You look at your dog, command, “Lay down!” and your dog does nothing. Great! The dog knows grammar and he knows you’re wrong.
The number of people who don’t know when to use “lay” or “lie” is climbing as fast as the birth rate. In the past week I’ve heard a politician, a teacher, a minister, and a newsreader on NPR get it wrong. NPR! The last fortress of correct English! I hear a giant toilet flushing, we are all going down the drain.
1. The lazy way. Use ‘lie’ all the time. You’ll be wrong only a tiny fraction of the time.
2. The substitute way. Fool yourself and substitute “sit” or “set” in the sentence. It makes it easier. If you use ‘sit’ then you can use ‘lie,’ if you are sure it’s ‘set’ then you can use ‘lay.’
Here are some examples for sit/lie: Sit down. When I came in, he was sitting on the floor. Let’s sit down together and figure it out.
Here are some examples for set/lay: Please set the bowl on the table. Set your tired bones on that chair, let’s sit and talk for a while. Once you set down the wine glass, pick up a pretzel.
2. The easy way. ‘Lie’ means to recline. You want your dog to recline, so you say, “Lie down!” You are tired so you lie down for a nap. The paper is lying next to the pen.
‘Lay’ means to place. ‘Lay the pen on the table.’ You then lay the paper next to it. You can even pick up your dog and lay him on the table, too, because you are doing the placing. And finally, when you place yourself in bed, you can say, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep.” Notice you are adding ‘me’ to the sentence, you are placing yourself. If you were reclining, it would be, ‘Now I lie down to sleep.’
Listen up, Doreen, Tandaleo, Sidsel, Sarah, Lisa. You can do this. I know you can, because you lay it on the line for us every day.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and trainer. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007-9 All rights reserved. Diagram of “Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” courtesy logos.com