MiR 043 Short – Lay vs Lie


Welcome to the Mark in Russia podcast network, episode #43, and I’m your host, Mark. This episode is part of my series of “Shorts” and by this I mean approximately 5 minute long podcasts which are aimed at explaining a Quick Grammar Tip.

You should go to the website, http:www.markinrussia.com and look at the show notes and vocabulary. You’ll get more out of the lesson if you are able to follow it in writing.

Today’s Quick Grammar Tip concerns the use Lay and Lie. Which is correct and when do we use it.

Even for native English speakers, the verbs “Lay” and “Lie” are two of the most confused and misused verbs in the English language. While there is not a magic formula that I can teach you that will clear everything up, there are a couple of tricks I can tell you about which will make it easier for you.

Well, first let’s get rid of some simple business. The verb “to lie”, meaning to say something that is not the truth is rather simple, so let’s get rid of this first. The forms are: Lie  Lied    Lied(past participle)            Lying (present participle)

The verb “Lie” that we’ll be dealing with in this episode is the one which means to “recline”

“Lie” is, in this context, a verb meaning to recline. It does not take an object. Its principal parts are “lie,” “lay,” “lain,” and “lying.”

As you can hear, the past tense of “lie” is “lay”, already-the-story-is-getting-confusing. I mean, the title of this episode is Lay vs. Lie and now we learn that the past tense of Lie is Lay; yeah, like I said………………….confusion is setting in.

Some examples using “lie”:

I want to lie down.

I lay down last night.

I have lain down many times.

I am lying down right now.

So, let’s now see that “to lie” is a verb which means to recline and it does not take an object.

Lie means that the subject is doing something to himself or herself. It’s what grammar nerds call a complete verb. When accompanied by subjects, complete verbs tell the whole story.

Now about “Lay”: “Lay” is a verb meaning to put or place something somewhere. It takes a direct object. Its principal parts are “lay,” “laid,” “laid,” and “laying.”

Some examples:

Every day I lay the book on the table.

Yesterday I laid the book on the table.

I have laid the book on the table many times.

I am laying the book on the table right now.

Lay, on the other hand, means that the subject is acting on something or someone else; therefore, it requires a complement to make sense. Thus lay always takes a direct object. Lie never does.

OK, for some of you things are now clear, but for others, including myself, we need some tricks to remember, or at least help us with this. Here’s one trick:

In the questionable spot, in other words where “lie” or “lay” would go, instead insert the word “place” or one of its forms. If the sentence still makes sense, then you need to use “lay”, or one of its forms. If it doesn’t sound right, then use “lie”. Here, let’s demonstrate this trick using the examples I’ve already given to you:

I want to place down.

Every day I place the book on the table.

Obviously, the first sentence sounds messed up, whereas the second sounds fine. So, using the “place” test, we know that the second sentence calls for “lay” and the first sentence calls for “lie”.

I hate to say this, but sometimes this just calls for making a chart of sorts. The top line would be for “recline” (lie) and would consist of these forms: lie lay       lain      lying and the second line would be to “place or put down” (lay) and would consist of these forms:      lay       laid      laid      laying.

Lie Lay Lain  Lying
Lay Laid Laid  Laying

Listen, you really, really need to look at the show notes for this episode in order to really understand what I’m describing. It’s next to impossible to describe a table of tenses to you via voice, in a way that would be even mildly interesting.

To condense this tip a bit; for now just remember the “place” test in order to determine whether you’ll be using a form of “lie” or a form of “lay”. You can check out the show notes for the various (and also confusing) forms of these verbs. At least the “place” test will determine which verb to use.

Well, this has been a long “quick tip” and I’m tired just talking about this. It may seem like only a topic a grammar nerd could love, but actually if you get this wrong, it could significantly alter the meaning of your sentence in sometimes a sexually suggestive way (and no, I won’t go into the explanations at this time, this isn’t the “learn to be a pervert” podcast). You’ll just have to take my word for this.

Thanks for listening through to the end of this week’s podcast, listen again next week for another Mark in Russia Quick Grammar tip. Until then, Good Bye!

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