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Lay vs. Lie: Grammar Errors and Quiz

Updated on September 04, 2016
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Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts and culture and sharing that knowledge.

My sketch of the infamous words, "Lay vs. Lie."
My sketch of the infamous words, "Lay vs. Lie." | Source

Lay and Lie Grammar

Is it lay down or lie down? Is it had lain or had laid? Are you laying low or lying low? The two words lay and lie are difficult to use correctly even in the best of circumstances.

The present tense of the words lay and lie seemingly overlap and insert themselves into our written and verbal communication like uninvited wild dogs, teasing our language skills and flubbing even the most conscientious grammar freak.

What’s one to do? Force the offending words out of the English language? Ban these litigious words and leave them for little black fleas to feast on? Unfortunately, that’s not possible. Fleas themselves aren’t the type to lie anywhere for too long, let alone long enough for us to ponder the fate of lay and lie.

We must learn to work with them. It’s not a lie that these words force us to mentally floss our brains, never allowing us to lie around, waiting for a miracle to happen. But, there are ways to make the process of choosing which word to use – lay or lie – easier and moving us up the social language ladder (if not the flea social hierarchy).

Dugger's bones are lying in the yard...in lots of places.
Dugger's bones are lying in the yard...in lots of places. | Source

Lay - It's Transitive

Let’s talk about the word lay for a moment. It’s what is known as a transitive verb.

Transitive verbs you ask? Using lay, transitive verbs and verb tense all in one breath sound like a grammatical disaster waiting to happen.

Let me shed some light on these grammatical mysteries: it’s not that bad. I’ll walk you through some examples and then you can check yourself with a fun quiz at the end!

Transitive verbs are action words that do something to someone or something else. Look at the following example:

The dog lays his bone in the hole.

The word bone comes after the verb lays. Bone is an object, both literally and grammatically. Literally, it’s a piece of murky white remains that dogs seem to love with disturbing voracity. Bone is also a direct object.

But, let’s say we have a particularly forgetful dog. This dog loves chewing on bones and every day his owner gives him a new bone. He chews for awhile and then wants to “save” it for later. He goes out and buries the bone. Over the course of his short life of 5 years, he has dug one hole per day. That equates to 1,826 bones and holes in the yard! He’s forgotten just about every one of them, too.

Other than the fact that our dog – we’ll call him Dugger – is a little obsessive-compulsive with his bone-burying habit, you have to give him credit. He has laid a lot of bones in a lot of holes, spending large amounts of time digging and burying his corporeal treasures. What a holey yard!

Dugger the dog has laid many bones to rest. Today he will lay another bone in a hole, and will continue to lay many more bones in his yard if he keeps up his incongruous habits.

A popular saying, memorialized in my sketch.
A popular saying, memorialized in my sketch. | Source

Lie - It's Intransitive

Now, the word lie is interesting, too. We’re not talking about telling fibs, though I wonder if Dugger the dog has been lying to himself about having a mental disorder: Compulsive Bury-the-Bone Syndrome is often difficult to recognize and even more difficult to treat.

In any case, all of Dugger’s digging has come at a great cost. He’s always tired. After digging over 1800 holes during the course of his life, he often lies around for hours, doing nothing. In fact, Dugger’s owner has often remarked that he has a very mellow dog. It’s no wonder!

Dugger lies around for hours after digging and burying his bones.

In the above statement, no object comes after the word lie. The word around is a preposition – the sort of word that helps describe direction or location among other things.

Dugger will lie in his bed for 6 hours!

Poor Dugger! He gets so tired that his naps last a very long time. Those holes must be very large and deep.

Yesterday, his nap lasted 8 hours and he lay in one position for so long, he left an imprint of his body on his doggie bed.

Lay is the past tense of lie when you’re referring to someone or something reclining.

In fact, over the last few years, he has lain in his bed so much, he’s actually flatter on one side of his body than the other.

In the example above, you see how to use lay with the past participle. Basically, a “helping” verb goes in front of lain. Most commonly, it will be has or had.

Apparently, you really should let sleeping dogs lie: they will look more interesting as the years go by.

This last example uses a common “saying” to illustrate that the word lie in correct usage.

Dugger's master is mellow, too.  This is my cartoon sketch of Dugger and his owner.
Dugger's master is mellow, too. This is my cartoon sketch of Dugger and his owner. | Source

Dugger's Journey Continues....

Dugger recently changed his routine. Since his bed has an imprint of his body and the stuffing is flattened, he has taken to sleeping on his owner’s bed.

There’s something he doesn’t understand, though. His owner sometimes waves handfuls of fur in his face that came from the bedcover, saying things like, “THERE IS FUR LYING ALL OVER! AHH! I COULD MAKE A SWEATER!!”

Since his owner acts so excited, Dugger reasons his master must like all that fur. He’ll make a point of licking himself even more. Perhaps more fur will equal more excitement. All that excitement and attention definitely make his day.

After seeing all of Dugger’s examples, we can summarize the words lay and lie. (Never mind the fact that some dogs spend too much time lying around in the state of apparent oblivion.)

If you want to recline you lie down in the present, lay down in the past, and had lain down using the past participle.

If you want to place an object or otherwise do something to it you lay it down in the present, you laid it down in the past, and had laid it down using the past participle.

In Summary: Lie vs. Lay

Meaning
Present Tense
Past Tense
Past Participle
Present Progressive
To recline (lie)
Lie
Lay
Lain
Lying
To place (lay)
Lay
Laid
Laid
Laying
Is your brain Swiss cheese?  My sketch shows the "holey-ness" of the cheese.  Lay some cheese to the brain.
Is your brain Swiss cheese? My sketch shows the "holey-ness" of the cheese. Lay some cheese to the brain. | Source

Test Your Knowledge

Do you think you understand when to use lay and lie? Take the quiz to find out.

This is one of those things you’ll either have to remember or use the table above to jar your memory. Don’t be like Dugger and forget. He has one Swiss cheese memory: it’s full of holes!

Is the use of "lay" in the video grammatically correct?

See results

Final Thoughts

I hope Dugger's antics have you remembering lay vs. lie better than before, and that you enjoyed reading.

In the video below, this is a very popular song. It's by a band called Snow Patrol and the song is "Chasing Cars" - in honor of Dugger. When he's in the mood, he will try to chase a car.

Enjoy!

© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What a creative writer you are! And helpful! And a pretty cool person! And a friend of mine! That's a four-bagger I can live with.

      Great job Cyndi! Thanks for the help and I know I speak for hundreds of Hubbers when I say that.

      bill

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Dang, Bill, you're lightning fast in your commenting. :D You don't LIE in wait, HAHAHA. HUGS to you, friend. You've touched my life more than you'll ever know.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Hi cclitgirl - oh no! This is a tricky one so do I lay my head down in shame? Lol. Thanks foe the lesson! I needed this one and there have been times when I have used another word just to get around trying to figure out which is the correct way to use it! Thanks!

    • HawaiiHeart profile image

      HawaiiHeart 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Love this - there are so many of these that always confuse me! Very useful!

    • scruffyfy profile image

      scruffyfy 4 years ago from Philippines

      Another fantastic writing! What makes you an AWESOME writer eh? haha! Thanks for simplifying these two confusing words, which I mixed up sometimes...too bad, I only got 70% compared to yesterday's test... :D

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      RealHousewife - yes! "Lay my head down" - not a very common statement, but correct nonetheless. :P Hehe. I myself have been guilty of avoiding certain words because I wasn't sure of their use! You are not the only one - I promise. :) Thanks for stopping by!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      HawaiiHeart - hehe, I promise to write more hubs like these. :D Thanks for the votes!

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Cindy, I think I will print this for my students. "Lain" is the one that always trips them up. Great teaching hub! Votes and shares! :-)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      scruffyfy! Hey!! Great to see you! I promised you another grammar hub, didn't I? I'm SO GLAD you like this. No worries on the quiz. Eat a little more Swiss cheese and you'll be fine. :D (HUGS)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Susan - YES!! That's part of why I enjoy writing these. I'm a Spanish teacher and forever teaching English grammar to my students. :D Thanks for the votes and shares. (HUGS)

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

      This is one of those conjugations that get me. This is very helpful! I love your illustrations. You are soooo talented. Now, after all this reading today, I must lay down... just kidding. Lie down. :)

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Vicki L Hodges 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Dang! I was going to write a hub about lay and lie; you beat me to it! I did write a poem about lying, and I wonder if people thought at the end I was wrong in using "lying" for someone "lying" in the grave. Most people, it seems, use lay incorrectly over lie, just like in the song. I love this song, but he is SO wrong. I'd like to be a proofreader for songs!!! Great hub. All kinds of votes. I clicked away, sis!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Tammy! (HUGS) Hehe, are you lying down for this? Hehehe, thanks for stopping by and offering your insights. I sooo look forward to hearing from you. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Vicki - hehe, I was SO working on this when I saw your poem about "lying" - hehe. Oh, and I need to link it to this. I'm glad you know that "lay" in the song is soo wrong. So many singer/songwriters have good intentions, but...such incorrect grammar. Hehe. Thanks for the votes, clicks and (HUGS) to you!!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      This is a really good hub on the words lay and lie. It will be very useful as we write our hubs. I love your style and design on this hub. The quiz was really a good follow-up (I need to retake it again!). Voted up!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      What a wonderful job you did on this hub, Cindy. You made it fun and interesting. Too bad there weren't more teachers like you!

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      I have issues with their and there. Then and than but after reviewing them it has improved tremendously! What a great article. You explained the different in complete detail. :)

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 4 years ago from USA

      This is a tricky one, and I'm glad you and Dugger are here to help me remember. I have often lain in bed trying to decide which one to use!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      teaches - hello there! Thanks for your thoughts on this - I'm so glad you found this useful. :) Thank you also for the compliments on style/design - I definitely worked hard on making the images. :) Hehehe. No worries about the quiz - just go eat a little Swiss cheese and you'll be able to whiz right through. (HUGS)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      aviannovice - If I can help others see grammar as I do - zany and fun - then perhaps people will WANT to have fun learning a wee-bit of grammar. Hehe. Thanks for stopping by. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Julianna - hey there! Hehe, more hub ideas you've given me! :) Thank you! Hehe, I'm so glad you liked this and found it useful. (HUGS)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      MT - hehe, you have lain in bed in contemplation of lay vs. lie? Hehe, you must be more into grammar than I am! Haha. Just kidding. But, I do thank you so much for stopping by. Dugger is one crazy dog, but "them" bones will help you out. (HUGS)

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub cclitgirl. I make so many mistakes, it's pathetic at times...LOL I do enjoy reading hubs such as yours, because, they do bring the topic of good vs. great writing to mind.

      Thanks for posting and take care

      John

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 4 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub.Interesting and explained creatively. I think anyone who reads this will understand very well. Voted up.

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      A question/topic that has popped up in a bunch of places recently. Neat sketches! I must remember to use dogs in my explanation - much easier than a water bottle prop.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      John - wow, you are so complimentary! *blush* :) From what I can tell, your writing is just fine. :) Hehe, you even used "it's" correctly. Now see? You either learn well, had good teachers or both - now, I can't wait to see some of your writing. :D (HUGS)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Vellur - hello! Thank you for your feedback and comments. It's always great to see you. I just love it when I see your bright tulips - you always brighten my day. :)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      nifwlseirff - hey there! Water bottle prop? Hehe, I think I need to head over to your hubs and get to reading. Using dogs in explanations works wonders, I think, especially with dog lovers. Ha! Cheers!

    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 4 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Yet another superb grammar Hub. If only linguistics books were written with the same creativity...

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      OD - I agree! My historical linguistics class in college might not have put me to sleep quite so much. ;)

    • scruffyfy profile image

      scruffyfy 4 years ago from Philippines

      Swiss cheese eaten! will lay my head to bed now so that my eyebugs won't bulge in the morning! HAHAHAHA! :P

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      scuffyfy - you're so funny! XD I'm so glad to have found you here on HP. Now, go relax and let the holey brain heal. HAHAHA.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image

      Sarah Johnson 4 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      lay and lie have always frustrated me! Thanks for the clarification and neat drawings. Great hub.

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      CS - hahaha, they are confusing, aren't they? When I was researching this, I had to keep my "table" in front of me so I wouldn't goof. :D These two words are a menace for sure. ;)

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      One of my most common errors so thanks for the refresher. I did not know that "lay" was past tense for one verb and present tense for another. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      alocsin - hehe, no problem with the refresher. "Lay" being the past tense of "lie" makes things so confusing, doesn't it? Thanks for coming by - (HUGS)

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 4 years ago from UK

      Thank you for writing this. People using lay for lie does irritate me a bit at times, and it happens so often!

    • cclitgirl profile image
      Author

      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Melovy! (HUGS) Thanks for stopping by. Lay for lie, lain for laid - I can see why people confuse them. But, I also had to share the correct usage. Thanks so much for your insights.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 4 years ago from Thailand

      What a clever way of describing the differences. The past tense doesn't sound right, as we would often speak "laid" not lay, feels very weird to use the 'correct way'. Also is this right?: "I had lain {in} bed with Dugger for only one night when my back started hurting"

      Shared, up and interesting.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Yes, Brett, you got it. :) "Had lain" is the past participle of "lie"(to recline). It does sound weird, though, doesn't it? In our everyday speech, we get accustomed to using what we think sounds right - I still have to look these up or use my handy chart to remember. Thanks for stopping by. :D

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 4 years ago from San Francisco

      You make grammar so much fun! I love this Hub and am going to pass it along! ;)

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Robin - (HUGS) - Oh, wow. You are a gem. I mean, your grammar is perfect and I'm so thrilled that you came by. Thank you so much for the compliments and kudos.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 4 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      When will I get my block of swiss cheese?

      I had an intuitive sense of the two words; thank you for elucidating further.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Phil - hehehe, I'm not sure, but when you do, please let me know and we'll have to share. I've forgotten where my own block of cheese went. ;) Thanks for coming by to another of my hubs. Cheers!

    • Julie DeNeen profile image

      Blurter of Indiscretions 4 years ago from Clinton CT

      I'm just drooling. :)

    • lovesleftovers profile image

      lovesleftovers 4 years ago from Texas

      I LOVE the way you've presented the information in your article. You've successfully made learning proper grammar skills fun. Your pictures are wonderful. Great hub! Voted up, interesting, useful and shared.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Julie - hehe, you're too funny. Now, don't drool too much...you might find yourself having to "lie" down. ;) Cheers!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      lovesleftovers - hey there! Thanks for your awesome comments and insights. I'm so glad you enjoyed this. I definitely try to make grammar fun for my students. :) Thanks so much for the votes and shares, too. Hubhugs!

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 4 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Nice hub, Cyndi. Up and shared. I got 70 %. I always confuse who and whom. Good song too!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      PDX - hey! Good to see you! Thanks for the shares. Who and whom are interesting words in this English language of ours. No matter who you are, these words can get confusing. Hehe.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I thought I had it figured out, but only got 80%. Going to have to read it again! This is a wonderful hub! These words have always been the hardest for me. I will avoid using them when I can get by with it. Voted this up and useful! Thank you for the lesson! :)

    • LABrashear profile image

      LABrashear 4 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

      I love that you made learning fun. I am trying to comprehend this at 1:39 AM, so I am not going to claim to know all the ins and outs of how to use lay and lie. I will probably return at a more suitable hour to re-read. Loved it - voted up!

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 4 years ago from Western NC

      Sgbrown - 80% is good! Thank you for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed the lesson. Have a great day! :)

      LaBrashear - I definitely try to make learning fun. :) The ins and outs of grammar are a wee bit difficult when learning during the day, but kudos to you for attempting it at 1:39 am. :D

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      Because this is a common mistake for many people I am pinning this hub to my English writing board so that it may hopefully be helpful to a lot of people who may be confused. Also sharing.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 3 years ago from Western NC

      Au fait - thank you so much! The grammar stuff is one of my true loves! ;)

    • dragonflyfla profile image

      dragonflyfla 3 years ago from South Florida

      Nice job. :-) Votes you up and etc...

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 3 years ago from Western NC

      Dragonflyfla - aww, thank you. :) Cheers!

    • SherriDW profile image

      SherriDW 2 years ago

      Thank you for your help with these words. I've been struggling with them lately.

    • cclitgirl profile image
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      Cynthia Calhoun 2 years ago from Western NC

      SherriDW - haha! Thank you so much. I hope you have a wonderful day! Glad I could help. :)

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