Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Laying the Lie-Lay Confusion to Rest

Ted Whittier is at it again:

“Thanks, again, for your interesting and informative daily word pieces. I enjoy them immensely.”

“I do have a question however. Has the use of the words lay and lie changed since I went to school? In your word piece today for crepuscular, in the Notes section, fifth sentence, you state: ‘. . . so we mustn’t just let it lay there.’ I seem to recall that if we lay something down we then let it lie not lay. What say you, good Doctor?”

Ted, when you’re right, you’re right. I had written “lie there” and was called on it by one of my editors, but then forgot to correct it.

Lie differs from lay in that it is intransitive (can’t take a direct object) and lay is transitive can take a direct object, so “I lie down” but “I lay the paper down”.

The problem is, and has been for centuries, the past tense of lie is lay—lie, lay, lain. The parts of speech of lay are lay, laid, laid.

I’ve written on this problem somewhere else on the website and forgot in the heat of getting out the Good Word (usually late at night) my own advice.

Thank you for catching that.

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