nasty Guide’s take on the causative, or “the frat-boy lexical problem.”

  2. Hare.E.Bottom says:

    If you want my comeback, you’ll have to scrape it off your ex-wife’s teeth.

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