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Proper use of 'lay' and 'lie'


Here’s a grammar lesson for the day. 


“Lay” and “lie” are a couple verbs that are misused constantly. I always check my usage by going to my handy-dandy Standard Handbook for Secretaries; 7th edition; written my Lois Irene Hutchinson. 


The following is quoted verbatim. 




lay to put.

lie to rest or stay, or take a position of rest. 


“Lay” represents the actual putting down of something; and “lie” represents the resting or reposing there. 


lay, laid, laid, laying take an object.

        Something must always be laid (put) down by someone.


lie, lay, lain, lying do not take an object.

        Someone or something lies (rests or stays) somewhere. 


Now I lay me down to sleep. (put myself down)

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. (take a position of rest)

Lie down and rest. (take a position of rest)

Had you lain down before? (rested)

Lay it over there. (put it)

Let it lie there. (stay there)

The soldiers lay in the mud. (stayed or rested)

They laid their guns in a row. (put)

The papers lay on the desk unsigned. (stayed)

The papers were laid on the desk. (put)

The fields lie unploughed. (stay)

The fields lay unploughed for years. (stayed) 

It has lain there all these years. (stayed)

It seems to have lain dormant for many years. (stayed)

The years have laid wisdom at his feet. (put)

Time is lying heavy upon his hands. (resting)

Time is laying heavy hand upon him. (putting)

The blame lies with them. (rests)

Lay the blame to rest. (put)

The ship is lying in the harbor. (staying)

Land lying to the north…. (staying)

The story is laid in England. (set)


Common uses, in which it will be noted that “lay” takes its object; but in the nautical phrases the object is unexpressed: 


        to lay stress on…to lay out a plan…to lay in supplies

        to lay [cars] over (stop over)…to lie over (be deferred)

        to lay goods down (deliver), as “goods laid down in Chicago”

        to lay forward (to lay oneself forward) [Nautical]

        to lay to the oars (to lay hand to the oar) [Nautical]

        lie in wait, as “He lay in wait.” (NOT: laid)

        lie low (NOT: lay low)

        a ship lies to the wind (stays toward the wind)

        land lies (stays or rests)


NOTE: The one phrase, “the lie of the land,” is more frequently written “the lay of the land”; but “lie” would seem preferable, to conform to other uses, as “see how the land lies.” 






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