The Language Perfectionist: Lie Down When You Read This One

What’s wrong with this sentence?

“How pleasant to lie prone on one’s back on the cool grass, and gaze upward through the shady green canopy of boughs….”

The word prone means lying on one’s stomach, face down. Thus, “prone on one’s back” is a physical impossibility, even for a contortionist!

Here’s how to distinguish among adjectives that describe various reclining postures:

  • prone: lying face down
  • supine: lying face up
  • prostrate: lying face down, or at full length; can imply submission or humiliation
  • recumbent: lying in a position of comfort or rest
    Finally — and this could be important — don’t confuse prostrate with prostate. This is a surprisingly common error, as indicated by the following example: “As men get older, the prostrate gland can cause quite a few problems…”
[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]