Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Lay, Lie, Lain

Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?


What is the difference between “lay” and “lie,” and what are their forms?

“Lay”  is a transitive verb, so it takes a direct object, explainsThe Chicago Manual of StyleThe forms are lay, laid, and laid.

Examples of these are as follows.

I laid the pencil on the desk.
Those rumors have been laid to rest.
Now I lay me down to sleep.

“Lie” indicates a state of reclining on a horizontal plane, according to The Associated Press Stylebook. An intransitive verb, it never takes a direct object. The forms are lie, lay, and lain.

Examples from CMS include the following.

She lay down and rested.
He hasn't yet lain down.

In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White provide a handy way of remembering these rules. 

"The hen, or the play, lays an egg; the llama lies down. The playwright went home and lay down."


These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

Strunk and White's The Elements of Style


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


OEBooks said…
This is one word I must admit confuses the bejesus out of me. Even my grammar-check seems to get this one confused. It's gotten to the point that I started using other words to avoid having to deal with it at all. But I'm going to make a note of your notes. I hope it helps. Thanks!
I'm so glad you covered this. I fix this all the time for editing clients.
OEBooks, this is so confusing to all of us, as evidenced by Kelly's comment about her fixing this all the time for editing clients. Honestly, it's something I have messed up myself on occasion. Next time, I'll refer back to this blog post! Lol.
Ruth Schiffmann said…
I always need to give these a second thought. Thanks for the reminder.
You're welcome, Ruth. Good to hear from you. Hope you are well.
Quanie Miller said…
I always find myself having to look this rule up again. And then I say, "Geesh. No wonder people have such a hard time learning English!"
Absolutely, Quanie. That's a good point.

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