So if you don't already know, I have a weekly video series on my Facebook page where I explain thorny grammar issues that tend to crop up when I'm editing. I'm a giant grammar nerd, and spreading the good grammar gospel is one of my missions in life.
This week's grammar video was on one of my personal bugaboos, lay vs lie, and when to use which one. When I was working as a medical editor, I had to edit reports that went to lawyers and could potentially become part of a court case, so proper language was more essential than ever. I had to look up the difference between "lay" and "lie" so many times because I could never keep it straight in my head.
So "lay" and "lie" are present-tense verbs and the difference is that "lay" is a transitive verb (meaning it takes a direct object) and "lie" is an intransitive verb (meaning there's no direct object). All you need to do to figure out if there's a direct object in a sentence is to ask "what?" or "whom?" after the verb: “She lays what?” “She lays the baby in his crib.” “Baby” is a noun so it’s the direct object and you use “lay.” If you try this with "lie," it doesn't work. “He lies down on the couch.” “Down” isn’t a noun, so there’s no direct object.
Things get stickier in the past tense because the past tense of "lie" is "lay." One of the many fun ways the English language loves to tease and infuriate its users. So it would be “he lay down on the couch and went to sleep.” The past tense of "lay" is a bit simpler: it's just "laid," so “she laid the baby in his crib.”
In the past participle form (when an action has occurred in the past but is ongoing), the "lie" verb is still irregular and here you use "lain": “He has lain on the couch for hours now.” Meanwhile, "lay" in the past participle form is, like the past tense, “laid”: “She has laid the baby in his crib five times already tonight.”
Whew! Confusing, right? In that medical editor job, I printed out a chart for easy reference so that's what I'm providing here for you to use too!:
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