Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” and the Subjunctive

A classic example of lie / lay, and an easy one to highlight as a misuse: no one is ‘laying here’ in the present tense, despite what sports- and newscasters would have you believe (He’s been laying on the field for 20 seconds!). Or is it…?

My wife and I had a spirited debate about this, and I think she’s convinced me. The (dying and little-used) most common subjunctive in English is the verb to be, the classic ‘If I were…’ (subjunctive) vs. ‘If I was…’ (indicative and technically incorrect). So using the If-I-were analogy, the subjunctive is the (unconjugated) past tense of the verb. The past tense of lie is of course lay. So in the conditional ‘If I lay here…’, however uncommon such usage might be, the ‘lay’ form, as the past of lie, should / would be the subjunctive, and so correct, form.

The question then of course becomes (much like the analogous question about Alanis Morissette and her song “Ironic”) how much does Snow Patrol know. Did they…

…a) get lucky

…b) study grammar so much that they’re way ahead of the rest of us

…c) just get it wrong

What do you think?


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