In the old American West they used to say, "Lay that pistol down, babe." Not "lie that pistol down." Lie and lay are such ornery little words, they are constantly getting mixed up in English. Actually "lie" can be (1) a noun meaning an untruth or (2) a verb meaning to flop down on the sofa ready to take a nap or to recline. "Lay" means (1) to put something down, such as a baby or a plate or a book, and requires you to commit an action to someone or something or (2) it is the past tense of "lie." "I lie down." "I lay down yesterday to take a nap." "Lay that heavy purse down - it has too much money." "Lie" does not have a direct object. I can't lie the book on the table; I must lay the book on the table. To get a proper view of these two words, look at their conjugations:
Let's try a few correct sentences using "lie" and "lay":
â€¢ I lie across the bed. He lay down yesterday. (He flopped down)
â€¢ He lies. He lied yesterday. (He fabricates)
â€¢ Lay that package there. He laid that package there yesterday. (Action to an object)
â€¢ Lay that mattress over there and then lie on it. (Action to an object)
â€¢ He laid the poor old dog there yesterday. (Action to an object)
â€¢ Don't lie there - try to do something! (Don't dawdle there)
â€¢ Enough already! The grandchildren have lain around the house all day. (Flopping around again)
â€¢ Mother has laid all the dishes on the table. (Action to an object)
Part of the reason these two words get confused is "lay." It can be the present tense of the verb (lay) or it can be it can be the past tense of the verb "lie." I find one of the best ways to learn these two pesky verbs is just to recite their conjugations from memory.
"Lie/lay/lain" and "lay/laid/laid." It's good to have them in ye old memory bank just to pull them handily when needed. Remember, "lie" does not take an object and "lay" does.
Now you try:
1 - She got a sunburn from (lying/laying) in the sun too long.
2 - Samantha (laid/lay) on the floor.
3 - I (lie/lay) in green pastures.
4 - I (laid/lay) macaroni on the plate.
5 - Ermintrude has (laid/lain) in bed for two days.
6 - Placido (laid/lay) the carpet.
7 - Horatio (lay/lied) down.
8 - The truth (lays/lies) there.
9 - Caesar (laid/lay) a hand on Cicero's shoulder.
10 - The police (lay/laid) in wait for the criminal.
The writer is an author, teacher and body language expert.