September 20, 2017
It’s followed you all through life — the tendency to mix up the words “lie” and “lay.” But not to worry, according to Grammar Girl, there’s an easy way to remember which one is which:
If you’re using the present tense, simply remember that a person or animal lies down on its own. An inanimate object, such as a wallet, phone or candy bar lays on the table. If something must be placed because it can’t place itself, then you must lay it down. But if you’re feeling tired, and you’re ready for a nap, then you should go lie down.
Seems simple enough in the present tense. Use another tense, and things get a little more murky.
Sadly, somebody somewhere once decided that the past tense of the word lie is lay. This makes life more difficult for those of us who value grammar over coolness. So if you took your nap yesterday, then you took time to lay down yesterday to rest up after the ballgame. If you delivered that package yesterday, then you laid it on the stoop when it became too heavy.
And then there’s the word lain. It’s a past tense word that refers back to the word lie.
It’s tricky, but not impossible to remember which form of the verb is the right one to use, and if you mess it up — not to worry. Most of the rest of America will never know.
(And that’s not even accounting for the confusion created when “lie” is used for telling an untruth!)
The most important thing to remember about using lie versus lay correctly, is that not everybody does it. It’s important not to be that guy who feels the need to point this out to total strangers. It’s good that you know what you’re doing now, when you’re laying it all on the line, but try not to be that person who makes others want to lie down and die from the embarrassment of a public grammar check. English grammar is a curiosity in itself, with words that are spelled nearly the same having entirely different pronunciations:
It’s difficult to nail them all down — especially for someone who speaks English as a second or third language, so be sure to cut folks a little slack when they’ve been through enough already.
So now you know. When the meteors come out at night, you’re going to go lie on a blanket and watch them shoot across the sky. But the blanket itself will lay on the ground so you don’t get dirty. Your phone, with its star-gazing app will lay next to you, but your friend will come lie down beside you once she arrives. Simple right?
Don’t worry; we usually don’t remember either.