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Should you 'lie' or 'lay'?

If you don't want to lie in a jail bunk bed, lay down the drink
If you don't want to lie in a jail bunk bed, lay down the drink
Microsoft

The decision as to whether to use lie or lay and which tense to use for these two verbs can be a mystery. Do you lie or do you lay? It depends.

Let’s start with the distinctions between these two words:

Lie means to recline; lie does not require a direct object.
Lay means to place something, to set something on something; lay requires a direct object.

So, you can lie on the hammock (no direct object) and you can lay the magazine on the table ("magazine" is the direct object of the verb lay).

The challenge comes when we need to change the tense of lie and lay, especially since the past tense of lie is lay. One of the easiest ways to remember and, therefore, to accurately use the proper tense is by referring to the table below. Tape it to the inside of your dictionary, pin it up on a board, or anyplace that is handy, and you should be ready to go!
 

Present Tense Past Tense Past Participle
Lie Lay Lain
Lay (requires an object) Laid Laid

 

 

 

 

 

 

Referring to the above memory shortcut, let’s put these verbs to correct usage:

Lie

Present Tense: I lie on the hammock and enjoy the ocean breeze.
Past Tense: I lay on the hammock all day yesterday.
Past Participle: I have lain on the hammock for a very long time.

Lay

Present Tense: I lay the flowers on the table.
Past Tense: I laid the flowers on the table earlier in the day.
Past Participle: I had laid the flowers on the table.

Remember that the verb lay always requires a direct object, whereas lie does not. The direct object of lay in the examples above is "flowers."

And as we all know:

If you don’t want to lie in a jail bunk bed, lay down the drink!

I will gladly respond to email inquiries regarding grammar and punctuation issues. If you are having difficulty or just need clarification on a certain subject, please email me and I will do my best to cover the topic in a subsequent article.
 

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