Ask the Editor: Lie, lay, lying, laid–which do I use when?

This is a column by Kira McFadden

Di Castle asks:  I tend to get stuck on lie and lay. I am okay with, “he lay down on the bed,” and, “the chickens are laying well,” but at other times I am unsure. When should I use “lie,” and when should I use “lay”?

Kira answers:

These two words are very commonly misused and I’ve received a few inquiries regarding their difference, so I thought I’d go ahead and blog about lie vs. lay this week.

Lay is a transitive verb, and it means to put or place something somewhere. Because it is a transitive verb, lay requires a direct object. Lay can also be written in the past as lay (base form), laid (past tense), laid (past participle), and laying (present participle).

A direct object receives the action of a transitive verb and is a noun or pronoun (i.e. book, table, picture, glass), and answers the question “what?” or “whom?” after an action verb.

Example:

  • I lay the broken picture frame on the table.
  • I laid the book on the table.
  • I am laying the mat on the table right now.

Keep in mind that once something is placed upon something else, you are no longer in the act of laying it down; it is now lying on the object.

Example:

  • The book was lying on the table.

Lie means to recline (when not using it for “lying to someone,” or “to tell a falsity”) and does not require an object (making it an intransitive verb). Its forms are lie (base form), lay (past tense), lain (past participle), and lying (present participle).

Example:

  • When I was in Hawaii, I spent my time lying on the beach.
  • She was lying next to me on the sofa.
  • The dogs lay down.
  • She lies down on the bed next to me and spent the afternoon lying there.

If something is lying on something else, it is not moving; if it is laying, then another action is taking place (i.e. a chicken laying eggs).

NOTE:  Lie, as in “to tell a falsity” uses lied for both the past tense and past participle, with lying as the present participle.

 

kiraKira McFadden is an avid enthusiast for all things publishing and writing. She has worked for two publishing firms and has helped local authors compile information for their works. You can visit her at http://inrugia.zxq.net.

 


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