D.T.’s astute observation

In class yesterday, the subject of “disappearing” grammar came up: specifically, the distinction between lie and lay.

Lay takes an object (or used to, back in the day). Lie does not take an object.

So: You lie down, but you lay something down:  

S V  A  
SUBJECT VERB  ADVERB  
I lie down.  
       
S V  O  A
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT ADVERB
I lay the book on the table.

Therefore: you can lay yourself down, but you can’t lay down!

During our discussion, I wrote the first line of a classic children’s bedtime prayer on the board and analyzed its parts.

“Now I lay me down to sleep”
S V  O A
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT ADVERB
I lay me down [now]
compare to:
S V  A  
SUBJECT VERB ADVERB  
I lie down  

The reason it’s OK to say “I lay me down” but not OK to say “I’m going to lay down” is that “lay” requires an object, and in the sentence “Now I lay me down to sleep,” “me” is the object.

This brings me to DT’s astute observation, which he posed in the form of an astute question:

Why is “me” an object, not a complement?

DT pointed out that in SVC sentences the subject and the complement refer to the same thing:

S V  C
SUBJECT LINKING VERB COMPLEMENT
SUBJECT = or ≠ COMPLEMENT
Something is (or is not) something
I am a student
I am an instructor
I am intelligent
I am [not] a student
I am [not] an instructor
I am [not] intelligent

In all cases above, the subject and the complement refer to the same thing.

[Adding the adverb “not” changes nothing. You can tell me that you are a student, or you can tell me that you are not a student; it doesn’t matter. In either case you are talking about yourself.]

DT’s observation: in “Now I lay me down to sleep,” “I” and “me” refer to the same thing, so “me” should be considered a complement, not an object.

Good point!

DT has brought to light an important exception to the SVC-SVO rule:

In SVO sentences like “I lay me” or “I hurt myself,” the subject and the object refer to the same thing.

S V  C  
SUBJECT LINKING VERB COMPLEMENT  
Something is something  
I am a student  
 I  am a good writer  
 I  am intelligent  
       
S V  O  A
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT ADVERB
I lay the book on the table
I throw the ball
I like pizza  
I like myself  
He likes himself  
She likes herself  
I lay myself down
I lay [me??] down

When the subject is also the object of the verb, the subject and the object do refer to the same thing. In this case we use a reflexive pronoun:

Personal pronoun Reflexive pronoun
I, me, my, mine myself
you, your, yours yourself
 it, its  itself
he,  him, his himself
she, her, hers herself
we, us, our, ours ourselves
they, them, theirs themselves

DT did a great job picking up on this exception and pointing it out to the class. Good work, and thank you!

NOTE #1: Technically, “Now I lay ME down to sleep” is incorrect. The correct pronoun these days is “myself.” But “Now I lay myself down to sleep” is a dreary formulation, which has no magic. I assume that the poet’s decision to use “me” instead of “myself” is a case of poetic license.

NOTE #2: This Masters Thesis (“Reflexivity on the Move: An Historical Study on the Reflexive Pronouns Herself and Himself”) reports that Old English, which people spoke long before “Now I lay me down to sleep” was written, used the word “me” where we would say “myself.” In Old English “I see me” was correct.

NOTE #3: “Lay” is called a transitive verb, “lie” intransitiveShort online quiz on transitive and intransitive verbs – with answers – here.mergecells

AND SEE:
SVO v. SVC
5 + 2: the 7 ‘canonical’ English sentences
3 ways to combine the 7 sentence patterns
10 basic sentence patterns in the English language
SM’s sophisticated SVOO sentence
DT’s astute observation (reflexive pronouns)

A short overview of English syntax by Rodney Huddleston

SVO vs SVC

S V  O
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT
The ant carries a kernel of corn.
S V  C
SUBJECT VERB COMPLEMENT
The ant appears industrious.

When students encounter Subject+Verb+Object and Subject+Verb+Complement sentences for the first time, they can have trouble telling the two apart.

Here is a test.

Change each sentence into passive voice, and see what happens.

Corn is carried by the ant. (CORRECT)
Industrious is appeared by the ant. (INCORRECT)

Subject-Verb-Object sentences can be turned into passive voice sentences.

Subject-Verb-Complement sentences can’t.

Source:
Grammar for English Language Teachers 2nd edition by Martin Parrott, p 301.

AND SEE:
William J. Kerrigan’s X-1-2-3 method – all posts
SVO v. SVC
Class notes X-1-2-3
5 + 2: the 7 ‘canonical’ English sentences
10 basic sentence patterns in the English language
SM’s sophisticated SVOO sentence
DT’s astute observation (reflexive pronouns)

5+2: the 7 “canonical” sentence patterns of English

VOCABULARY:

I am using the word “canonical” to refer to the most basic form of the English sentence.

EXAMPLE:

The dog chases the cat” is a canonical sentence.

Non-canonical forms of “The dog chases the cat” include:
The cat is chased by the dog.
It is the cat that is chased by the dog.

All three sentences are grammatically correct, but only “The dog chases the cat” is “canonical.”

The chart below appears in John Seely’s short, clear, and extremely useful book Grammar for Teachers, a 170-page distillation of Quirk and Greenbaum’s 1779-page A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language.

The 7 canonical sentence patterns:

S V    
SUBJECT VERB    
Elephants exist.
S V O  
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT  
Elephants like  grass.
S
SUBJECT VERB (INDIRECT) OBJECT  (DIRECT) OBJECT
Elephants give children rides.
S V C  
SUBJECT VERB COMPLEMENT
Elephants
Elephants
are
are (not)
animals.
animals.
S V  O C
 SUBJECT VERB OBJECT COMPLEMENT
Elephants make children happy.
S V  A  
SUBJECT VERB ADVERBIAL  
Elephants live here.
S V O A
SUBJECT  VERB OBJECT ADVERBIAL
Elephants thrust him away.

In these patterns, all of the “sentence slots” — S, V, O, C, and A — must be filled. If a slot is not filled, the sentence becomes “grammatically incomplete.”

I’ve written “5+2” in the title of this post because the final two patterns – SVA and SVOA – are, in Seely’s words, “much less common.”

As Seely puts it: “They only occur with a very small number of verbs, but they are important.”

NOTE: The basic patterns can be carved up in a few different ways. For a 10-sentence scheme, see this post on Martha Kolln’s 10 basic sentence patterns.

AND SEE:
SVO v. SVC
5 + 2: the 7 ‘canonical’ English sentences
Class notes X-1-2-3
3 ways to combine the 7 sentence patterns
10 basic sentence patterns in the English language
SM’s sophisticated SVOO sentence
DT’s astute observation (reflexive pronouns)

A short overview of English syntax by Rodney Huddleston