Posted by: Jack Henry | December 18, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Six geese a-laying

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: six geese a-laying. Well, that was a short respite from the birds, and geese can be particularly nasty. I was at a wildlife refuge during vacation and a small flock of Canada geese chased off the sandpipers and sea gulls and even the pelicans. In any case, today we’re concentrating on a different aspect of these troublesome geese—the laying.

Lay versus lie. This is one I admit I’m easily fouled (and fowled) up by. Some of the options are easy:

· Marvin lied to his mom and told her he finished his homework. (lied: did not tell the truth)

· When she said she’d never been to Georgia, she was lying. (lying: telling a falsehood)

· Mrs. Crazy-legs the hen lays an egg almost every day. (lays: pushes an egg out of a tight spot and into the hay so we can have a delicious breakfast)

· Henry is horrible at laying eggs, probably because he’s a rooster. (laying: producing an egg)

Okay. But those are the easy cases. Here are some handy tidbits for the tougher distinctions. First, an excerpt from Grammar Girl:

Lay Versus Lie

If you exclude the meaning "to tell an untruth" and just focus on the setting/reclining meaning of lay and lie, then the important distinction is that lay requires a direct object and lie does not. So you lie down on the sofa (no direct object), but you lay the book down on the table (the book is the direct object).

Now, that might be a little helpful, but my co-worker and our newest editor, Laura, gave me this one. “It’s LIE as in DIE. People lie and people die.” (Then she tipped over.) “You LAY something down.” (She laid her scarf on the table.) Here is a grammatical breakdown of some of those tricky areas, like the past tense, where you may be tempted to say you laid on the bed. Yes, you actually “lay” in the past, or you “have lain.” These examples are from the Purdue OWL, one of my favorite grammar sites.

Present Past Past Participle
lie, lying (to tell a falsehood) I lied to my mother. I have lied under oath.
lie, lying (to recline) I lay on the bed because I was tired. He has lain in the grass.
lay, laying (to put, place) I laid the baby in her cradle. We have laid the dishes on the table.

Still not sure whether you get it? Try the lay vs. lie quiz until it makes sense:

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

NOTICE: This electronic mail message and any files transmitted with it are intended
exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. The message,
together with any attachment, may contain confidential and/or privileged information.
Any unauthorized review, use, printing, saving, copying, disclosure or distribution
is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please
immediately advise the sender by reply email and delete all copies.


  1. […] readers ask about the words lay and lie. Kara has written about this topic three times before, so it’s my turn to try to lay this question to […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: