Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lay or Lie?

Be prepared to have your mind blown.

That's actually a little on the dramatic side...  But what I'm about to tell you is a grammar rule that I'm convinced at least half of the American population doesn't know. 

(As a background note - I took honors/AP English classes through all of my schooling and then majored in English in college.  I didn't learn this rule until maybe a year ago [from my mother in law] and didn't try to start employing it until the past couple months or so because a] my mother in law started correcting us when we'd say it wrong, which led to b] Jonathan correcting me now when I say it wrong which isn't annoying at all ahem.)

Lay vs. Lie

How many times have you said something like this?
          I'm going to lay down and rest.
          Why don't you go lay down?

Or maybe something like this?
          I laid on the couch for awhile and my headache went away.
          The dog laid on his fluffy pillow for most of the night.

If you've used "lay" or "laid" in these ways, my friends, you've used the incorrect word.

When humans (or any living/breathing thing) get into a reclining position in the present tense, it is not a "lay" they are doing but a "lie."  "I'm going to lie down and rest."

The only time "lay" is used in the present tense is if there's an object to go with it. So while you lie down on the sofa, you lay a book down.

And here's where it gets really tricky...

The past-tense of "lie" (so, what you're doing on that sofa) is "lay."  Ahhh!  That right.  "I lay on the couch for awhile and my headache went away."  "The dog lay on his fluffy pillow for most of the night."

Lie moves through the tenses (present, past, past participle, present progressive) like this:
lie ---> lay ---> lain ---> lying

Lay moves through the tenses like this:
lay ---> laid ---> laid ---> laying

Elements of style says it like this:
The hen lays an egg; the llama lies down.  The playwright went home and lay down.

Has your mind been blown?  Once you start noticing this, you'll see that seriously, most people don't know the correct usage.  I still find it pretty difficult to employ - or I don't catch myself until after I've said it, so I sound like an even bigger idiot, "I was exhausted last night, so I laid down on the couch, ERR, no, um, I lay down."


Amanda said...

Stephen's dad taught us this same grammar rule a few years ago. Crazy!

LB said...

It's sort of like hang/hung - even though (I think) I know the right way to say this, I still wouldn't say it correctly on purpose because it sounds so awkward.