Hens lay, you lie

The verbs lay and lie give a lot of people trouble. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the past tense of lie is lay. (lie-lay-lain; lay-laid-laid) But mostly people just forget how to use lie and lay properly. Even a national catalog I saw recently confused the verbs.

As you can see, the catalog writer should have used lie. I think it’s easy to teach yourself the difference. Lay is a transitive verb. It has to have an object. What that means is that a noun (or its stand-in, a pronoun) must follow lay. You can lay the baby on the bed. (“baby” is the object of the verb.) A hen lays eggs.

Lie, on the other hand, is an intransitive verb. It does not take an object, so the words following lie and its forms will be almost any other part of speech besides a noun or a pronoun. Lie back and relax. The mother lay (past tense) on the bed beside the baby, whom she had laid (past tense) on the bed earlier.

So just ask yourself when you are using lie or lay or any of their forms: Does the verb have a noun (an object) after it? If it does, then you need lay. If it doesn’t, then you need lie.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright