Lay versus Lie

Lay versus lie, understanding the differences

The incorrect use of verb lay instead of lie is becoming increasingly common in modern English usage, but no less humorous. Unfortunately no one told Bob Dylan the correct verb for his 1969 hit Lay lady lay.

To lie means to recline; to lay is to put or place and it is always followed by an object.

Remember, you lie in bed and a hen lays eggs. However, the past tense and past participle can cause problems.

To lie

The present tense of lie (to recline) is lie or lying.

Examples

I am lying on the beach; I lie on the beach.

The past tense of lie (to recline) is lay

Example

Yesterday, I lay on the beach.

The past participle tense (have, has, had) of lie (to recline) is lain.

Examples

I have lain on the beach for hours; he has lain on the beach for hours; he had lain on the beach for a whole day.

To lay

The present tense of lay (to put or place) is lay or laying.

Examples

I am laying the clothes on the chair; I lay the clothes on the chair.

The past tense of lay (to put or place) is laid: Yesterday, I laid the clothes on the chair.

Examples

The past participle tense (i.e. have, has, had) of lay (to put or place) is also laid. I have laid the clothes on the bed; he has laid the clothes on the bed; he had laid the clothes on the bed.

What about those song titles?

Lay lady lay‘ is grammatically incorrect; although it has to be said, ‘lie lady lie’ wouldn’t sound right. ‘Lay all your love on me‘ is fine as the verb is followed by an object. ‘As we lay‘ is also incorrect as the verb should be followed by an object. Furthermore, it’s also the incorrect verb unless, of course the song is really about laying eggs.

The STAR Team

1 reply
  1. Damian
    Damian says:

    Hi Ciara,
    very interesting – Probably lots of Bob Dylan fans will be upset with you on this one, but your points are accurate. I would imagine if you reviewed some of the more popular music, such the X-Factor junk that you would fine more serious errors.

    My own kids asked me yesterday to explain the difference between ‘IN” and “N” in “Puss ‘n Boots”. Nathan my 8 year old son asked why the put spelling mistakes on DVD’s?

    Cheers
    Damian

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *