At Last, Lie/Lay Explained
by Cherie Tucker
These two verbs cause way too much trouble. Hereís how they
LIE describes something at rest. You cannot do this word
LAY describes the action of putting something down You do this
Here are the tenses, present, past, and the past and present
participles that require a helper verb:
Lay Lay that down.
He lay there sobbing.
Laid He laid his gun down.
The manuscript had lain there for years. Laid They
have finally laid the tile.
He leaves his towels lying on the floor. Laying Heís
laying it on so thick.
Now hereís a little story to help you see how this all plays
The Three Billy Goats
(With apologies to the Norwegian folk tellers)
Once upon a time in a village that lay beside a river there
lived three Billy Goats Gruff. Their home was a junkyard, and they
spent the days eating whatever was lying on the ground: old
shoes, newspapers, car seats. They thought nothing of it until one
day a tiny bird flew by and perched on the junkyard fence.
"Why do you eat that stuff thatís lying on the ground?"
the bird asked them.
"What else is there?" replied the oldest.
"Why, just beyond the river that lies at the edge of
town there is a field of blackberry vines, all you could eat,"
answered the bird. Then he flew off to the nest where his mate
had laid three tiny eggs just that morning.
The goats had heard of blackberry vines, but theyíd never seen
any, let alone tasted them. "Letís go, brothers," the excited goats
said to one another, and they made ready to leave the junkyard
forever. What they didnít know was that lying in wait under
the bridge that crossed the river was the meanest, most horrible
troll who had ever lived. His own mother threw him out of the house
years ago, saying she hoped never to lay eyes on him again.
Now he lived under the bridge where he lay that day, hoping
lunch would come along soon.
"Are you sure you know where itís at?" the middle billy goat
asked his younger brother.
"Where it is," corrected the oldest, who had promised
his mother he would look out for his brothers.
"Are you sure you know where it is?" the grateful
brother repeated correctly this time.
"Yes, Iím sure. I go out the gate and down the trail that
lies in back of the junkyard," the youngest replied, eager to be
off. "Iíll see you both on the other side." And he was gone. He
soon saw the bridge that was the last thing that lay between
him and the
blackberry vines, but as he happily trotted across it, the troll
jumped up from where he had lain in wait and seized the
frightened billy goat.
"Hello, lunch!" bellowed the troll in a terrible voice.
"Oh, please, Mr. Troll," the little goat pleaded. "Please
donít eat me. Iím nothing but skin and bones, but my brother is
coming along right behind me, and heís much bigger than I am."
The troll was hungry, but he could feel the bones of the
little goat through his hide. Considering that this goat would
hardly be more than a mouthful, he reluctantly laid him back
on his tiny hooves and hoped he wasnít making a mistake. The goat
scampered off before the troll could change his mind, and the troll
climbed back under the bridge to lie in wait. Laying
his head on his beard, which he had to use as a pillow because he
was so horrible no one would allow him into a store, he waited. He
didnít have to lie there long before he heard hoofbeats above
himóheavier this time. He jumped up from where he lay and
grabbed the unsuspecting billy goat.
"Hello, lunch," the troll chortled, happy the first little
goat hadnít tricked him.
"Oh, please, Mr. Troll, please donít eat me. If you could just
wait a minute or two longer, my big brother is coming along, and he
is the biggest, juiciest, fattest billy goat in all the land. Iím
sure youíd like him better."
"Hmmm," pondered the troll. "You arenít very meaty at that."
And again reluctantly he laid the little goat back on his
hooves and watched as he ran off to join his brother in the field
that lay beyond the bridge. Now the sun was shining
brightly, and the
Troll decided to lie on the bridge instead of under it. It
was a curving bridge, and he knew if he were to lie on the
other side of the curve, he could see what was coming along the road
without being seen. It would be easier than climbing back under the
bridge to lie down. However, no sooner had he lain
down and laid his head on his beard, than he fell fast
asleep. Under the bridge it was cold and damp, so he could lie
there all day without getting sleepy, but the warm wood and the hot
sun put him right to sleep. He had not lain there very
long when he heard a terrible voice saying, "Get out of my way!"
The troll looked up from where he lay into the eyes of
the biggest, angriest billy goat he had ever seen, especially from
this angle. The goat had laid his ears back flat against his
head and was lowering his considerable horns.
"Get out of my way," the goat thundered again and began to
back up slowly.
The troll was frozen to the spot where he lay. He
tried to rise, but the goat was upon him, butting him into the air.
The troll sailed off the bridge, turned a somersault or two, and
sank out of sight in the river. The billy goat trotted off to join
his brothers in the field where they live to this day, happily
munching on delicious blackberry vines.
the troll? Well, the story goes that he lies there still on
the bottom of the river, too frightened to come up for air. But
that, as weíve said before, could be a lie.
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