It's the second day of Pink University and our professor today is the brilliant RA. She just got a new job as a writer, so she knows what she's talking about, people. We are seriously so lucky to have such a qualified team!
I am going to explain the difference between lie and lay.
Wait! Where are you going? Come back! I promise to be as quick and painless as possible.
The Twitchy Grammar
Lie is an intransitive verb that means "to recline" (also, "to make an untrue statement," but we aren't touching that one), and it does not require a direct object, which is something that receives the action of the verb. When someone reclines, that's all there is:
I lie on the couch.Careful now, because couch is not the direct object; it's part of a prepositional phrase that is, as my 8th grade English teacher would say, "dead to the sentence!"
Lay is a transitive verb, so it transfers action to a necessary direct object, and it means "to place an object. "
I lay the book on the table.Here, book is the direct object of lay. When we use lay, we have to answer the question, "Lay what?" (Or, "whom," if that helps you remember, and yes, it helps some people. Ahem.)
So, the bottom line is:
If there is a direct object, use lay. If not, use lie.Even Trickier Tenses
Things get messier when you venture outside the present tense. Here are our sample sentences again:
I lie on the couch.And now, in the past tense:
I lay the book on the table.
Yesterday, I lay on the couch.Inconveniently, the past tense of lie happens to be the present tense of lay. So awesome, English Language Originators! Lest we get all jumbled up, let's remember:
Yesterday, I laid the book on the table.
Direct object = layThe Other Bottom Line
No direct object = lie
In most circumstances, people should use lie instead of lay. We rarely use lay to express the notion of putting something down or placing an object on a spot. See? I just used two other words to say the same thing. With that in mind, here is my Rule of Thumb But Not Really a Rule:
You probably mean lie.I'm serious. Here are a few examples from recent blog reading:
- What would you do with extra money laying around?
- I can't wait to lay on the beach this weekend.
- I'm laying low until I feel better.
Neither of the first two sentences has a direct object, and the intent of the verb is "recline," so the verb should have been a form of lie. Money lies around; we lie on the beach.
The third sentence contains a common idiom that means "to overpower, kill, or defeat" and requires a direct object, like this:
In the video game, I lay my enemies low.One cannot lay oneself low without inflicting bodily harm, which, I think, is against the intent of that sentence. Again, lie is the correct choice here.
- If there is a direct object, use lay. If not, use lie.
- You probably mean lie.
Isn't she awesome? I hope I have an opportunity to show off my understanding of lie and lay on the Bar exam! Let's all practice good use of lie and lay in the comments! Go!