Lie vs. Lay
by Cherie Tucker
Many people spend countless hours over a lifetime rewriting
sentences to avoid having to use lie or lay,
because they are never sure which is right. Letís clear it up.
Lie is verb that describes inaction. It is a
body a rest, inert, not moving, and incapable of doing anything to
Lay is an action verb. You could substitute place
(same la spelling), because both do something to something
else. The confusion between these two words often comes when we get
into the past tense.
Present tense Lie (Lie down and rest.)
Lay (Lay the baby in the crib.)
Past tense Lay (He lay on the bed.)
Laid (They laid the new carpet.)
Past Participle Lain (Itís lain there for days.)
Laid (The hen hasnít laid any eggs.)
Present Participle Lying (Try lying on your
back.)Laying (Youíre laying it wrong.)
Observe that you can lay something down, but you canít
lie anything down. Lie is not an action
verb; repeat, it doesnít do anything to anything.
I know that Romance writers have a hard time with this word because
of the colloquial use of the term laid. I have seen a few
books where in a hidden, leafy glen, the hero ďlay her back gently
in the cool grass.Ē Wrong word here. He actually laid
her back gently. To avoid this silliness, try placed or
lowered, but not lay.
Hereís a true story that may help you see the difference.
Around the holidays a couple of years ago in England, workers were
remodeling a dwelling when they came upon a sheet of paper just
lying there in the attic. On it, autographed to
his good friend, were 57 seconds of music written by Beethoven!
Someone must have laid it there ages ago, and
it had lain there undetected all these years.
Iím sure if the earlier homeowners had known what a treasure
lay just up the stairs, the world would have heard about it
Remember, you can lay eggs or rubber, but you
lie down to rest. Consequently, if you say lay
down to your doggie, you are asking it to produce feathers.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washingtonís Editing Certification program and edits