Written by Pat Wootton, PromptProofing.com
Everyone has a bete noir that confuses them, something they never seem able to get straight. Mine has always been lying and laying - do you lie down on the bed or lay down on the bed?
Everyone has a bete noir that confuses them, something they never seem able to get straight. Mine has always been lying and laying - do you lie down on the bed or lay down on the bed? You will likely hear both used but which is correct?
Quick answer: You lie down today but yesterday you lay down. Clear as mud?
Explanation: The verb 'to lie' is intransitive - it does not take an object. You lie - as in, you tell an untruth; you may lie about something but you don't lie something - no direct object.
You lie down; again, no direct object, you may lie on the bed, but you don't lie the bed.
Unfortunately, just to make life difficult, the past tense of the verb 'to lie' is 'lay'. Therefore you can lie on the bed (right now), you could choose to lie on the bed tomorrow, but yesterday, you lay on it.
'Lay' isn't just the past tense of 'to lie' though. It is also a verb in its own right and is transitive so it must have a direct object. For example:
Chickens lay eggs.
The past tense of the verb 'to lay' is laid, so:
Last week, the chickens laid twelve eggs.
You can also, of course, lay down the law - just as long as you are laying something.
Before we sign off, let's just confuse things a little bit more...
If you are British, you may also lay the table. Strictly speaking of course you are not actually 'laying' the table but rather laying dishes, mats, etc. on the table. Nevertheless, you are laying something. North Americans avoid this one completely by 'setting' the table - so much easier!
Check back next Friday for another Prompt Proofing blog post!
Pat Wootton is originally from England and is a former high school English teacher. Having spent many years in the Caribbean, where she raised her family, she now lives in Vancouver, BC. In addition, she has taught English as a Second Language (ESL) for several years after earning a diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from the University of British Columbia. She now owns and runs Prompt Proofing, a copy editing and writing service that caters to both individuals and businesses.