Saturday, 16 May 2009
05:50:31 AM (GMT)
The Proper Use of "Lay" and Lie"
by Tina Blue
January 25, 2001
This article is in response to a reader's request to clear up the confusion over
the words lie and lay.
The main difference between the two words is that lay is a transitive verb,
while lie is an intransitive verb.
Oh, stop it. Get back here and sit down--it's not that hard.
A transitive verb is one that takes a direct object. In other words, there
is something that the action of the verb is being done to:
~Please lay the book on the table.
The reason a verb that can take a direct object is called transitive is
that the action of the verb moves--it reaches across (trans) from the actor to the
thing acted on. It is transferred action.
The verb lie is an intransitive verb, so it cannot take a direct object--you
cannot "lie" something or "lie" something down.
The only reason these verbs present a problem for anyone is that the past
tense of the verb "lie" is identical in appearance to the present tense of the verb
"lay." Every verb has three principal parts. Those are the forms of the verb for the
infinitive, the simple past tense, and the past participle. You can find the
principal parts of a verb in any decent dictionary. Here are the principal parts for
the two verbs lie and lay:
Verb Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
lie lie lay lain
lay lay laid laid
Obviously there will be some confusion when it is correct to say, "I lay in
bed all day," to describe what you did yesterday or last week, but incorrect to say,
"I will lay here until the headache goes away, " or "Why don't you lay here a while?
Other things can also create problems with these two verbs.
One English professor that I used to go out with drove me nuts with his
habit of waiting for other people to make grammatical errors so he could pounce on
them to prove his own superiority. (No, I don't see him anymore. He was too
annoying.) He was so eager to find errors that he found ones that weren't even there.
He was especially eager to catch me making a mistake, since I am supposed to be such
an expert on grammar and usage.
One day I was describing an unaccustomed headache that had prevented me
from getting any work done the previous day. "It was so bad," I said, "that I lay
down at ten in the morning and didn't get up again until four in the afternoon."
And the crowing began. "Aha!" he exclaimed. "I've caught you in the worst
sort of error! You said you laid down!"
In my always considerate way I responded, "Jack, you insufferable pedant,
pronounce 'lay' and 'down' together and see what it sounds like!"
From that point on, whenever I had to say those two words together in his
presence, I would pointedly say, "I lay
one, two, three down. . . ."
So here's the drill:
~You need to lie down today, yesterday you lay down, in the past you have
~Today, you lay the book on the table. Yesterday, you
laid the book on the table. In the past, you have laid the book on the table.
I hope I have laid this all out clearly enough to allow the proper uses of
these two words to lie in the back of your mind, where they will be available to you
when you need them.
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