One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.
~ James Early Jones
Today I want to help explain what is the difference between lay and lie. Part of living abundantly and minimally is also learning how to make the best use of language. You might think this is of little importance but it is really crucial.
If you can’t eloquently formulate your thoughts in words then how can you hope to put your words into actionable plans?
You don’t need the biggest vocabulary in the world but it would behoove you to learn how to speak well with the vocabulary you do have. In fact I would make the argument that speaking simply is better than speaking verbosely. And that fewer words are better than many. But the key is to use the correct words.
And that is why I want to help you understand how to use lay and lie in different situations and what the difference is between them.
So the first thing we have to try and understand is what is the word “lay” or “lie”. What kind of a word are they? Well, both words “lay” and “lie” are verbs. If you look them up in any dictionary you’ll see them both represented as verbs.
Verbs are “action” or “doing” words, so when you are doing something you are active. Other examples of verbs are “walk” or “sit” or “read”. You are doing something.
Now some verbs need objects in order to do something to. Walking doesn’t require an object, just a subject. So the sentence “I am walking” or “I am walking to the store” are both appropriate. Other verbs called “transitive verbs” require an object to be acted upon.
“Lay” is a transitive verb and “lie” isn’t. So in the PRESENT tense you can “lie” down but you can’t “lay” down as it needs a direct object. So “I want to lie in bed all day” is fine and so is “please lay the coffee cups on the kitchen counter”.
However we get a bit confused because the past participle or the verb for PAST tense use of “lie” is “lay”. So if you add some history to “lie” you can use it without a direct object. That’s why “yesterday I lay in bed” is correct but “I lay in bed” is incorrect as it is about the present, the now.
In the present you lie on/in/down etc, but you lay something down/in/on.
The past gets a bit confusing because the past of “lie” is “lay” and the past of “lay” is “laid”. So “you laid the books on the coffee table yesterday” is great as is “yesterday I lay around in bed all day” but “I laid in the bed” is not.
Confusing? Perhaps, just remember it this way. In the present only people can lie (tell untruths) so “lie” only works for people whereas “lay” only works for objects.
In the past tense only objects can get “laid” as can you if you consider yourself a sexual object. But people in the past get to “lay” down to get “laid” as objects. So “yesterday I lay down in order to get laid” 😉
Clear as mud? It gets easier with time and practice. Lie down with a good grammar book and read about it a bit before you lay the book down and fall asleep!