Lie vs Lay: Would I Lie to You

by Julie on April 28, 2009

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We’ve asked the punctuationally minded Deb Boyken to join us a guest poster because most social media sites ask you to write – updates, blog posts, profile bios and more – and there’s nothing worse than putting your best foot forward, and then having to stuff it in your mouth because you have grammar issues. So…read and learn. She’s the master.

Lie vs Lay

The words lie and lay: how to tell them apart, and when (not) to use them.

“Lie” is an intransitive verb which doesn’t need to “act” on anything. It doesn’t need an object of any kind, and means “to recline or be placed.” So, when you’re tired, you lie down.

“Lay” is a transitive verb, which means that it needs some kind of object, and means “to put something down.” So, you can lay down a pen, or you can lay down the law, but you cannot simply lay down.

This isn’t that confusing, really. At bedtime, you lay the baby down in the crib and then go lie down on your own bed.

It’s the past tense that gets confusing. The past tense of “lay” is “laid,” but the past tense of “lie” is “lay.” So that, when you’ve had a sleepless night trying to keep this all straight, what you did was “lay awake” while tossing and turning.

(I completely agree that this part is confusing. But if the correct past tense were “lied” we’d get confused between whether we were tired or telling falsehoods, and lying about being tired would be that much harder and, well, anyway, this is what we’re stuck with.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning. I’m going to lay down my mouse and go lie down for a while….

Deb Boyken is a stickler for punctuation and grammar. She’s also a fantastic writer and copyeditor. You can find her over at Punctuality Rules.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Mark Sherrick April 28, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Gotta love american english, eh? Grammar check is as valuable as spell check these days, with things being available worldwide once it’s on the internet. I can understand a simple mistake now and again, because these things happen. Consistent mistakes are a turnoff, and would make me want to stop keeping a blog in my google reader list.

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