Lay and lie and the trouble they give us

We’ve had a few instances of lay-lie confusion lately, and the mistake continues to befuddle me. I understand that our colloquial speech seeps into our writing, but even if you use the past tense of the verbs lay and lie wrong in speech, you must still notice that it sounds wrong and you would correct yourself in writing — or maybe not. At any rate, if you are a writer who has trouble with lay and lie, you probably need to take a second or third look at any forms in your work and make sure that you have used the grammatically correct form.

Of course, we get the words right much more often than we get them wrong, but that’s what we should do. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for doing what is right. That’s the minimum.

I addressed the lay-lie question in my first post in this blog.

Misuses of “laid” as the past tense and “laying” as the participle of “lie” seem to be the most widespread offenses. Here are a few examples of recent misuse:

* “After the car he was driving struck a pedestrian outside a grocery store in Cary on Friday afternoon, the man hopped out, grabbed the injured woman’s purse as she laid on the ground, then sped away.”

* “Williams laid on the ice for several moments while fans chanted for Godard to be thrown out of the game.”

* “Cowboys kicker Billy Cundiff tumbles over the Panthers’ Ken Lucas, laying on ground, and the feet of Julius Peppers while he and holder Tony Romo watch the late 33-yard attempt.”

Here is a summary of the correct forms:

A person lies on the ground. A person lay on the ground in the past. A person is lying on the ground now. A person has lain on the ground in the past.

A person lays an object on the ground. A person laid an object on the ground in the past. A person is laying an object on the ground now. A person has laid an object on the ground in the past.

Here is an interactive quiz to help you practice using lay and lie.

My wish for 2006 is to see nobody “laying” on the ground.

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 © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.