lay of the land/lie of the land

post for this tweet:
lay of the land/lie of the land (AmE/BrE) via @BryanAGarner

lay of the land/lie of the land … “The first is the usual AmE form, the second the BrE, for this phrase meaning …” Bryan A. Garner in The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style

[this next from House, Inc.]

lay of the land 

the general state or condition of affairs under consideration; the facts of a situation: We asked a few questions to get the lay of the land.

Also, especially British, lie of the land.

lay of the land. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. of the land (accessed: March 13, 2011).


4 thoughts on “lay of the land/lie of the land

  1. The verb “lay” is transitive, that is, it takes an object. For instance: “I lay my book on the table” where “my book” is the object. The verb “lie” is intransitive, that is, it does not take an object. Examples: “I lie on my bed”, “the cows lie in the field”. Therefore, “the lay of the land” is wrong and “the lie of the land” is correct since the concept derives from the intransitive situation, namely how the land lies. To make things even more complicated”, one can say “I lay on my bed yesterday”, since “lay” is the past tense of “lie”. However, it is “I laid my book on the table yesterday”. It is quite understandable that semi-literate people have difficulty distinguishing between the two. The early American immigrants were known for their hard work but not for their linguistic skills. This is probably the reason why the wrong usage crept into their version of the English language.

    With greetings from The Netherlands,

    Henk Kuiken

  2. Native English speakers confuse lie/lay and the similar rise/raise, or anyway have to think about them.

    ‘The lie of the land’ is the form I’d use – the way the land lies; but a lot of Americans use ‘the lay of the land’, which doesn’t sound wrong, as one could see it as meaning ‘the way the land is disposed/arranged’

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