Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lay your money down, boys!

Those pesky verbs, lay and lie. The main problem is lay because it's the present tense of one verb and the past tense of another.  It goes downhill from there. The underlying problem is that we hear it misused so often our ears are no longer trustworthy. I think you just have to memorize it and retrain your ear.

lay, laid, laid - means to place or put something down, and it must have an object, something to receive the action. You can't just place or put; there has to be an object.
Present tense: Gentlemen, lay your cards on the table.  (Substitute place or put. Ask lay what? Cards.)
Past tense: Yesterday he laid the flowers on the grave. (Substitute placed or put. Laid what? Flowers)
Past participle: The wren had laid her eggs in the flower pot before. (Substitute had placed or had put. Had laid what? Eggs.)

lie, lay, lain - means to rest or recline, does not need an object

NASA. Hubble: N90 star-forming region

Present tense: "When we have an urge to use an exotic word, let us lie down until the urge goes away." I think that's at least close to a line by James Kilpatrick. (Substitute rest or recline) He lies among the lilies in the field. rests/reclines
Past tense: All night he lay in the haystack, counting stars. (Substitute rested or reclined)
Past participle: She had lain in the ditch for three days before being found. (Substitute had rested or had reclined)

If you have any good examples, I'd love to see them. Or any quibbles—let me know that too.

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