Grammar is hard. Do you know why? I’ll tell you why — it’s loaded with rules that contradict each other all over the place. Plus, it’s boring. Who wants to pause mid-sentence to look up a rule? Here, I aim to break down grammar rules into quick, easy-to-understand-and-remember formats so they’ll stick in your brain — like gum in your hair. Rule #1: When writing about grammar, a grammar mistake will inevitably be made. Now that I’ve admitted it, it won’t be so terrible when you find one. I don’t know everything about grammar, but I do know a lot. Here’s one thing I know:
Thrilled by the Thought’s Easy Grammar Tips Series
Lie vs. Lay
English, gals and guys. English. It’s like it wants you to hate its guts with all your heart. Nowhere is this more evident than in the dreaded lie vs. lay conundrum.
In short, lie is to recline. Lay needs an object.
The end, right? Ha. If that’s all we needed to know, nobody would ever have trouble remembering the difference.
In truth, lie vs. lay is an incredibly confusing distinction to make. It’s easier for me when I’m writing because there’s time to think it through (or look up the rule). But when I’m speaking, I botch these words up like a first-year butcher. Even Grammar Girl admits she struggles with lay vs. lie.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective.
Here’s what we need to do first: Stop thinking about lie vs. lay as what it actually is: two similar sounding words that have similar meanings and are confusing as all get-out because English is stupid. (I’m sorry, English. I didn’t mean it.) Try and think of “lie” and “lay” as two completely different words and meanings. Like a tomato and an elephant. One is small and red. The other is big and gray. Totally different. Simple as can be. Right? Um…
But it really does help to try and see the two words as different words with different meanings, rather than as two of the same thing. So learn the meaning of one word. And then learn the meaning of the other. And keep them separate.
As best you can, because come on… it’s lie vs. lay.
Let’s start with the present tense because it’s the most straightforward. (And the only tense I understand completely without looking it up.)
Let’s start with the easier one: Lie
Lie is to recline. (Or it means you’re telling an untruth, but let’s not go there. See, English? How do you expect us to love you when you’re so wishy-washy?)
“I’m going to lie down after writing this post because it’s really taking a toll on my mental state.”
“You’re also going to need to lie down after reading this, and hope your dreams make the concept a bit more clear.”
So lie is straightforward in that it means someone lies down. Put that in your mind grapes, and keep it there.
Now pretend there isn’t another totally similar word with a similar meaning lurking around the corner. Just pretend!
Alright. Ready to move on?
Take a deep breath.
Now for the completely different word with a totally new meaning. The tomato, if you will. (I know, I know. I’m not being very convincing about two totally separate words, am I? But let’s keep going with this train of thought.)
Here comes a slightly more confusing definition. (But I’ll make it slightly easier! I promise!) Lay is when there is an object involved. It’s being done TO something.
Think: “And now I lay me down to sleep.”
Saying, “And now I lie me down to sleep” just sounds silly. Repeat the correct phrase in your head, and you’ll see the elephant is totally different from the tomato. (Well, they’re both a little round…)
“I’ll be sure to lay my phone on the table before pulling my hair out over the frustration of these two words!
“I’m going to lay the baby down for a nap.” “I’m going to lie the baby down for a nap” just sounds silly.
Now, when it comes to past tense, past participle (what?), and what-have-you, all bets are off. Look at this chart when you need help.
|PRESENT TENSE||PAST TENSE||PAST PARTICIPLE|
If you’re feeling ambitious, memorize it. I’ve memorized a couple of them, and it wasn’t all that bad. I’m not saying it was as fun as an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe or winning a million dollars tax free, but… ya know — I derived a small joy from broadening an understanding. If I ever figure out how to get the past tense right every single time without checking, I’ll share my secret.
But don’t hold your breath… because you’ll pass out. You know — because that’s how long it’s going to take me to figure this out.
Because it’s really hard.