Here’s a funny and, I suppose, reasonably plausible reason for the continual confusion between lay and lie.
The original Dear Abby was fond of describing the difference between these two verbs by saying “people lie and chickens lay.” … One myth that persists about the verbs to lie and to lay is that we should use lie in reference to people and lay in reference to animals or inanimate objects (very likely an unintended outcome of the Dear Abby oversimplification about people and chickens).
That is certainly a common and persistent belief. I don’t know how many times I have flinched (inwardly; I’m generally too polite to correct other people’s grammar) when I’ve heard someone tell their dog “Lay down, Sadie!”
I used to train dogs — more precisely, I used to run occasional classes in which I taught people how to train their own dogs, which is 95% of what we mean by “training dogs.” So I heard this a lot. Since, as I said, I don’t like to correct anyone’s grammar, I solved the problem by saying, “One word commands really work best. Put the name first and say, “Sadie, down,” and she’ll hear that better.”
Which is true, incidentally, and yes, at the time — this was a good while ago — Sadie was a very common name for female dogs in this area.
But of course that solution doesn’t do anything to get people to really believe that subjects lie down, and subjects lay objects down. Or, similarly, that subjects sit down and subjects set objects down.
Someday, in the blissful utopian future, we may once again arrive at a situation where grade school English teachers actually explain the difference between grammatical subjects and objects to their students rather than utterly failing to explain this,* and at that point, possibly the lay/lie and sit/set problems will disappear.
In the meantime, I will continue to see ads for t-shirts that confuse the words, such as one I saw on Facebook recently that said, “I’m sorry I’m late, my cat was laying on me.”
Interestingly when I just followed the link right now, I see the mistake has been corrected on the t-shirt.
I hereby take credit for that, as I reposted the Facebook ad with the comment, “I admit I can’t wear a t-shirt that says “laying” when it should by “lying.”
Now that printing on the t-shirt no longer contains a grammatical error, the shirt is actually pretty cute. And I do know someone who just got a new kitten. Maybe I’ll get her one, just to encourage correct grammar on t-shirts.
Aside from lay/lie, the linked post points out an error that I’m aware of, but not as sensitive to. It’s this one:
[H]ere’s an issue raised by a professional writer about something he heard on the TV news: “The reporter said he’d heard ‘nothing but superlatives.’ He then listed four adjectives, ‘terrific, wonderful, beautiful, fantastic,’ none of which is a superlative.”
True! Those aren’t superlatives; they’re just positive terms. A superlative would be “This is the MOST beautiful city in the world!” But I wouldn’t have thought anything of it personally. I believe the back of my brain has accepted “superlative” as a synonym for “highly positive.” Now that someone else has pointed to this mistake, maybe I will start to notice it as a mistake, but even in the utopian future, I don’t think I’ll care about this one that much.
Though I grant, if we lose the word “superlative,” we will need a different word for that. “Most positive” is an amusingly meta construction that might do.
*I know some grade school teachers somewhere must still teach basic grammar and punctuation, perhaps by diagramming sentences, which is imo the best way to learn what the parts of a sentence actually are. If you’re one of those teachers, good for you, and keep up the good fight! But at least in my area, this seems an area neglected by 100% of grade schools. Never mind grammatical subjects and objects, the college students I see generally do not know** what a noun or a verb is.
**Yes, I mean literally do not know. If you ask, “Does this sentence start with a noun?” they can’t tell.
I ask that question because if the sentence does NOT start with a noun, it has started with an introductory clause, and you will put a comma after that clause and before the grammatical subject — which, no, they can’t identify, but everyone puts the comma in the right place if they know they should put a comma somewhere.