Thursday, November 4, 2010

Would I Lie To You?

This is one that has caused some consternation among our little writers’ group before. It shouldn’t have. We’re all quite knowledgeable about writing, practically word nerds, one and all. We’re all trying to be authors and two of us are even published authors. So why would the difference between lie and lay cause us any confusion?

Well, all I can say is even the little things can trip us up sometimes. But I found a useful little lay vs lie chart in the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, by Jane Straus, which is my easy to use go-to book for little sticking points like this. I thought I’d share it with you so you too can benefit from the wisdom I’ve discovered.

                                                    Present Tense                                 Past Tense

To recline                                      lie, lying                                             lay

To put or place                             lay, laying                                           laid

To tell a falsehood                        lie, lying                                              lied

The third of these is pretty easy to distinguish from the others. I wouldn’t tell a lie. I’d be lying if I said I always told the truth. Pretty easy, except perhaps for the ethical questions it raises. But the other two deserve closer consideration. Here are some examples:

Present (or in this case future) tense: I will lie down for a nap at 3 o’clock (oh how I wish). And: I lay the book on the bedside table and went to sleep.

Past tense: I lay down for a nap yesterday at 3 o’clock. When I lay down for a nap yesterday, I laid the book on the bedside table and went to sleep.

Come to think of it, I’m not surprised even the word nerds were confused. It’s the word lay that causes the problem because it is the past tense of recline but also the present tense of to put or place. Really, the English language couldn’t come up with something better than that?

Apparently not.

In any case, there you have it. Hope it’s of some use to you.

Now I’d like this explained: Why is sex colloquially referred to as getting ‘placed’. Placed on the bed? Placed in the back seat of the car? Put in an awkward position that gives you back spasms for days?




  1. OMG!!! Waaaahhhh!!! You've explained it sooo well but the image of those words scrambles my brain until I see spots! I actually write so I don't have to use lay, laid, lie, or lied! No one sleeps or puts anything down in my books! Now, to the sex question...I'll let you know after a little more research...

  2. Lol. Perhaps now you won't have to avoid those words. Think of all the new sentences you could use!

  3. Dont you just love grammar? It's the law of diminishing returns - the more you think you know the more likely you are to trip yourself up.
    Sometimes blissful ignorance has a lot to recommend it!