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Monday, February 20, 2012

Pet Peeve: Lay vs. Lie

I haven't written a grammar peeve for a long time, mostly because this blog has been up, down, live, dead--you name it. But this point does peeve me from time to time.

Quick lesson:

To Lie (verb):
1. To tell an untruth : Don't lie to me. You didn't watch the Super Bowl, did you?
past tense: lied : Okay, I lied. I didn't even watch the commercials.
past perfect tense: had lied : If I hadn't lied, you would have made me watch the highlights on the DVR.

2.  To repose in a prone position : If football gives you a headache, why don't you go lie down?
past tense: lay : I lay down for an hour, but it didn't help.
past perfect tense: had lain : She had lain in her room for about an hour before her husband noticed that she wasn't present during the halftime show.

To Lay (transitive verb):
To set an object down: Lay down your book and watch the damned game, why don't you?
past tense: laid : I laid down my book for ten minutes, but the game gave me a headache, so I picked up the book again.
past perfect tense: had laid : If I had laid my book down sooner, I wouldn't have missed that touchdown. Oh well. Big whup.

So yes, I admit, too many of these words sound the same, and the tenses get all mixed up in each other's business. Just memorize a few key phrases that are correct and you'll remember the rule for this verb:

Lay down your weapon!
I must go lie down now, even though I lay down ten minutes ago.

Just remember: You can never "go lay down." Lay down ... what? Lay needs a direct object. You have to lay down a book, a magazine, your gun--something. It means put down, or set down.

And you can never "lie down a book." (Not as many people make this mistake.) Lie down is an intransitive verb; it can't take an object. Just lie down your own damned self and be done with it.

image: Madame Recamier by Jacques-Louis David.


  1. This is one of my biggest pet peeves but it seems everybody and his brother uses it the wrong way. It must go way back because I just heard it on a tv show from 30 years ago. "Why don't you go lay down?"

    1. Oh, yes, Gary, it's been around for ages. Maybe you remember that old song "Lay Down, Sally"? It didn't help matters any, either.