Grammar Today


My children, today I am taking on the burden of clearing up for some of you the proper usage of those vexing verbs, lie and lay. Now, this is going to hurt my wimpled head, so I can imagine what it shall do to yours. Sit up straight, pay attention, and get yourself a cup of coffee or, if you reside on the other side of the pond, a cup of tea.

The problem of misuse of these verbs comes from the fact that many native English speakers do not know the forms of the verbs and thus confuse them.

They are two different verbs. Lie means to recline or rest on a surface (not, in this case, to tell a falsehood). It is an intransitive verb, which means that it does not take a direct object. See the following sentence:

After the grammar lesson I had to lie down.

Now, I am not resting something; I am simply resting or reclining. However, if I were to use the reflexive pronoun (a reflexive pronoun names a receiver of an action identical with the doer of the action) myself, I would have to use lay, which is a transitive verb and therefore takes a direct object:

After the grammar lesson I had to lay myself down.

Now, you see, I am in the incongruous position of laying myself--erm, yes. Ahem. Yes. Myself is the direct object of the verb lay.

Think of it this way:

The sun also rises.

You see, the sun is not rising anything; it simply rises. This is an intransitive verb, like lie.

However, in this sentence I must raise the window, I am raising something--the window! Window is the direct object of the verb raise.

The verb lay means to put or place something, as in this sentence:

Today I had to lay down the law to my unruly students.

You see, I am laying something, in this case the law.

The problem, as I have said earlier, is that we don't know the forms of the two verbs and thus confuse them. You simply must memorize the forms, and here they are:

Infinitive form    past tense    past participle    present participle    


Lie: I lie down everyday at 3:35 p.m. (present tense, infinitive form)

      I lay down yesterday at 3:35 p. m. (past tense)

      I have lain down every day at 3:35 p. m. since I can remember. (past participle, must take helping verb have)

      I am lying down right now. (present participle, must take helping verb am or another form of be)

Lay: Please lay the book down upon the table. (present tense, infinitive form, takes direct object book)

      She laid the book on the table. (past tense, again, takes direct object book)

      She has laid books on the table before. (past participle, must take helping verb has or another form of have, takes object book)

      She is laying books on the table right now; let's go watch. (present participle, must take helping verb is or another form of be, takes object books)

You see, my children? Quite easily done.

Ready for a quiz?

Choose the correct form or the verb, whether it is lie or lay.

1. Sister was so exhausted that she (lay, laid) down for a nap.

2. Sister (lay, laid) her gradebook on the nightstand so she could study it later.

3. Sister must be careful not to leave billets-doux from Sister Mary Participia (lying, laying) around her cell.

4. Sister had (laid, lain) abed for so long that her habit was wrinkled.

5. Sister needs a little help in allowing her to (lie, lay) more comfortably.

I shall correct your quizzes as I get them.

Good day and good grammar.

Sister Mary Grammatica, SGJ

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