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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Lay & Lie

Personally, I have a hard time remembering how to use the words lay and lie correctly. I doubt that I am the only one who has this problem, since it has almost become standard usage to say, "I am going to lay down for a nap" or "I was just laying down to rest." Although these sentences sound perfectly fine to most of us, they actually contain errors. To clear up the confusion, we'll dedicate the next few grammar tips to the nuances of using lay and lie correctly.

Please note: for the purposes of the following lessons, we will disregard the form of the word lie which means "to tell a falsehood." Most of us use this word correctly and do not confuse it with the word lay. Thank goodness for small miracles, right?

The 10th edition of The Gregg Reference Manual (¶1101) defines the words lay and lie as follows:

●  Lay - to put or to place. This verb requires an object to complete its meaning.

●  Lie - to recline, rest, or stay. This verb cannot take an object.

Most of us use the word lay in almost every situation and rarely use the word lie, even when it's appropriate. For example, the corrected versions of the above sentences should read: "I am going to lie down for a nap" and "I was just lying down to rest." Anytime it is YOU (or another person) who is reclining, you should use a form of the word lie.

The Gregg Reference Manual suggests substituting the word place, placed, or placing (as appropriate) for the word in question. If the sentence still makes sense after the substitution, use the appropriate form of lay, which means to place. If the sentence no longer makes sense, use the appropriate form of lie, which means to recline. Here are a couple of examples:

●  I will lay-lie down now. "I will place down now" does not make sense. Thus, the correct sentence should be "I will lie down now."

●  Please lay-lie the message on my desk. "Please place the message on my desk" still makes sense. Thus, the correct sentence should be "Please lay the message on my desk."

If this method doesn't clear things up for you, just remember to use the word lay to place an object somewhere. Use the word lie if a person or thing is reclining on its own.

Don't you wish it were really this easy? Next week we'll talk about the different forms of lay and lie. That's when things get really confusing! I couldn't just let sleeping dogs lie, could I?

Click here to read Part II.

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