I’ll confess that “lay” and “lie” often get the better of me. I’ve always struggled to keep the two words straight. When confronted with a sentence that could use either “lay” or “lie,” I try to find a substitute so that I don’t have to waver between the two words.
To “lay” something means to “put” or “place” something. I worded that sentence without any problem; the trick was to begin the sentence with a preposition. Since prepositions typically require a direct object, “lay” does, too. In fact, “lay” always requires a direct object because one does not put or place nothing. One puts or places something.
To “lie” means to “recline” or to “be situated.” A person can recline, and a person can be situated. The word “lie,” then, does not require a direct object. It merely requires a subject to use the word as a verb.
All is well and good until a person starts to use the different verb forms of the words. The main forms of “lay” are “lay, laid, and laid.” The main forms of “lie” are “lie, lay, and lain.” Ah, confusion. One of the forms of “lie” is the main form of “lay.” The way to remember which word is correct is to notice whether the word is followed by an object:
We [lay/laid] in the sun all day.
We [lay/laid] the tablecloth on the table.
Did you decide which word was the correct one in the example sentences? Have any suggestions for keeping the two words straight? Also, if you have any grammar, spelling, or punctuation questions, let me know on the Write Right Facebook page.