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Lie, Lay, and Laid: The Naughty Grammarian Explains

Updated on February 25, 2017
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano, aka "The Naughty Grammarian," has had her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry published in books and periodicals.

"Lie" and "Lay" Cause Confusion

Even Miss Grammers is sometimes confused by t "lie" and "lay."
Even Miss Grammers is sometimes confused by t "lie" and "lay." | Source

Miss Grammers Goes Bananas with "Lie" and "Lay"

Miss Grammers cannot tell a lie. Even she gets a bit confused by “lie,” “lay,” and, ”laid.” And “lain.” Miss Grammers thinks that she and you need a refresher course.

Recently Miss Grammers was at a party playing a word game called Bananagrams. It is similar to Scrabble except there isn’t a board and play is much faster because everyone plays on their own. Each player gets a certain number of tiles and constructs their own crossword diagram. Whoever uses all of their letters first is the winner.

Miss Grammers won. Miss Grammers won every round. Soon no one wanted to play anymore. Miss Grammers should learn to throw the game once in a while or she will not have friends any more.

Miss Grammers was challenged on the word “lain.” The other five players all insisted that there was no such word as “lain.” A quick check of the dictionary soon proved that “lain” is indeed a word. (It is the past participle of “lie.”) It was at that moment that Miss Grammers knew she had to do a lesson on “lie,” “lay,” and, ”laid.” And “lain.”

Conjugating "Lie"

The present, past, and past participle of "Lie."
The present, past, and past participle of "Lie." | Source

When and How to Use "Lie"

The meaning of "lie" is to be in, to stay in, or to assume a horizontal position.

"Lie" is an intransitive verb. An intransitive verb indicates the action of the subject. In the examples below Melanie is the subject and the verb "lie" indicates the action she is taking.

The present tense is "lie," the past tense is "lay," and the past participle is "lain."

Melanie said, “Let’s lie on the grass.”

After Melanie lay on the grass, Doug walked by.

Melanie had lain in the grass for several hours before Doug walked by.

Wrong:

Melanie is laying on the grass.

Unless Melanie is a chicken producing eggs, she did not lay on the grass. She is lying on the grass.

Melanie laid down on the grass.

Did Melanie encounter some ducks, collect their down, and then place the down on the grass? Or do you mean that Melanie lay down on the grass, sometime before this present moment, perhaps to take a nap. The past tense of "lie" is "lay."


Wrong:

Melanie had laid on the grass for several hours before Doug arrived.

Unless Melanie is a chicken on an egg-laying binge, she has not laid on the grass for several hours. Miss Grammers thinks you mean to say that Melanie had lain on the grass for several hours, perhaps having a very long nap. The past participle of "lie" is "lain."

Click for the Complete Conjugation of Lie


Conjugating "Lay"

The present, past, and past participle of "lay."
The present, past, and past participle of "lay." | Source

When and How to Use "Lay"

"Lay" means to put or set something down.

"Lay" is a transitive verb. It requires an object. It is used to indicate what the subject does to the object.

The present tense is "lay." (It gets confusing because "lay" is also the past tense of "lie.") The past test is "laid." The past participle is also "laid."

In the examples below, Melanie is the subject, "lay" is the verb, and "head" is the object.

Melanie said, “May I lay my head on your chest?”

Melanie laid her head on Doug’s chest.

Malaine had laid her head on Doug’s chest many times in the past.

Wrong:

Melanie told Doug, “You can lie your books on the grass beside me.”

In this sentence, "you" is the subject and "books" is the object, and so the proper verb is "lay." Melanie gives Doug permission to lay his books on the grass.

Wrong:

Melanie saw Doug’s books laying on the grass.

Since "books" is the subject, the proper verb is "lie." The books are taking the action of lying on the grass.)


Click for the Complete Conjugation of Lay

Conjugation of "Lie" and "Lay"

 
Lie
Lay
Verb type
Intransitive
Transitive
What it indicates
Action of the subject
Action done to an object
Present tense
I lie down
I lay it down
Past tense
I lay (or lied) down
I laid it down
Past participle
I have lain (or lied) down
I have laid it down

Keep the correct usage at your fingertips. It's detailed on the back of the mug.

A Few Complications

Things get a little complicated as they so often do in the English language. “Lay" is the past tense of "lie," but it is also acceptable to use the word “lied.” But since “lay" is preferred, Miss Grammers would like you to forget that she ever mentioned it.

Another complication is alternate meanings of "lie," "lay," and "laid."

A lie can be a noun meaning an untruth or a fib.

"Lie" can also be a verb meaning to tell an untruth or to fib. When "lie" has this meaning, the past tense is "lied," and the past participle is also "lied."

"Lay" can be a verb meaning to be producing eggs.“Do not disturb the hen when she is laying.” The object “eggs” is implied.

Finally, "laid" is a slang, somewhat vulgar term, relating to the act of sexual intercourse. Miss Grammers will assume that you are all familiar with the term and need no further instruction on its use.

Please do this poll.

Have you learned when and how to use all the tenses of "lie" and "lay"?

See results

Miss Grammers

Miss Grammers has laid down the rules.
Miss Grammers has laid down the rules. | Source

Who is Miss Grammers?

At the present moment, Miss Grammers wants to lie down in a dark room and lay a cold compress upon her head. It is very trying when one tries to keep "lie" and "lay" and "laid" and "lain" straight. Miss Grammers completely understands if you too are feeling slightly dizzy.

Miss Grammers has taken upon herself the thankless job of attempting to explain the intricacies of English grammar to the masses. Miss Grammers does not wish to be a scold, but incorrect grammar grates on her ears. Miss Grammers would like to lay this burden down, but she would not like to see hapless highly-intelligent people making themselves seem ignorant.

Miss Grammers is mindful that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down and that a little bit of naughtiness may make the lesson more memorable. It has been Miss Grammers’ experience that a little bit of naughtiness also makes Miss Grammers more memorable, although not always in a good way.

Do this quiz to see how well you have learned today's lesson.


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Please ask any questions, suggest corrections or additions, or just give your thoughts about this lesson.

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    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 2 years ago from Richmond, VA

      I use these appropriately, but it seems like I am in the minuscule minority. "Lie down" is a command you almost never hear.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. Long, long ago, someone told me that hens lay, people lie, so I've managed the present tense all right, but as I am now several decades from my high school grammar classes, I seem to have trouble remembering the right words for the past tense of either, let alone past participles. Oh, and wasn't there a past perfect in there somewhere?

      This is most helpful. I love your picking up on the Miss Manners identity and changing it to Miss Grammars. You made the lesson fun. Thank you.

    • mdscoggins profile image

      Michelle Scoggins 2 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thank you Katherine I love this series. This was perfect timing. Recently I found myself struggling with these word combinations :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Goat, Ecp, mds: I'm so glad that you have enjoyed my Miss Grammars series. I love writing it. Miss Grammars may know everything, but I don't, so I always learn something when I do these. I gave links to the complete conjugations because it would have been overkill to try to every past perfect whatever in the piece.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      The world needs explanations like these. Although my grammar is pretty good (should be, as I'm an English teacher!) I am caught out occasionally and these words are confusing for many.

      A light-hearted look at grammar is good and I love your Miss Grammars character. Also love the 'grammar' mugs!

      Ann

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Miss Grammars should consider her own reality TV show. Perhaps she could ambush careless office workers as they bang out hasty emails, or perhaps she could ambush me just before I click "publish". A good grammar beat down is good for us all. I laughed and I learned! Voted up, useful, funny and interesting.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Iris, thank you so much for your comment. I am guilty of bad proof reading all the time. Remember, Miss Grammers is my character, like a character in a novel. She is not really me. I don't get up in people's faces about grammar or anything else.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Annart: I usually do these grammar hubs about things I feel I don't know or don't know well enough. Then I research and learn and pass the knowledge on. I don't know where Miss Grammers came from--she just popped into my head. I think of her as a way to make my grammar posts more interesting and unique compared to what I see on the internet. Thanks for your appreciation. The grammar mugs are a perfect gift for a teacher--they are designed by a teacher. Leave the article where your family can see it as a hint.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      I'm with Ann. The character is great. I actually came back to this post because I'm writing a piece with "lay", "lie" or "laid" and I want to be sure I get it right. This was immediately useful for me. :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Gad to be of help. I hope it's not a grammar piece. Grammar is such an overpopulated topic--I don't need even more competition.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 2 years ago from California

      Loved, loved this!!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Audrey. Thank you. Thank you. I just noticed the H+ you gave it. Thank you for that.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Well done! A spoonful of sugar (humor) indeed helps the medicine go down as well as making the lesson more memorable.

      I, too, have struggled with this set of verbs from time to time, and it is good to have a refresher course.

      Perhaps Miss Grammers will next take up the who/whom dilemma. ;-) (I once received a phone call, the voice was somewhat garbled, and I inquired, "With whom did you wish to speak?" the voice silenced, then, "Wrong number. No one I know says 'whom.' " LOL)

      Voted up, interesting, useful and funny.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you for your kind, and funny comments. Miss Grammers does indeed take requests. Some of the Miss Grammers hubs I have done have been because a friend said, "You know what I hate? I hate it when people say .... Why don't you write about that?"

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Sam Deal 2 years ago from Earth

      I'm guilty as charged - mix them up all the time.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      You have plenty of company. I'll tell you a secret. I was mixing them up as I wrote this piece. I hope I finally got it all corrected.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      All the votes on this one! As a fellow grammar geek, I loved this one. Funny, I was just explaining this verb to my boyfriend yesterday. While he was still confused, he said he now knows it better than he did. I told him I even teach my dog proper grammar: "Lie down, Gizmo." :-)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Victoria: The bit about your dog made me laugh. Thanks you for the votes. I'm so glad you enjoyed this post. Writing it has improved my use of these words also. I think this might just be the most confusing set of verbs in the English language.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Whew, just came back to this for reference. I think I got it right. You can tell me in a few days. :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I have to use this for reference myself. I'm going to be doing another grammarian piece soon. I hope this week.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 2 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Good to have these grammar lessons. Often I will get a little mixed up.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      I need a refresher course no and then myself. Some of this is really confusing.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      O loved this. Back in the day, I taught these lessons many times. And now I sometimes break the rules because I can if I am writing a fun piece :D

      Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks patraubie48 I'm so glad you loved my hub on the use of lie, lay laid. It's tricky. I sometimes have to refer to my own hub to keep from making a mistake on this.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 2 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      This is really beautiful and funny Catherine. Even i get confused sometimes. It is tricky. But they way you discussed it make it really clear. This will definitely help a lot. This is really worth sharing. Kudos my friend.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      yes, i always have trouble with past tense, present tense and future tense, so it should be I lie or lay or laid on the bed??

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      jpcmc: Thank you for the share and compliments. I always love to hear that my grammar lesson made people laugh because grammar can be so dull. I try to make it fun. Thanks for the kudos.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Peachpurple. Sometimes these irregular verbs are enough to make you dizzy. Lie down on the bed until the feeling passes and then come by for a refresher course in lie-lay- have-lain and lay-laid-have laid. I hope I have laid your confusion to rest.

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