Lay vs. Lie

I think it’s time for us to get to know one another better.

Yes, you’ve been reading my grammar gold, and I’ve been reading all your tweets.

But being that I’m your fairy godmother of grammar, we’re practically family!

And I feel as though we hardly know each other.


So I’ll start by sharing something about myself.

I have a confession.

My grammar wasn’t always perfect. (Chorus of gasps.)

I know. (Looks down. Speaks in a hushed tone.) I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe because you’ve come to know me as an omniscient grammar goddess. But it’s true. Once upon a time I, too, had to look up grammar rules.


My Deep Dark Secret

Now that I have decided that the time is right to bare my soul to you, I want to share that, for years, a particular grammar point haunted me: the difference between lay and lie.

For me, the confusion surrounding this verb was actually two-fold:

  • the definition
  • the conjugation


The Definition

lie = to lie down (in bed, on the couch)

lay = to lay an object down or place an object on a surface


It seems pretty straight forward, but I couldn’t remember which verb was which!

I attribute this to the fact that each verb is used in conjunction with the word down.

After having looked up the definition of each verb numerous times, I finally bit the bullet. I sat down and spent a few minutes memorizing the two verbs.


pencil-laying-on-paperNow you’re thinking, “But, Fairy Godmother of Grammar, what’s the trick to memorizing the difference?”

It’s actually quite simple.

While a person can lie down on the couch and lay a pencil on the table, a pencil cannot lie itself down.

Only people, not pencils, can lie.


The Conjugation

If you refer back to my post on conjugating verbs, you will remember the tip my junior high school English teacher taught me:

  • “Now I” + present tense
  • “Yesterday” + past tense
  • “I have” + past participle


Correct:  Lay

Now I lay the pencil on the table.

Yesterday I laid the pencil on the table.

I have laid the pencil on the table.

AND: I am laying the pencil on the table.


Correct:  Lie

Now I lie down on the couch.

Yesterday I lay down on the couch.

I have lain down on the couch.

AND: I am lying down on the couch while you finish your work.


BONUS: Life Lesson

When looking this one grammar point in isolation, it seems rather simple doesn’t it?

I mean it’s almost embarrassing that I couldn’t keep lay and lie straight.

But maybe that’s the key to sounding smarter … just like taking a big project and breaking it into small steps, to improve your grammar (and sound smarter) take a few minutes to focus on one small grammar point.

Kris Kringle had it figured out.

He taught the Winter Warlock in Santa Claus is Coming to Town that the key to making change is just to “put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door.”

Kris Kringle teaches Winter Warlock to put one foot in front of the other


Want to sound smarter?

Don’t feel badly if you fear you still make a few grammar mistakes.

Look how far you’ve come after just a few weeks of my grammar gold!


But if you really do want to sound smarter, follow in the footsteps of your fairy godmother of grammar.

Admit your grammar problem.

Then, slowly, one at a time, tackle the grammar points that confuse you.

When you signed up for my weekly grammar tips (at the bottom of the first post in this series) you took the first step!



Your fairy godmother of grammar

 "Lie or Lay? A person can lie down on the couch & lay a pencil down on the table, but a pencil cannot lie itself down. * Only people (not pencils) can lie." - @Snowflake_Story

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