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Dear Editor: Lie or Lay Usage Confuses Me

—(Originally Appeared in Publishers Weekly)— Once again, BW founder and veteran editor, Betty Kelly Sargent, sheds light on a reader’s quandary. This one is on choosing between lie or lay, something that often trips us up, too… Dear Editor: I still get confused about the difference between “lie” and “lay.” Can you explain the correct usage? —Tom… [Read More]

When to use Lie or Lay by Betty Kelly Sargent for BookWorks.com

—(Originally Appeared in Publishers Weekly)—

Once again, BW founder and veteran editor, Betty Kelly Sargent, sheds light on a reader's quandary. This one is on choosing between lie or lay, something that often trips us up, too...

Dear Editor:

I still get confused about the difference between "lie" and "lay." Can you explain the correct usage?

—Tom S.

You are not alone, Tom. Lots of people have this problem. Think of it this way: you can just lie around for hours, but you have to lay something (a book) on something (the table).

How to Know When to Use Lie or Lay...When to use Lie or Lay by Betty Kelly Sargent for BookWorks.com

Lie (as in to recline) is an irregular, intransitive verb. That means it does not take an object. It is something you, yourself, do. The present tense is lie, the past tense is lay, and the past participle is (have) lain. “I often lie on the dock after a swim. Yesterday I lay on the dock for an hour. Often in the past, I have lain on the dock all afternoon.”

Lay (as in to place or put) is a regular, transitive verb. That means it requires an object. The present tense is lay, the past tense is laid and the past participle is (have) laid. “I’m going to lay the basket on the kitchen table. Yesterday I laid the basket on the table. Often in the past, I have lain the basket on the table.”

Lie or Lay Can Now Be Put to RestWhen to use Lie or Lay by Betty Kelly Sargent for BookWorks.com

The confusion creeps in because the word “lay” is both the present tense of the transitive verb lay and the past tense of the intransitive verb lie. But don’t worry about that too much. Just remember to lay your glasses on your bedside table before you lie down to go to sleep.


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