Don’t Mix Up “Lay” and “Lie”

Many speakers and television scriptwriters seem to be unaware of the difference between the verbs lay and lie,

The incorrect usage of lay for lie is wide spread and will probably prevail as the teaching of English to native speakers continues its downward slide. For now, however, educated speakers of standard English cringe to hear someone say “Lay down, Fido,” or a television Voice Over saying “no more laying awake all night.”

Lay takes an object. That means that if you are going to use the word lay in a command, it should be followed by a word that indicates what you want put somewhere. For example, “Lay down the gun,” or “Lay the gun down.” If all you’re after is getting a dog or a bank teller to get down on the floor, you want to say “Lie down.” (The inept bank robbers in Raising Arizona DO get their verbs right!)

Lie refers to the the activity of being on one’s back or side or otherwise in a prone position: “No more lying awake all night,” or “I was lying there, just thinking”

The confusion between the two verbs arises from the fact that both verbs have a form spelled “lay.”

to lie: to recline
Present tense form: lie Don’t just lie there! Get moving!
Past tense form: lay She lay in bed all morning.
Past participle form: lain They have lain on the beach all day.

to lay: to place or put
Present tense form: lay Lay the baby on the bed.
Past tense form: laid I laid the books on the table.
Past participle form: laid The medics laid the unconscious man on the gurney.

When in doubt, try replacing lay with put:
Lay the gun down. Put the gun down. The substitution makes sense.
I was laying there all night. I was putting there all night. The substitution does not make sense.

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