The two most confused words in all of English history are lie and lay. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s true that many native English speakers—even those who are good writers—confuse these two words.
There’s really no easy way to remembering which is which—other than repeating the rules to yourself over and over again—but here are a few tricks that might help.
Lie = an action that doesn’t require anything or anyone else
This is the word you want to use whenever you’re describing yourself going to bed or relaxing on a sofa.
You NEVER say “I’m going to lay down on the bed.”
The correct way is “I’m going to lie down on the bed.”
It may sound weird because a lot of your friends don’t talk like this, but it’s the right way to say it. Next time you hear someone say “I’m going to lay down for a second,” correct them by saying “lie down!”
Lay = an action that requires someone or something else
Whenever you use “lay” make sure that the action is being performed on something. The technical term is direct object, but all that means is that you’re “laying” something down somewhere. For example:
“I’m going to lay down this book on the table.”
Most people know how to use “lay” correctly when it comes to describing other things. The problem is that that they often confuse it for “lie” when they don’t have a direct object to use it with. Now comes the tricky part.
Here’s the strangest thing about this topic: The past tense of “lie” is “lay.” I know, it doesn’t make sense but that’s just how English works. Here’s an example:
Present: I’m going to lie down on the bed.
Past tense: I lay down on the bed yesterday.
It may not sound correct and you would probably much rather say “lied down” or “laid down,” but both of those would be incorrect in this instance. You don’t have to agree with these rules, you just have to know that the past tense of “lie” is “lay.”
The past tense of “lay” on the other hand is a little more logical; it’s “laid.” Here’s an example.
Present: I’m going to lay down this book on the table.
Past tense: I laid down the book on the table yesterday.
Don’t get too overwhelmed. If you can simply remember that you never “lay down on a bed” but instead “lie down” then you’ll be one step ahead of the curve. If you’re interested in learning more writing tips, check out Brightstorm Grammar.