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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Lay & Lie: Part II


Last week we discussed how to use the words lay and lie correctly. As you may remember, first you must determine how the word is being used. Lay means to put or place, while lie means to recline, rest, or stay. Before reading any further, you may want to review last week's tip by clicking here.

Most of the confusion surrounding lay and lie stems from their past tenses. The past tense of lay is laid. That's not so difficult, right? Unfortunately, the past tense of lie is lay. Who made up such a crazy rule? Now you see where the confusion begins!

The following chart shows the various tenses for lay and lie as listed in the 10th edition of The Gregg Reference Manual (¶1030):

 Present              Past                   Past Participle  Present Participle
 lay (place)  laid  has/have/had laid  am/is/are laying
 lie (recline)  lay  has/have/had lain  am/is/are lying

I'm sure your eyes started to glaze over as soon as you saw the word "participle!" There's no need to worry -- we won't focus on participles today. For now, you only need to know that the past and present participles are accompanied by "helping verbs" like has, have, had, am, is, and are. There are many other helping verbs, but we'll save that for another week.

You'll notice that the various tenses of lay come to you quite naturally. The key here is to use lay and its accompanying tenses only when you're talking about placing something somewhere, not when you're reclining.

Lie and its tenses (lay, lain, lying) are the tough ones. Who says, "Last night I lay awake in bed" or "I could have lain on the beach all day" in everyday speech? I certainly don't! Fortunately, most people aren't hyper-critical when lay is misused, but it's always best to use correct grammar when you're writing formally.

You probably won't remember these rules the next time you need them, and I haven't found any special memory tricks for lay and lie to share with you. Your best bet is to review this information again when you need it. Be sure to add the Grammar Tips & Tidbits Archive to your bookmarks!

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