Lie, Lay, and Laid: The Naughty Grammarian Explains
"Lie" and "Lay" Cause Confusion
Miss Grammers Goes Bananas with "Lie" and "Lay"
Miss Grammers cannot tell a lie. Even she gets a bit confused by “lie,” “lay,” and, ”laid.” And “lain.” Miss Grammers thinks that she and you need a refresher course.
Recently Miss Grammers was at a party playing a word game called Bananagrams. It is similar to Scrabble except there isn’t a board and play is much faster because everyone plays on their own. Each player gets a certain number of tiles and constructs their own crossword diagram. Whoever uses all of their letters first is the winner.
Miss Grammers won. Miss Grammers won every round. Soon no one wanted to play anymore. Miss Grammers should learn to throw the game once in a while or she will not have friends any more.
Miss Grammers was challenged on the word “lain.” The other five players all insisted that there was no such word as “lain.” A quick check of the dictionary soon proved that “lain” is indeed a word. (It is the past participle of “lie.”) It was at that moment that Miss Grammers knew she had to do a lesson on “lie,” “lay,” and, ”laid.” And “lain.”
As always the seemingly prim, but secretly wild, Miss Grammers will illustrate the lesson with excerpts from her romance novel, Love's True Desires.
When and How to Use "Lie"
The meaning of "lie" is to be in, to stay in, or to assume a horizontal position.
"Lie" is an intransitive verb. An intransitive verb indicates the action of the subject. In the examples below Melanie is the subject and the verb "lie" indicates the action she is taking.
The present tense is "lie," the past tense is "lay," and the past participle is "lain."
Melanie said, “Let’s lie on the grass.”
After Melanie lay on the grass, Doug walked by.
Melanie had lain in the grass for several hours before Doug walked by.
Melanie is laying on the grass.
Unless Melanie is a chicken producing eggs, she did not lay on the grass. She is lying on the grass.
Melanie laid down on the grass.
Did Melanie encounter some ducks, collect their down, and then place the down on the grass? Or do you mean that Melanie lay down on the grass, sometime before this present moment, perhaps to take a nap. The past tense of "lie" is "lay."
Melanie had laid on the grass for several hours before Doug arrived.
Unless Melanie is a chicken on an egg-laying binge, she has not laid on the grass for several hours. Miss Grammers thinks you mean to say that Melanie had lain on the grass for several hours, perhaps having a very long nap. The past participle of "lie" is "lain."
Click for the Complete Conjugation of Lie
When and How to Use "Lay"
"Lay" means to put or set something down.
"Lay" is a transitive verb. It requires an object. It is used to indicate what the subject does to the object.
The present tense is "lay." (It gets confusing because "lay" is also the past tense of "lie.") The past test is "laid." The past participle is also "laid."
In the examples below, Melanie is the subject, "lay" is the verb, and "head" is the object.
Melanie said, “May I lay my head on your chest?”
Melanie laid her head on Doug’s chest.
Malaine had laid her head on Doug’s chest many times in the past.
Melanie told Doug, “You can lie your books on the grass beside me.”
In this sentence, "you" is the subject and "books" is the object, and so the proper verb is "lay." Melanie gives Doug permission to lay his books on the grass.
Melanie saw Doug’s books laying on the grass.
Since "books" is the subject, the proper verb is "lie." The books are taking the action of lying on the grass.
Click for the Complete Conjugation of Lay
Conjugation of "Lie" and "Lay"
What it indicates
Action of the subject
Action done to an object
I lie down
I lay it down
I lay (or lied) down
I laid it down
I have lain (or lied) down
I have laid it down
A Few Complications
Things get a little complicated as they so often do in the English language. “Lay" is the past tense of "lie," but it is also acceptable to use the word “lied.” But since “lay" is preferred, Miss Grammers would like you to forget that she ever mentioned "lied.".
Another complication is alternate meanings of "lie," "lay," and "laid."
A lie can be a noun meaning an untruth or a fib.
"Lie" can also be a verb meaning to tell an untruth or to fib. When "lie" has this meaning, the past tense is "lied," and the past participle is also "lied."
"Lay" can be a verb meaning to be producing eggs.“Do not disturb the hen when she is laying.” The object “eggs” is implied.
Finally, "laid" is a slang, somewhat vulgar term, relating to the act of sexual intercourse. Miss Grammers will assume that you are all familiar with the term and need no further instruction on its use.
Please do this poll.
Have you learned when and how to use all the tenses of "lie" and "lay"?
A Bit More About Grammers
At the present moment, Miss Grammers wants to lie down in a dark room and lay a cold compress upon her head. It is very trying when one tries to keep "lie" and "lay" and "laid" and "lain" straight. Miss Grammers completely understands if you too are feeling slightly dizzy.
Miss Grammers has taken upon herself the thankless job of attempting to explain the intricacies of English grammar to the masses. Miss Grammers does not wish to be a scold, but incorrect grammar grates on her ears. Miss Grammers would like to lay this burden down, but she would not like to see hapless highly-intelligent people making themselves seem ignorant.
Miss Grammers is mindful that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down and that a little bit of naughtiness may make the lesson more memorable. It has been Miss Grammers’ experience that a little bit of naughtiness also makes Miss Grammers more memorable, although not always in a good way.
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Questions & Answers
© 2014 Catherine Giordano