JS Tip 126: From the Writing Workshops: Lay versus Lie, Part II

Last week, we discussed Scott Allen’s question: “Please address ‘lay’ and ‘lie.’ Did I lay down? Did I lie down? Why does taking a nap have to be so dang confusing!”   

We explained the key to the discussion is tense: When the action happens.

We talked about present tense last week; we’ll talk about past tense this week.

Past Tense: It Happened Yesterday. Or Last Week. Or Thirty-eight Years Ago.

Here’s the problem: lay is the past tense of lie.

And this is what confuses people. Use this chart:  

Present Tense        Past Tense       

Lay (something)       Laid (something)            

Lie                              Lay                      


When the action takes place in the past—

Lay still requires a direct object:

Earlier this morning, the duck laid an egg. (Egg is the direct object. It’s the object the duck laid. Earlier this morning. In the past.)

Last week, the judge laid down the law. (Law is the direct object. It’s what the judge laid down. Last week. In the past.)

Lie still has no direct object:

Last Saturday afternoon, I lay down on the sofa. (No direct object. And the action took place last Saturday afternoon. In the past.)  

This ain’t easy, we recognize. It is confusing. If you have questions, let us know. We love this stuff.

Next week: A memorial.