Tag Archives: Lay vs. Lie

Lay vs. Lie Lady Lay vs. Lie

20 Nov

My fiancé’s name is Evan.  I say this because I will from now on refer to him only as Evan.  Why?  Because there is nothing–and I mean nothing–more toolish than making references to one’s fiancé.  I feel like it is name dropping at its most obnoxious: which is to be expected, since it requires the use of a French word.  Even when the speaker doesn’t intend it, using the word “fiancé” in a sentence is a red flag upon which is written, “I need attention. VALIDATE ME.”  Incidentally, I believe that exact sentence is written on the French flag.

Above my bed is the large Bob Dylan poster you see below, and so while I write these, it appears that he is looking over my shoulder.  Because of this, Evan’s (see, I only call him Evan now) favorite new game is to give me grammar blog ideas in Bob Dylan’s voice, quoting the most ridiculous Bob Dylan lyrics he can.  You have to imagine the following suggestions in the most exaggerated, nasal-y Dylan voice possible.

“Hey. Hey. You should write  a blog about Einstein disguised as Robin Hood, with his memories in a trunk.”

“Hey. You should write a post about how Aladdin and his lamp sit with Utopian hermit monks side saddle on the golden calf.”

“Hey. Write about how Georgia Sam, he had a bloody nose, and the Welfare Department, they wouldn’t give him no clothes.”

A few minutes of silence go by as I’m typing.  Then, from across the room, Bob Dylan’s voice suggests:

“Hey. I know. Write a post about how I walked by a Guernsey cow who directed me to the Bowery slums where people carried signs around saying, ‘Ban the bums.’  Write about how the funniest woman I ever seen was the great-granddaughter of Mr. Clean, and how she takes about fifteen baths a day and wants me to grow a moustache on my face.  Write about the ghost of Belle Star–she hands down her wits to Jezebel the nun, and she violently knits a bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits at the head of the Chamber of Commerce.”

Now, I like to think that I have subtly woven these themes into my writing.  But there’s one piece of advice I have to reject from my talking Bob Dylan poster.  If he ever wanted me to write about his song “Lay Lady Lay,” I would have to put my proverbial foot down.  “No, Bob,” I would say.  “I cannot write about that song because it is grammatically incorrect.”

So while Bob fumes on my wall, let’s explore lie vs. lay.  Let’s also ignore that I am talking to a poster.

In the present tense, it’s pretty simple: lay is used when there is a direct object.  You would lay down a blanket (if you were putting a blanket on the ground or on a bed).  You would lay down a book (if you put it on the table or on the floor).  Remember it this way: a bag of Lay’s potato chips is a physical thing.  If you need to stop eating those chips, you would lay down the bag of Lay’s.  Lay Lady Lay would only be correct if the Lady was actually laying something across Bob’s big brass bed.  I would completely accept the song if it went something like: “Lay lady lay, lay a plastic sheet across my big brass bed, because I suffer from incontinence.”

Lie is used when there is no direct object involved: just a single person.  You would lie down to take a nap.  You might tell somebody to lie still.  Remember it this way: you are lying to yourself when you say that you’re only going to lie down for a 20 minute nap.  It’s cold, and your blankets are warm, and once you lie down, you ain’t going nowhere.

It’s a little tougher once we get to the past tense and past participle tense(the latter of which will be preceded by has, had, or have).  First, I’ll give you the chart.

Present Tense         Past Tense                  Past Participle 

Lie                                   Lay                                  Lain

Lay                                  Laid                                 Laid

Here is what the verb “lie” looks like conjugated out into sentences.

Present:

I have to lie down because I am tired.

Past:

I lay down yesterday because I was tired.

Past Perfect:

I had lain there for hours before anyone woke me.

And here is what the verb “lay” looks like conjugated out into sentences.

Present:

“Lay down that remote!” she yelled.

Past:

He laid the baby down in the crib.

Past Perfect:

He has laid bricks for twenty years.

These are tough to remember.  There is crossover and repetition, and it’s frankly ridiculous.  The present tense of lay is the same as the past tense of lie?  The past and the past perfect of lay are both laid?  And don’t tell me that lain is a word.  Lain can’t be a word.  It sounds like the name of a character on a show like Gossip Girl.  “Hello.  I’m Lain Rotisserie van der Mario Cart.  I am 16, but I have a receding hair line, I run a hedge fund, and bars apparently never card me.”

But it’s all true.  The best you can do is try to memorize that chart, and if you can’t, print a copy  and keep it with you at all times.  No one wants to be at party and be caught using the wrong form of lie or lay, that’s for sure!

It’s like the old saying goes: “Boys don’t make passes at girls who don’t have a laminated grammar chart in their purse.”

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