Tag Archives: English grammar

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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Copular verbs.

Slicing it thin

by Annie Wei-Yu Kan

Yes, it’s me. I hope you weren’t expecting another filth-fest from Dirk about copulation with all sorts of people, places, and things. I’m happy to say that that knuckle-dragger isn’t getting this bit of low-hanging fruit. This is a natural topic for dealing with through cooking.

As you might expect, I cook a lot. This happens to mean that I read recipes often. And one thing I see often in recipes is this:

100 g of prosciutto, thinly sliced

or this:

Thinly slice one medium onion

What I don’t see so much is this:

2 russet potatoes, sliced thin

You see the difference, right?

Well, let me state it flatly: it’s a question of whether you slice something thinly or slice something thin.

Some people object to saying slice thin, or pack flat or feel good or or or. “These are verbs,” they say. “You don’t modify a verb with an adjective.” And then they make some annoying immature sound of misguided exasperation.

It’s true that whatever you modify a verb with is an adverb. It’s also true that you use nouns or adjectives for predicates. A state of being, or the result of an action, is not an adverb.

For instance, I don’t say

I am happily.


I am irritatedly.


He is disgustingly.

The verb there is a copula: it joins the subject to another thing or to a state of being. It’s like a cooking method that takes ingredients and makes servable food out of them. We know that there is more than one way to do that: fry, bake, freeze. And the verb be is not the only copular verb.

Let me show you some verbs. You’ll see how an adverb shows how the action is done, but an adjective shows a result or effect of the action or a quality of the subject.

This wine smells good.

This wine taster smells well.

Your cat tastes cautiously.

Your chicken tastes salty.

This wine smells well.

This wine taster smells good.

Your cat tastes salty.

Your chicken tastes cautiously.

In these cases, the verb is only copular when it’s taking the adjective, not the adverb. You can see that a wine smelling good is actually a good wine being smelled, and a chicken tasting salty is actually a salty chicken being tasted. The subject and object are switched.

There are also verbs that can be copular without switching subject and object.

This basil is growing slowly.

This basil is growing big.

This basil is slowly growing big.

And there are also verbs that can join the object, not the subject, to another thing or quality:

Make the cake carefully.

Make the cake good.

Make the cake a big one.

Carefully make the cake good.

So you can clearly see that there are plenty of verbs that can take an adjective to describe a result or quality or effect. One of them is pack:

Pack your clothes flat, not rolled up or crumpled.

If you pack them flatly, that’s like stating something flatly, only you’re packing, not stating.

Another is feel:

I feel bad.

If you say I feel badly, it means you do a bad job of feeling someone or something. There’s really too much of that already, so don’t.

And of course another copular verb is slice. If you slice an onion so that the slices are thin, you are slicing it thin.

Can you say you are slicing it thinly? Is thinness a quality of the action? If you are slicing it slowly and slicing it carefully, then the action of slicing is slow and careful. Can you say the action of slicing is thin? I leave it to you whether the distinction between slice it thin and slice it thinly is a major one or is slicing the matter quite thin.

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