Tag Archives: lie vs. lay

The Lie vs. Lay Dilemma

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I’m guessing that within ten years the distinctions between these two words will have disappeared. But until September 2026, you might consider sticking to the following rules.

LIE (we’re not going to deal with the situation in which the truth is ignored) means to lie down, to rest or recline. Every day after lunch, I lie down. I don’t lay down. I lay something down.

LAY means to put or place: Every day when I lie down, I lay my head on my pillow.

That covers the present tense of both verbs. It gets a little sticky when you go into past tenses:

LIE in the past tense is (wait for it) LAY. Yesterday after lunch, I lay down. OMG, in the present tense you lie down, but in the past tense you lay down! Remember, I don’t make these rules up; I just teach them.

It gets even worse: in the past perfect tense, when has, had or have is part of your verb, you need LAIN. (I bet you’ve never written that word in your life—but it’s not too late to start.) Every day after lunch, I always have lain down.

As for the past tenses of LAY, here is what you want: Yesterday I laid my head on my pillow. I always have laid my head on my pillow.

If your head is aching, perhaps you’d like to lay your head on your pillow.

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Shouldn’t the New York Times Know Better?

 

English: Costa Concordia Polski: Statek pasaże...

English: Costa Concordia Polski: Statek pasażerski Costa Concordia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Operations began today to try to turn the wrecked Costa Concordia upright. In reporting this event, the New York Times published this sentence:

 

“On Monday, a salvage crew used pulleys, strand jacks and steel cables, placed on nine caissons attached to the left side of the ship, to slowly dislodge it from the two rocks where it has been laying.”

 

Where it has been laying? I thought the Concordia was a ship, not a hen. “To lay” means to put or place. “To lie” means to rest or recline. The Concordia has been lying on two rocks.  Arrrrrrgh!

 

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Lie and Lay Redux

I’ve had a request to explain the difference between these two frequently confused words. I did post this last December, but for those of you who missed it or need a refresher, here you go:

LIE means to rest or recline.

LAY means to put or place.

When you go to the beach, you LAY your towel on the sand and then LIE on the towel.

Much of the confusion arises because the past tense of LIE is LAY:  Yesterday I LAY down after work.  

For the present tense (used for something we do regularly, habitually) we say, I always LIE down after work.  

And for something you have done in the past and continue to do now, we use the present participle (the verb along with HAS, HAD or HAVE):  I always HAVE LAIN down after work.  You hate that word, LAIN, don’t you?  But it’s correct.

As for LAY, I always LAY the mail on the kitchen table.  Yesterday I LAID it there.  I always HAVE LAID it on that table.

Now we can lay this topic to rest.

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Correction: Lie or Lay?

I wrote a post last night about the difference between LIE and LAY and proofread it meticulously, looking for typos.  Lesson to self: looking for typos isn’t enough; I need to look at the content as well.  Two people wrote to me pointing out that my definitions were reversed, although my examples were correct.  Mea maxima culpa!  Here is the correct information:

Many people use these two words incorrectly.

LIE means to rest or recline.

LAY means to put or place.

When you go to the beach, you LAY your towel on the sand and then LIE on the towel.

Much of the confusion arises because the past tense of LIE is LAY:  Yesterday I LAY down after work.  For the present tense (used for something we do regularly, habitually) we say, I always LIE down after work.  And for something you have done in the past and continue to do now, we use the present participle (the verb along with HAS, HAD or HAVE):  I always HAVE LAIN down after work.  You hate that word, LAIN, don’t you?  But it’s correct.

As for LAY, I always LAY the mail on the kitchen table.  Yesterday I LAID it there.  I always HAVE LAID it on that table.

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