Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Lay or Lie? Arh!

Do you know when to lay and when to lie? Get this right, and you’ll impress an editor. It won’t make your book any more marketable, but you’ll know one thing that most aspiring writers don’t. And no wonder:


To recline:
Lie.
Lay.
Lain.
Lying.
To set down:
Lay.
Laid.
Laid.
Laying.
To tell an untruth:
Lie.
Lied.
Lied.
Lying.


These words are a bit stupid. They overlap so much that most writers will get this wrong. I could go on, showing how easily it is to get in a rut, but I’m not here to confuse. You can probably do that on your own.

First off, learn the present tense forms. One great tip is to ask Lay what? To set something down is transitive, which means you need an object. I lay the book down just as much as I set the book down. If you want to pick her up and lay her body down, that’s also fine. But if you want to be next to her, you need to lie down. If you need a nap, then you lie down.

That might make it look simpler...until you write a sentence and need to decide which term is correct. That’s when the knowledge seems to curdle and separate itself from your brain. So here are several examples of how each word should be used. If you can’t figure it out, then maybe you can match your sentence to one here:

To tell a lie is bad.

To lie on the sofa is lazy.

Did you just lay an egg?

Yes, the egg was laid.

I didn’t lie and I didn’t lay it.

She has lain on the bed for hours.

The clothes were laid on the bed.

She lay down next to her clothes and sighed.

I am not laying the clothes out.

I am lying on the bed.

Kinda sound like a naff poem, but hopefully it helps. If not, there are many others who are desperately trying to explain this mess of tenses. I recommend Grammar Girl’s explanation.

Cheers for reading mine!