Posted by: Jack Henry | December 1, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Lie, Lady, Lie

Many 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 rest.

Here are the definitions of lay and lie (from Merriam-Webster):

· lay: to put or set down

· lie: to be at rest in a horizontal position

Even Nobel Laureates Make Mistakes

Bob Dylan incorrectly uses the word lay in the song “Lay, Lady, Lay” (from his 1969 album Nashville Skyline). Dylan sings, “Lay, lady, lay / Lay across my big brass bed.” Because he is inviting the lady to rest on the bed, he should have sung, “Lie, lady, lie / Lie across my big brass bed.”

If he were instead asking the lady to put something on his bed, lay would be correct (for example, “Lay, lady, lay / Lay a blanket across my big brass bed”).

A Better Mnemonic

When I’m trying to decide whether to use lay or lie, I think of the song “Lay, Lady, Lay,” and then remember that it’s wrong and do the opposite. This isn’t a great mnemonic, but it has worked for me.

Here’s a better mnemonic (which I found in the comments section of a blog post):

· The word recline sounds as if it contains the word lie. When you’re talking about reclining, use lie.

· The word place sounds as if it contains the word lay. When you’re talking about placing something, use lay.

The Past Tense Is Tricky

The past tense of lay is laid. Most people use this correctly:

· “She lays a blanket across the big brass bed.” (present tense)

· “Last night, she laid a blanket across the big brass bed.” (past tense)

The past tense of lie is lay. In my opinion, this is one of the most confusing irregular verbs in English:

· “She lies across the big brass bed.” (present tense)

· “Last night, she lay across the big brass bed.” (past tense)

Once you have gotten comfortable with lay and lie in the present tense, you can use this rhyme to help you remember the past tense of lie: “Yesterday, I lay by the bay.”

When in doubt, you can avoid the issue altogether by using a synonym like reclined, sprawled, lolled, lounged, or reposed.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
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619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

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  1. […] have written previously about the difference between lay and lie (most recently in this post), but it continues to be a popular […]

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