Your Laying Eyes?

I’ve written about this subject before, but it’s a deep well. So here I go again.

One of the most perplexing words in the English language is the little three-letter word lie. Or lay. And when to use which. I see these words (and other forms of the words) misused and abused in print often enough that I could probably blame some of my grey hair on this instead of misbehaving kids if I wanted to.

Present tense is fairly easy. Use lie without an object. Use lay with an object. Say what? Here are some examples.

1. Susie lies on the bed. (See, no object. Susie does not lay on the bed — well, not in present tense.)

2. Susie lays her head on the pillow. (Susie’s head is the object of the verb.)

Things get a little tricky in past tense because English is such a twisty little language. Lay is, you see, the past tense of lie while laid is the past tense of lay. Oh, English, you minx.

1. Susie lay on the bed. (In past tense, this is now correct. English is fun, right?)

2. Susie laid her head on the pillow.

Last of all we have the even trickier past participle.

1. Susie has lain on the bed all day. (Still no object.)

2. Susie has laid her head on the pillow twice today. (Yeah, that’s a stupid sentence but it gets the job done. The past participle of lay is laid. And it takes an object.)

And why, you ask, should you care? Because it’s not that difficult to get this right, and if you get it wrong, you risk looking as if you don’t know how to construct a sentence. Careless grammar looks like careless thinking.

I must admit that I sometimes use sentence fragments — see the opening paragraph for a perfect example — but when I do I know I’ve done it and I do it intentionally. Mistaking lay for lie in your writing just makes you look like an amateur.

Grammar Girl has a nice explanation and a little chart to help as well on her site. Lay Versus Lie:Grammar Girl

One Response to “Your Laying Eyes?”

  1. Chelle says:

    You should write tutorials like this for a living. Seriously.

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