Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lie vs Lay

To commemorate my discovery of Merriam-Webster dictionary, as well as an attempt to teach myself some of the things I mess up with, I’m going to make a post on a problematic usage of words or grammar every week.

The verbs lie and lay have always confused me somewhat.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the following definitions that are relevant in this case :

1. to be or to stay at rest in a horizontal position
2. to assume a horizontal position
3. of an inanimate thing: to be or remain in a flat or horizontal position upon a broad support
4. to occupy a certain relative place or position

There are some others, but for now these will do.
As for lay, Merriam-Webster has the following (that is relevant):

1. to put or set down
2. to place (something immaterial) on something

Apparently ‘lay’ is getting more popular with people so this post may be obsolete by then. But carrying on, here is the difference and usage.

Lie is mostly used to speak of something already in a state of rest and for when something puts itself into a state of rest while lay is used to speak of the act of putting something into a state of rest.
To make everything even more confusing, the past tense of lie is lay.

Here’s a breakdown:
Lie, lay, lain – Something is in a state of rest. (e.g. The book had lain on the table.)
Lay, laid, laid – The act of putting something in a state of rest. (e.g. The man had laid the book on the table.)

I’ve used ‘lied’ for the past tense of ‘lie’ so many times before, it’s embarrassing. I’ll watch out for this one in the future.

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