Sunday, July 29, 2007

16. LIE or LAY--What Do You Say?

Hey, Everybody! I hope you're all doing well and continuing to enjoy these long (hot) summer days. Thankfully, the frog strangler I hoped for last time finally appeared! Did we ever need it! More would be all right, too. :-)

Today's lesson will attempt to address a problem many grammarians say is the toughest one in our language and I'll have to say that I'm in complete agreement--at least my experience supports that. Let's see if we can get these verbs straight once and for all. There honestly is an easy way to figure it out and if you use this method, you should be fine and never make a mistake again.

The verbs LIE and LAY (and some of their forms) seem to give people trouble--big time! So what is the problem and why is this so? There are several possibilities and I'll go through them-- one step at a time--hoping things will be clarified for you.

First, let me remind you about something you already know: Verbs have many tenses and forms. What this means is that, depending on the tense, person, and number, verbs often change form. For example, in present tense, you know that the verb WALK would be conjugated the following way:

Singular
I walk (1st person)
you walk (2nd person)
he, she, it walks (3rd person)

Plural
we walk (1st person)
you walk (2nd person)
they walk (3rd person)

Here, only the 3rd person singular verb changes (S on the end of WALK) while the other five remain WALK. However, if you continued to conjugate this verb in past tense, future tense, etc., you would be adding "ed" and other words, such as SHALL, WILL, HAD, HAVE, and even ING in the progressive form. Now don't let this confuse you--only remember here that verbs change forms sometime!

Okay, so now let's take a look at the verb LIE. There are two very important things to remember about this verb:

(1) LIE (and all of its forms) means "to rest or to recline". This means not only people and animals, but anything.

A newspaper LIES on the floor. (not LAYS)
A coat LIES on the chair. (not LAYS)
A truck LIES on its side. (not LAYS)
The leaves (LIE) on the ground. (not LAY UNLESS you're using past tense)

See how many times you've heard (or said?) this incorrectly? When you're trying to decide whether to use LIE or LAY (or one of its forms), ask yourself, "What does the word in question --LIE or LAY--mean?" If it means" resting or reclining", then use LIE (1st and 2nd person singular or 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person plural, present tense) , LIES (3rd person singular, present tense), LAY (past tense), or LYING (progressive form).

Right here, I have to interrupt this lesson to call something to your attention that may have contributed to your confusion with LIE. Did you notice that the past tense of LIE is LAY? This is not the same LAY as the next verb we're going to study. Unfortunately, LAY here is not only the past tense of LIE, but it's also another verb with completely different forms in number, person, and tense. AARGH!! If only our forefathers had "invented" another past tense word for LIE! No wonder this is so tough! Don't worry, though. Just keep in mind the first rule above and ask yourself what the verb in question means --"rest or recline". If "rest or recline" is what is meant in the sentence, then use a form of LIE.

(2) The other very important thing to remember about LIE (and all of its forms) is that there is no direct object following LIE in any of its forms.

Do you remember what direct objects are? They are simply nouns or pronouns that answer the questions "What?" or "Whom?" after the subject and verb in a sentence.

Here are some examples:

John threw the ball.

"John" is the subject and "threw" is the verb. Now say the subject and verb to yourself and then ask the questions "What?" or "Whom?". If you have an answer that is a noun or pronoun, then you have a direct object in the sentence.

John threw what? "Ball" is the answer and it's a noun, so "ball" is the direct object.

Now, notice this sentence:

Susie lies out in the sun every weekend.

"Susie" is the subject and "lies" (not lays) is the present tense form of the verb.

Why? Try the direct object test:

Susie lies what? This doesn't make sense -- there's no answer to that. Some folks might think the answer is that she wants to lie in the sun... but remember that the direct object must be a noun or pronoun--not a group of words as seen in this sentence. Also lying in the sun doesn't answer "What?" but "Where?"

Next, let's take a look at LAY. Fortunately, we don't seem to have quite as much trouble with LAY and its forms as we do with LIE and its forms, but problems do crop up sometimes, so we'll review this also. Just as it is true with LIE, there are two very important things to keep in mind about LAY:

(1) LAY (and all of its forms) means "to put or place" something. It always names the thing that is put somewhere.

Please LAY the book on the table. (Not LIE)
Did you LAY the strawberries on the counter. (Not LIE)
I'm LAYING your News Reporter here so you can read it. (Not LYING)
I LAID your jacket on the bed. (Not LAY)

Again, if you're in doubt about which form of LIE or LAY is correct, ask yourself what the word in question means in the sentence. If it means "putting or placing something", a form of LAY is correct, and the actual verb LAY should be used in 1st and 2nd person singular and 1st, 2nd and 3rd plural, present tense or one of its other forms, such as LAYS (3rd person singular, present tense), LAID (past tense) and LAYING (progressive form).

(2) LAY (and all of its forms) always takes a direct object. Remember to ask "what?" or "whom?" after saying the subject and verb and if you have a noun or pronoun answer, then a form of LAY is the correct verb to use. Notice this example:

Did you LAY the straw where I wanted it?

"You" is the subject and "Did lay" is the verb. Now try the direct object test.

You did lay "What?" or "Whom?" Yes! There's an answer to "what?" and that answer is "straw", so you'd be correct to use a form of LAY, which in this case is LAY (not LIE). Try one more:

She LAID the baby next to the kitten for the photograph.

"She" is the subject and "laid" is the verb. Again, try the direct object test.

She laid what or whom? Yes, once more, an answer! This time the answer is "baby", so using LAID (not LAY) is correct.

So how are you doing? Ready to try a few sentences on your own? Here goes...


(1) Lake Waccamaw (lies, lays) in the heart of Columbus County, NC.
(2) The leaves have (lain, laid) in their yard for months.
(3) We have been (lying, laying) on this beach for four hours.
(4) The mail (lay, laid) on the dining room table.
(5) Grandma (lay, laid) her cares aside after hearing the good news about her grandson.

I hope this wasn't too tough. Here are the answers and explanations.

(1) " lies" is correct because it it is a present tense form of the verb LIE and means (in this case) "resting or reclining." Now, this might sound strange, but remember that in this context, not only people and animals do this--everything else does, too. The other reason is that there is no direct object in this sentence. LAKE WACCAMAW LIES "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There is no answer to the question.

(2) "lain" is correct because it is the past participle form of the verb LIE and means "resting or reclining." Once again, there is no direct object in the sentence. LEAVES HAVE LAIN "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There is no answer.

(3) "lying" is correct because it is the present participle form of the verb LIE and means "resting or reclining," and, as before, there's no direct object in the sentence. WE HAVE BEEN LYING "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There's no answer.

(4) "lay" is correct because it is the past tense form of the verb LIE and means "resting or reclining," and, again, there is no direct object in the sentence. THE MAIL LAY "what?" or "whom?" makes no sense. There's also no answer to the question.

(5) "laid" is correct because it is the past participle form of LAY and means "putting or placing something," and there is (finally!) a direct object. GRANDMA LAID "what?" or "whom?" This time there is an answer--"cares."

Wow! This has been a long lesson, and I'll have to admit that I've been worried I might lose some of you, but in case you're still here, I hope things have been clarified somewhat.

Here's it all in a peanut shell:

(1) Use LIE and its forms when the meaning in the sentence is "resting or reclining" and there's NO direct object

(2) Use LAY and its forms when the meaning in the sentence is "putting or placing something" and there IS a direct object.


By the way, the verb LIE meaning "to tell an untruth or fib" has nothing to do with the LIE in this lesson. As a matter of fact, some of the principal parts of this LIE are also different. They are LIE, LYING, LIED, AND LIED.

Practice thinking about the rules we've looked at today and you'll have this down pat faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. Also, do me a big favor and remember that you don't LAY out to get a suntan, you LIE out to get one. It's true!! Let me know if another practice on these verbs would be helpful.

Take care this week and enjoy all the good things life has to offer. Peace and happiness, GG

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