LAY and LIE are two words that cause a lot of confusion (And I have been guilty of using them incorrectly, too) This is my best attempt to explain the difference. It’s a little technical, so bear with me! 🙂
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Lay or Lie?
According to the Everyday Writer, the textbook I use in the college composition classes I teach:
How to use Lay
1. LAY means to “place” or “put.” Its main forms are lay, laid, laid. If you are putting a book on the table, you will say, “I am laying a book on the table.” It usually takes a direct object (the word specifying WHAT has been placed), in this case, a book.
One way you can test the usage is to replace the word LAY with PLACE or PUT. In this case they all make sense: I will lay the book on the table. I will place the book on the table. I will put the book on the table. Good.
How to use Lie
2. LIE means to “recline” or “be positioned” and does not take a direct object. Its main forms are lie, lay, lain. This is the form that most people use incorrectly. For instance, these forms are all wrong:
- I will lay down.
- To a dog: LAY down!
- At the doctor’s office: LAY back, please.
See, there is no direct object used in the above sentences. And if that’s too confusing, use the test I mentioned above, and replace LIE with “put.”
- I will PUT down? Nope.
- PUT down, Dog! Nope.
- PUT back, please. Again, nope!! So instead of LAY, use LIE.
I will LIE down. Yes.
LIE down, Dog. Yes.
LIE back, please. Yes.
Here’s my best advice, though: when in doubt, use a different word! For example:
I’m going to rest.
Platz. (German for Lie down.)
Put your head on the pillow! 🙂
Hopefully, that will help you use LAY and LIE correctly. And that’s your 5 Minute Grammar Lesson.
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