Lie and Lay

Someone recently asked about the correct use of “lie” versus “lay.”

The Confusion

A common mistake is for people to use “lay” instead of “lie.” For example, they might say, “I’m feeling dizzy, so I should lay down.” One might ask what exactly the person should lay down. Their arms, perhaps?

I know, that was a snobbish joke. Actually, I suspect that the mistake is so common that it will soon become acceptable use, if it hasn’t done so already.

Lie

The definition of “lie” that pertains to the question is “to be at rest in a horizontal position.” It’s an intransitive verb, which means that it’s not followed by an object. In other words, you can’t lie something.

Principal Parts of Lie

  • Present – lie(s). She lies down on the floor every afternoon to take a nap.
  • Past – lay. Yesterday she lay in bed with a sore throat.
  • Past Participle – (has/have) lain. He has lain in bed for 12 hours.

Lay

To lay means to set or place something down. It’s a transitive verb. You can lay something—besides an egg.

Principal Parts of Lay

  • Present – lay(s). She lays her clothes neatly on the chair before she goes to bed.
  • Past – laid. Yesterday she laid all of her clothes out on the bed before deciding which ones to wear to the wedding.
  • Past Participle – (has/have) laid. They had laid the heavy crate on the floor before they moved the piano.

Any questions about this one? Post a comment.

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