“Lay” and “Lie” are irregular verbs, but “perplexing” would be a better adjective to describe them. Once you get past the present tense, they change in some surprising ways. I have never figured out a way to remember their forms except by rote. When I got tired of looking them up, I got smart and made a little chart. That chart is currently taped to the side of my computer. This brief guide will help you use them correctly.
A. USING “LAY”
Definition: To put or place something. (Dictionary.com has over 40 individual definitions for “lay,” but almost all of them can be summed up by this.)
Use: In its most common uses, “lay” is a transitive verb. This means that this is an action done to something. Remember: You lay something down, even if that something is yourself.
Present tense samples (lay):
I lay the book on the table.
Please lay the baby in the crib.
He lays his toys on the floor.
Past tense samples (laid):
I laid the book on the table.
You laid the baby in the crib.
He laid his toys on the floor.
Present participle samples (laying):
I am laying the book on the table.
You were laying the baby in the crib.
He is laying his toys on the floor.
Past participle samples (laid):
I have laid the books on the table.
You have laid the baby in the crib.
He had laid his toys on the floor.
B. USING “LIE”
Definition: As discussed here, “lie” means to be in a horizontal, prone, or resting position (not telling a falsehood).
Use: In its most common uses, “lie” is an intransitive verb, which means that it does not use an object. Remember: Something lies on something else.
Present tense samples (lie):
I lie in the bed.
The doll lies on the shelf.
We lie on the floor.
Past tense samples (lay):
I lay in the bed.
The doll lay on the shelf.
We lay on the floor.
Present participle samples (lying):
I was lying in the bed.
The doll is lying on the shelf.
We were lying on the floor.
Past participle samples (lain):
I had lain in the bed.
The doll has lain on the shelf.
We have lain on the floor.
Using “lay” and “lie” correctly is just one step in the process of writing clearly and concisely.
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