I recently saw “lie” and “lay” used incorrectly
Unfortunately, it is definitely understandable. “Lie” and “lay” may be the two most confusing words in English.
The verb “lie” means to be at rest, especially in a horizontal position. (“I’m going to lie down for a nap.”). The verb “lie” also means to be in some condition. (“The fault lies with the pilot.”) In either case, the subject of the sentence does not affect anything or anyone else. (The verb “lie” can also mean to say something untrue, but that use rarely causes problems.)
“Lay” means to put or place something. “I will lay the book down.” “The hens lay the eggs.” Here, the subject affects something else. In grammatical terms, the “book” and the “egg” are “direct objects” because the subjects are directly affecting them.
So far so good. The challenge comes in the past tense. “Lay” becomes “laid” and “(had) laid.” “Lie” becomes “lay” and “(had) lain.”
Two problems. First, the past tense of “lie” is the same as the present tense of “lay.” And, in use, the latter sounds like “laid.” “She lay down for a nap” (which is correct) sounds a great deal like “she laid down for a nap” (which is incorrect).
Here’s a trick to help you use the words correctly. “Lie” and “lay” (in the past tense) are almost always followed by the word “down.” “I need to lie down.” “He lay down for a long nap.” “Lay” (present tense) and “laid” are always followed by the object of their action. “Just lay the mail on the counter.” “He laid the book on the table.”
I hope this helps. For a detailed discussion of “lie” and “lay,” visit http://owlet.letu.edu/grammarlinks/verbs/verb3d.html.
To learn more about writing in general, I invite you to visit my website at www.CommunicationsPlus.net/WritingArticles.html.
Susan Monroe says
As a bit of a language snob, one of my huge pet peeves is the misuse of “lie” and “lay.” The confusion of the two, as in “Lay down and take a nap” is understandable, but it can make even a smart speaker sound uneducated. Same as with “Where are you at?” As opposed to “Where are you?”