Monday, May 7, 2012

Grammar ABCs: L is for Lay/Lie

To lay or not to lay—that is the question I would guess 99.9 percent of us have. This seems a huge grammar issue to some, and it should be so simple. I’ll try to help everyone understand it, although I have to admit, sometimes I need to look it up to remind myself which is which under what circumstances.

“Lie” (we’re not talking about prevaricating here) means to recline. “Lay” means to place something.  
Hint: Forms of to lay (to put or place) take an object. Forms of to lie (recline) do not.

The confusing part comes because of past and present tense. “Lay” not only means to place, but it is also the past tense of “Lie".

Present tense: Lie
Past tense: Lay
Present Participle: Lying
Past Participle: Lain

Present tense: Lay
Past tense: Laid
 Present Participle: Laying
Past Participle: Laying

Here’s a fun little quiz to test your lay/lie understanding: Select one answer from the choices provided after each sentence. 

1. The dog has been ____________ on the back porch all afternoon. lying lieing laying

2. Professor Espinoza ________ her papers carefully on the podium before beginning her talk. lay lied laid

3. The old tugboat has ________ on its side since last winter's storm. lain laid lien

4. He yelled at his dog, "_______ down!" Lay Lie

5. Yolanda and Chris have been _________ carpet all day. laying lying  

Answers below. How did you do?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

Answers: 1)lying, 2)laid, 3)lain, 4)lie, 5) laying (another slightly risqué hint: to Lay or Place means something gets laid!)

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  1. Thanks! Lie and Lay have always been confusing for me. I like your hints! I got 100% without cheating.

  2. Heidi, this is such a useful post I can already hear all the clicking as people bookmark it.

    Despite my knowledge, #3 just sounds wrong! Probably because people get this stuff wrong in speech all the time. Not sure I've ever heard anyone casually toss out "lain."

  3. English is such a complicated language - or some might say convoluted!

  4. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get these wrong ... or was that laying?

  5. I love the English language, especially when it's mad. The upside is you can get away with murder, because almost every misuse can be justified.

    I always spelled 'spelled' as 'spelt' until someone told me it was a kind of wheat. (It's still a permitted variant of 'spelled'.) For 50 years, I pronounced 'misled' as 'mizzled' and nobody ever corrected me. Probably they thought I was right - and they'd always been wrong.

    As for English syntax, it's so cohescent! (If you know what I mean...)

  6. So many writers misuse these words. As an editor, I've often had to "fix" the verb when "recline" was substituted for "put or place," and vice versa. Thank you for this informative post, Heidi.

  7. Thanks,all, for your comments. I have trouble with telling the dog to "Go Lay/Lie down!" probably because I heard my grandfather say so many times, "Go lay down someplace!" to his dog!!

  8. Great post, Heidi! This is one of those rules I memorized in grade school, and if I don't think about it too much, I'm okay. ;)

  9. Thinking of the expression "lay it on me", helps me to remember that lay is what you do to something, such as you lay the baby in the crib to sleep.

  10. I had a teacher who gave me a great tip for remembering which to use Lie has an I in it so "I lie myself down"

    I never forgot that one.

  11. Great tips, Heidi. I confess I have to really think about these two words before I put them to use. Fortunately, I did well on the quiz. Loved the naughty hint.


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