Lie versus lay
While researching this common grammatical question I decided that a visual tool would help you remember the difference between lie and lay.
In the photo I chose, either lie “to rest” or lay “to place” could be applied correctly. It simply depends on the action that is taking place.
There are two possible scenarios here:
1. The child chose to have a rest on the sofa.
You would use the verb lie (to rest). The child wanted to lie on the sofa.
However, you could also say The child lay himself down on the sofa.
(He placed himself on the sofa with himself being the object.)
2. Someone placed the child on the sofa. Again, because the child is the object receiving the action you would use the verb lay (to place).
2 helpful tips to remember the difference:
1. Define lie and lay.
Lie means “to rest”. Lay means “to place”. What action is happening? Are you lying (to rest) down or are you laying (to place) something (an object) down?
(Lie also means “to deceive”. We will not discuss that here to keep things simple.)
2. The word lay requires a direct object while the word lie does not.
In the following examples baby is the object that is receiving the action. Notice that the verb lay (to place) applies in those cases.
Lie (to rest): You lie on the sofa. / You are lying on the sofa.
Lay (to place): You lay the baby on the sofa. / You are laying the baby on the sofa.
Lie (to rest): You lay down to rest earlier today.
Lay (to place): You laid the baby down to rest earlier today.
*It gets confusing because lay (to place) also serves as the past tense of lie (to rest). Here they appear in the same sentence:
You can lie beside your baby after you lay him down on the sofa.
Lie (to rest): You have lain on the sofa since this morning.
Lay (to place): You have laid the baby down to rest.
Lie and lay: a common grammatical error
The most common grammatical error with these two verbs is conjugating lay (to place) when you should be conjugating lie (to rest).
Example: The child laid still for hours.
This is incorrect because laid is the past tense of “to place”.
The child is resting and therefore this sentence should read as The child lay still for hours.
Remember Eric Clapton’s hit song Lay Down Sally? Well, this title is grammatically incorrect. It would be correct if written as Lie Down Sally (to rest) or Lay Me Down Sally (to place). In the second example, “Me” is the object that would be receiving the action. So, not to sound like a broken record — no pun intended — when conjugating the word lay it needs to refer to an object in the sentence.
If you’re still confused, remember that a chicken lays an egg. The egg is the object that is receiving the action. Using lay is correct because lay always requires an object.
Recognize the difference between “to rest” and “to place” in these 4 examples:
1. The chicken was lying in its nest when it laid an egg.
2. The chicken lies in its nest, laying eggs.
3. The chicken lies on top of the egg that it just laid.
4. The chicken has lain in its nest all day and has not laid one egg.
Do you have any other tips on how to remember the difference between lie and lay?
Is there another word that confuses you?
Image Credit: Lars Plougmann