I’m lying (or is it laying?)

I haven’t thought about the difference between lie, lay, laid, lain since high school English class, but in writing a bit of story the other day I used ‘lay’ [correctly it turns out], but it didn’t sound right. So to be sure, I did a search and found a brilliant, brief explanation from Encyclopaedia Brittanica. I’ll paraphrase but all credit to them …

First of all, when I say ‘lie’ I mean lie as in ‘lie down’ not tell a falsehood. 

Simply put, use ‘lie’ when it is an action with no object. It’s something you do yourself, in other words. For example:

“I always lie down after lunch for a nap.”

“She lies down to reach beneath the sofa.”

“They lie down together to mediate.”

On the other hand, use ‘lay’ when you take action in regards to an object. For example:

“Put down the book and lay it on the table before answering the door.”

All the above examples are in the present tense, but some confusion arises when we consider the past tense. Why? Because ‘lay’ is the past tense of ‘lie’! For example:

“After lunch, I lay down for a nap.”

But ‘laid’ is the past tense of ‘lay’, so …

“She laid the book on the table before answering the door.”

So what about ‘lain’? That is the past participle tense of lie. You would use it this way:

“I had lain on the sofa much longer than I intended.”

The past participle of lay is still ‘laid’ so it would be used this way:

“She had laid the book on the table before answering the door.”

And just to finish things off, the present participle tense of ‘lie’ is ‘lying’ and for ‘lay’ it is ‘laying’. They would each be used this way:

“I am lying down for a nap after lunch.”

“She is laying the book on the table before she answers the door.”

I hope this was helpful! Happy writing and productive editing! I’m going to lie down now….

18 thoughts on “I’m lying (or is it laying?)

  1. It can be tricky, especially for non-native English users like me. However, I read abnormal amounts in English, and I started studying English some 35 years ago while still at University. Languages were actually my main specialty for many years. I use 4 languages at a native level.
    This particular verb can cause troubles, and we might use it incorrectly here and there. Just like you, I do research about whatever seems to be doubtful.
    I have also noticed the following; when I write without thinking, I would use whatever verb, adjective and phrasal verb correctly, and then I start analyzing it and end up using that particular word not right.
    I do also sometimes use expressions which I feel fit in the context, although, I couldn’t translate them properly. I’ve been working as a professional medical translator and writer for more than 35 years, and these medical texts were often extremely complex, I needed to get clinical background, etc. I got it and also a lot of knowledge.
    I felt I had to leave a comment and that shows the problem is actual.Thanks for pointing it out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Inese! I think you can get away with bending the rules in fiction writing more than in nonfiction and obviously, academic level writing. For example, I don’t worry too much about using the wrong word when writing dialogue. People often use improper grammar when speaking. However, I try to remain within the boundaries when I write the narration or in my essays!

      I am in awe of your language expertise! That is a phenomenal talent/ability. I would love to speak just one other language fluently! Thanks again for your comment!

      Like

    1. He actually is! Grammatically it should be “Lie lady lie” but I cannot imagine the song that way. Unless of course Bob is picking up said Lady and ‘laying’ her down himself, making her the object of the action… 😜 Isn’t it strange that the proper ways don’t sound right. I used ‘lay’ correctly and it sounded wrong which is what led me to look this up!

      Liked by 1 person

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