Research: MLP: Lie vs. lay (reprised)

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At the risk of repetition (but not redundancy, Dear Reader — that would mean restating an idea using different words), your Mrs. Language Person repeats and as requested, elaborates. Only upon fervent request would she lay the rules down yet again.

So lie back, if you will, and thanks to two very treasured — and yes, very dedicated (even oh-so-humble MLP succumbs to adulation fantasies) readers, prepare for a longer and undoubtedly, more tiresome and just as confusing lesson of yore:

Lie vs. lay.

Lie, lay. The latter always has an object which it lays. The former simply means “recline.” I lay down the book, but I lie down for a rest. You may lay your body upon a sofa, but you lie awake at night, when the body is unmentioned.

Next, to elaborate. Note the examples in the second and third sentences of today’s column, Reader? MLP would “lay (down the) rules” and then suggest you “lie back.” Rules is the object of the verb “lay;” thus rules may be laid (past tense of lay) down. When you “lie back” you are reclining; there is no object to “lay,” save the unmentioned body.

Here is where the confusion begins, but isn’t yet unmanageable: the body. When mentioned outright, e.g., “Now I lay me down to sleep …” or “the cat lays herself upon the sofa,” one must use “lay.” When no object, e.g., the body/me/herself, is mentioned, the correct expression is “lie.” Thus, Kitty “lies” or “lies down” on the sofa, but she “lays herself upon” the sofa to sleep.

Stupid distinction? You bet. Correct nevertheless? Yes. Body/herself/me = the verb’s object explicitly mentioned, so it must be accompanied by “lay” (or laid if past).

So brings the real source of confusion: the past tense. The past tense of “lie” is “lay.” What?! Two “lays?” Yes, poor Dear Reader. Your MLP sympathizes as she repeats: The past tense of “lie” is “lay.” The past participle of “lie” is “lain,” i.e., “has lain” or “have lain.”

Yesterday the cat lay in the sun. Today he lies. He has lain in the sun many times.

Conjugating “lay” is little better. The past tense, as well as the past participle, of “lay” is “laid.” I now lay the book on the table. Yesterday I laid the book on the table. The book has laid on the table for two days.

Why add “has lain” for the past participle of “lie,” but nothing more than “laid” for both past forms of of “lay”? Your MLP is unaware, Dear Reader. Her knowledge lies sadly limited. In fact, should it be of comfort, know that in her first draft of this column, she laid incorrectly a past participle upon the page. This reprise has lain — no, laid (reprise = object = past participle of “lay”) — heavily upon her wee brain.

Sigh. Please, oh favored Dear Readers — and you know who you are — do not tax her thus again.


Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick are reluctant columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Contact:

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