Do you tell your dog to “lie down” or “lay down”?
Susie Smart might answer the above question by telling her dog to sit or to rest on the floor.
For most of us, the debate between “lie” and “lay” is perplexing. Susie does, however, provide us with an important clue. If we want “to sit” or “to rest,” the correct verb is a form of “to lie.” If the intention is to place something, the verb is a form of “to lay.”
Here are the principle parts of the verb:
- to lie: lie, lay, lain, lying.
So, these sentences are correct:
- Dr. Chen asked the patient to lie down for the blood test. The doctor wanted the patient to rest, perhaps on an examination table.
- Last night I lay on the sofa for three hours. This one is tricky; many people would say, “Last night I laid on the sofa for three hours.” But you would never be guilty of such a transgression! You know that “lay” has two uses: the past tense of “lie” as well as present tense when meaning to place something. We will clarify “to lie” later in this lesson.
- I have lain on the sofa for three hours. Whoa! “Lain” is a word? Yes, “lain” is the past participle in this particular sentence. You may recall that English requires a past participle with helping verbs such as these: has, have, had, were, and was.
- We cannot leave confidential information lying on desks and cabinets. In this case, the information is merely sitting there (resting) on desks and cabinets.
Now, let’s review the principle parts of lay: lay, laid, laid, laying. Here are four correct statements to consider:
- Every day I lay the daily newspaper on my desktop. In this example, we could easily replace “lay” with “put” or “place.”
- Tom Brokaw laid his notes on top of his briefcase. Mr. Brokaw placed the notes in that location.
- For the past 15 years, I have laid my groceries on the kitchen counter. Note the past participle in this sentence.
- While the debaters were delivering verbal attacks, one candidate was laying out plans for his television ads. The candidate was putting out those plans.
My Roxie is quite bright, so if I mistakenly say, “Lay down, Roxie”–she waits until I say, “Lie down, Roxie.” Then–and only then–does she comply.
Tune in next time for Lesson 3 of Boot Camp Basics. Until then, you can lie down for a nap.