Word Choice – Lay Versus Lie

Susan’s question: “Being a grammar buff, it causes me pain when I hear and read ‘lay’ being used instead of ‘lie,’ all over the internet, television, radio, and in song lyrics these days. Please consider doing your followers a great service by highlighting this epidemic.”

BizWritingTip response: You are right. This is a common mistake. When you lay something you are placing it on a surface. Here’s an easy way to remember it: There’s a “la” in lay and a “la” in place. The word always requires an object to complete its meaning. (The past tense of lay is laid.)

Examples
Please lay the report on my desk. (Please place the report on my desk.)
She laid the agendas on the table last night. (She placed the agendas on the table.)

When a person or thing lies, it is assuming a horizontal position, resting or staying. This verb never has an object.  (The past tense of lie is lay.)

Examples
He always lies on the couch after dinner.
She didn’t like the book so it lay untouched for days. (Lay is the past tense of lie.)

Still confused? If the word place works as a substitute use lay. If place does not work, use lie.

Examples (correct)
I will lie down now. (I cannot “place” down now.)
Lay the glass on the table. (You can “place” the glass on the table.)
My sympathies lie with the family. (My sympathies cannot “place” with the family.)

Note the grammar error in the classic children’s prayer from the 18th century Now I lay me down to sleep. It should really be As I lie down to sleep.

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