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Prince's Journal, Entry #1.

Tonight I will get a headstart over my brothers and sisters, and set forth on my quest while they lay asleep.

LAY

From what I understand, the verb after while should be used in its present tense because previously the prince used Future Simple tense. The usage of Future Simple and then Past Simple would be perplexing to say the least.

I see two reasons why lay was used there:

  1. Prince made a typo.
  2. The archaic present tense of lie was lay, or some other flavor of [REDACTED].

So please tell me, why was lay used here? Did I miss something?

EDIT: I'm well aware of the difference between lay and lie, it's just that I didn't expect to see such a mistake in a widely acclaimed game.

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    It's an error, albeit a common one, even for native speakers. It should read while they lie asleep. Even that sounds a little awkward - while they sleep sounds better. Head start should also be written as two separate words, and the more common preposition to use with it is on (not over: you get a head start on someone or an advantage over someone). – TypeIA Jul 7 at 14:13
  • Many people still distinguish the transitive verb lay from the intransitive lie. many do not: this is one way in which English has been changing. Many of those who still distinguish them like to castigate other people's English as wrong or an error. – Colin Fine Jul 7 at 15:17
  • There is nothing archaic about this at all. to lie asleep (simple present tense)//lay asleep (simple past tense). However, as Type1A said, it should be: while they lie asleep. I have already answered this question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/162253/… – Lambie Jul 7 at 15:30
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Yes, this is an error by the game's writer; it should be "lie". Confusion between "lay" and "lie" is a very common mistake for native English speakers. I wouldn't be surprised if the two words merge entirely in another hundred years or so -- it seems a little silly to have two similar but separate words for such similar concepts.

That said, that phrase feels a little odd to me. It's meant to read as if it's slightly archaic, since the Prince's journal is from hundreds of years ago, but it doesn't quite work. I would have recommended that the writer either say while they sleep or while they lie abed (if you want to be a bit poetic and old-timey).

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  • It does sound imitation archaic to my ears too (+1). – mdewey Jul 8 at 15:20
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The person doing the writing simply does not know grammatical English. "Lie" means to be passive and unmoving whereas "lay" means to take a specific kind of action. The whole point is that the prince is active while his siblings are not.

Why do I believe that the writer does not know English grammar? Because just a few sentences earlier he wrote "he has sent my siblings and I on a quest" There is no way that "I" is a typo for "me."

There is no reason to believe that producers of video games devote substantial resources to ensuring good grammar.

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    Further complicated because the word lay forms both the present tense of one verb (they lay bricks) and the past tense of another (they lay down). Moreover, lie has another past tense form lied, depending on the sense. It's a grammatical spider's web. – Ronald Sole Jul 7 at 15:05
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    Not a coincidence: historically lay is a causitive of lie (as well as its past), as fell is of fall, and raise of rise. This kind of formation is no longer productive in English, though. – Colin Fine Jul 7 at 15:19
  • Ahh the ablaut. Thanks RS and CF for the historical insight. – Jeff Morrow Jul 7 at 16:00
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    To be fair, substituting I for me when attempting to sound high-class and proper is super common among native english speakers who are otherwise very well spoken and grammatically accurate. We tend to think of "me" as being a more casual word and it takes a moment of thought to say, "No, no, it's correct in this context". I don't think it's fair to say from this alone that the person doesn't know grammatical english. – Darth Pseudonym Jul 8 at 13:41
  • @DarthPseudonym He sent my siblings and me on a quest. The "I" is an English mistake."me" is not more or less casual. He saw me, not He saw I. And using "I" is not an attempt to sound "high class". It's just jarring. And a red-flag. – Lambie Jul 8 at 14:06

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