We’re tackling one of the less obvious grammatical foibles today. Did you know that there is a difference between lay and lie? Because there is! Let’s explore.

lay vs lie

The Difference Between Lay and Lie

Other than the definition of “to tell an untruth,” lay and lie are often used interchangeably. But lay is a transitive verb, meaning it requires a subject and one or more direct objects. Lie, on the other hand, is an intransitive verb, which means that it doesn’t need an object.

But the Lay vs. Lie Conundrum Gets More Conundrumy

Here’s where it gets tricky: the past tense of lay is laid, and the past tense of lie is lay.

Ta-dah.

So if you wanted to say that you lay on the floor in the fetal position all day yesterday, that’s correct, because the verb is in the past tense. If you said that you lay in said position all day regularly, that would be wrong. There is no object in that sentence, so you want the intransitive verb in the present tense, which would be that you lie in the fetal position often.

Let’s look at the transitive verb. If you find yourself on the floor regularly, you may decide to take painkillers. Good for you! Way to be proactive. After you take a few, you decide to lay the bottle on the sink. Good for you again! You used the right form of the verb. A few hours later, you need another dosage. Do you remember that you laid the bottle on the sink? If you did, then not only will your body aches go away faster, but you also used the proper verb form.

PRACTICE

Someone is sick/injured/bawling/laughing hysterically on the floor. Write about it for fifteen minutes, using the right forms of lay/lie. Share your practice in the comments, and leave notes for your fellow writers.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.