Which is correct verb?
July 29, 2007 8:03 AM   Subscribe

In a sentence which begins, "I expect that the answer lay/lays/lie/lies not in the answers provided, but . . . ," which is the correct verb choice?

English is not my native language and I don't trust asking anyone, since too many can't do the "If I were you" thing correctly! Does this even call for subjunctive? I'm studying Romanian now, where the subjunctive rules, so my brain is foggy. Help, please, grammar experts!
posted by Dee Xtrovert to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
lies
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:05 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


lies
posted by jennydiski at 8:11 AM on July 29, 2007


Couldn't it also be "lay", if the person was looking back reflectively? I have no idea what case or tense this would be, but something like this:

"I expect that the answer lay not in the answers provided, but in the question itself. But we shall never know."

Or should that be "laid"? I can find examples of "lay not in" on Google but that proves nothing.
posted by smackfu at 8:17 AM on July 29, 2007


Why is it not "lie?" Is this not subjunctive? I realize "lies" sounds correct to most ears, but so does "if I was you," which is not really correct.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:19 AM on July 29, 2007


I should also mention that the autocorrect on Microsoft Word, for what it's worth, does not seem to like "lies" but has no problem with "lay," hence my original confusion. Thanks to anyone who can explain the answer!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2007


It's "lies". If use another word, like 'exist' you can see why:

"I expect that the answer exists not in the answers provided, etc"
posted by spicynuts at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2007


It wouldn't be "lie" because "answer" is singular.
posted by paleography at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2007


lies (present tense) or lay (past tense).

This is the intransitive verb lie (The egg lies in its nest), not the transitive verb lay (The bird lays the egg). But lay is also (confusingly) the past tense of lie.

"lie" would be used with a plural subject. (The eggs lie in the nest; the answers lie not...).
posted by mbrubeck at 8:25 AM on July 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Among the given choices, lies.

But I think a clearer, simpler sentence would be "I expect that the answer is not in the answers provided, but . . . ," or "I expect that the answer is none of these, but rather..." or even "I expect that none of the answers provided are correct."

This throws off native English speakers all the time too. So IMHO there's no good reason to use language with a risk of either making a mistake --or-- having your reader who doesn't know that it should be "lie" and thinks that you've made a mistake.

In English, the best answer to "which is correct?" is often "Just use a simpler construction" or "Avoid those phrases since they're cliches anyway." Frex, the best usage of "begs the question" is not to use it at all. At best, it's jargon for the sake of jargon, since the phrase "assuming you mean to prove" is available. At worst, it's a cliche.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:48 AM on July 29, 2007


since the phrase "assuming you mean to prove" is available.

Sigh. Whose law is it that any grammar or spelling nit on the net will itself contain at least one grammar or spelling mistake?

"assuming what you mean to prove"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:49 AM on July 29, 2007


Dee Xtrovert: it's not the subjunctive being used here. Take a good long look at your analogous case ("if I were you") and think about whether they're really symmetrical. They're not. "If I were you" is the type of hypothetical statement that requires the conditional. "I expect that..." is not.

However, I disagree with every answer thus far. 'Expect' in this case implies anticipation, which means you should probably say "I expect that the answer will lie..." If that's not what you intended to say, then use 'suspect' instead. Then it would be "I suspect that the answer lies..."
posted by invitapriore at 9:11 AM on July 29, 2007


Hehe, speaking of grammar mistakes, I left out "the poster's example and" before "your analogous case." Oops.
posted by invitapriore at 9:13 AM on July 29, 2007


And conditional = subjunctive. Yikes. Don't listen to me.
posted by invitapriore at 9:14 AM on July 29, 2007


Spicynuts wins it; that's a concise and fine way to answer it.

A note to Paleography; I see what you're saying, but it avoids the question really, as in the subjunctive one would find occasions where a "singular" noun would take a verb without an "-s" ending, such as "lest he fall."

The subjunctive is tricky in English, since it rarely affects form and few people seem to know or care much about it. Thanks for the help; I'd avoid this structure too, but it's something I'm mildly correcting (not my own work) and I don't want to mess with it too terribly much.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:16 AM on July 29, 2007


Thanks too, Invitapriore. The problem for me wasn't analogy really, just whether "expectation" is a factor which necessitates the subjunctive in English - it is in some languages and I just couldn't wrap my mind around it in English, particularly as I am only speaking Romanian, Hungarian, French and German these days!

You guys are great! Thank you.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:19 AM on July 29, 2007


funny, i used this edmund burke quote just a month ago on askme:

"the essence of economy lies not in savings, but in selection."

good enough for him, good enough for me.
posted by bruce at 9:31 AM on July 29, 2007


LIES
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2007


lies.
posted by limeonaire at 10:39 AM on July 29, 2007


As is often the case with word selection, the first gut-instinct indicator of right and wrong is whether or not the sentence flows. IMO the flow of this example is interrupted by the word "in", which causes all of the choices to sound wrong. I'd use "among".

I expect that the answer lies not among the answers provided.
posted by rlk at 12:10 PM on July 29, 2007


Hm. I would replace it with "is" (or "was") myself.
posted by winston at 12:47 PM on July 29, 2007


The most obvious and intuitive choice would be "lies." That's because it's almost unknown to use the subjunctive in English anymore, especially in the context you've laid out. However, be it the case that you'd like to use the subjunctive, then "lie" would be correct; similarly, one could say things like:

"Should he stop changing the oil in his car, he ought to wash his hands before coming into the house."

or...

"My wish is that the quiche rest gently upon the stove where I've left it until the company comes."

However, if you use the subjunctive in the sentence you've given about answers which lie, please know that you're using a somewhat awkward way that won't really be understood by most English speakers, at least in the US. My experience is that English really only uses the subjunctive conditionally or tentatively anymore; that is, after a "should," a "could," or a "might."

Short answer: yeah, that's the subjunctive, but nobody uses the subjunctive for that in English anymore.
posted by koeselitz at 2:02 PM on July 29, 2007


spicynuts: "It's "lies". If use another word, like 'exist' you can see why: "I expect that the answer exists not in the answers provided, etc"

But "exist" would work just fine in that sentence if you wanted it to be subjunctive.
posted by koeselitz at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2007


In fact, Dee Xtrovert, the fact that nobody in this thread seems to know how to construct the English subjuntive indicates pretty well that, be it your intention to speak or write English that is understood by English-speakers, you ought to forget about the subjunctive entirely.
posted by koeselitz at 2:09 PM on July 29, 2007


koeselitz: are you excluding yourself from that category? While the subjunctive in English isn't terribly well-documented, it's used in essentially the same cases as in most Romance languages like Spanish (with the exception of its use in a change of subject in the dependent clause). It can be summed up in three words:
Desire, uncertainty, and doubt. Now, this is a really fine point, but I think that you are classifying the predicate in that sentence as an expression of uncertainty, which it is not. Uncertainty is the result of expressing a statement for which there exists a non-trivial possibility that it is false. Expectation is merely expressing a statement which is presently unprovable, thus its inability to be categorized as uncertainty.

Given my lack of authority, you should take what I say with a grain of salt. The way I see it, though, the subjunctive doesn't play a role here.
posted by invitapriore at 4:05 PM on July 29, 2007


I agree; it isn't subjunctive. Therefore, "lies" should be correct.
posted by exceptinsects at 6:07 PM on July 29, 2007


spicynuts: "It's "lies". If use another word, like 'exist' you can see why: "I expect that the answer exists not in the answers provided, etc"

But "exist" would work just fine in that sentence if you wanted it to be subjunctive.


Are you serious? You can actually say "I expect that the answer exist..."? I don't think so.
posted by spicynuts at 7:26 PM on July 29, 2007


English: ain't it a bitch?
posted by tjvis at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2007


The subjunctive is tricky in English, since it rarely affects form and few people seem to know or care much about it.

Correction: The subjunctive no longer exists in English, thus few people seem to know or care much about it. There are fossilized phrases like "if I were you" that used to contain a subjunctive back when English still had a functioning subjunctive, but that was a long time ago. Now they're learned and used as units, just like "spic and span" or "gone with the wind."

Note that the people here who are trying to explain it don't know much about it:

While the subjunctive in English isn't terribly well-documented, it's used in essentially the same cases as in most Romance languages like Spanish

Wrong and wrong. It's as well documented as anything else in English, and its use was not like that of the subjunctive in the Romance languages.

Not that any of this is relevant to the question, because the given sentence would not take a subjunctive in any language I'm familiar with.

Note to Dee Xtrovert: AskMeFi is good for many things, but grammar answers is not one of them. You may well get some correct responses, but you're guaranteed to get a ton of incorrect ones as well, and how are you going to judge between them? Get a good grammar of the language and study it, and for god's sake don't listen to "grammar experts" who think there's still an English subjunctive, listen to linguists who study the actual language. Also, don't you think saying of native speakers that "too many can't do the 'If I were you' thing correctly" is a little presumptuous? They're native speakers, you're not; you should be learning from their use, not trying to correct it.
posted by languagehat at 7:39 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


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