It Sounds Wrong, but it’s Right

rogersgeorge on December 12th, 2017

Okay, the intransitive verb “lie-lay-lain” is one we often get wrong in the present tense. We say “I’m gonna go lay down,” when we mean “I’m gonna go lie down.” (note there’s no direct object.)  “Lie,” the correct word, sounds okay even when we often say “lay.”

Ah, but the past tense of lie, which is “lay,” sounds wrong even when it’s correct! I think we’re just too used to something like a “-d” at the end of past tense verbs. Here’s a guy (Mike Peterson of Comic Strip of the Day for December 7, 2017) using it correctly. It’s the past tense:

He may not have been the worst of the lot, but he lay down with the dogs and now he’s getting up with the fleas.

Sorry, he’s right. It’s “lay.” “Laid” is wrong. I suppose Mike could have written, “…he laid his body down with the dogs…” That would be a little strange, but also grammatical.

The rule: “lay” is past tense of “lie.” Deal with it.

Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed

Another Lie-Lay Post

rogersgeorge on March 11th, 2016

I’m cleaning out my saddlebags, and this two-year-old goody turned up. If you read this blog with any regularity at all, you probably have the lay-lie problem down pat, but here’s a comic about it, so I’ll share.


The strip is called Pickles.

Remember, lie is intransitive. That means you can use it all by itself. Lay is transitive, which means it has to have a direct object. When you go to bed, you lie down. You can lay your head on the pillow, though. Lay the stick on the fire. Now it lies on the coals. So far so good.

So far this has all been in the present tense. The problem is when we get to the past tense. The past tense of lie is lay! So you have to watch the context to figure out the tense. For example,

Yesterday he lay on the couch all day.

Doesn’t sound right, does it? Lots of verbs put a –d at the end for the past tense, and we’re used to hearing that, so we tend to put a -d on the end of lie, but lied is already taken! it’s the past tense of lie meaning to tell an untruth, as in the comic. Maybe the solution is to try use the past progressive:

Yesterday he was lying on the couch all day.

Or the past perfect,

Yesterday he had lain on the couch all day.

Lay isn’t so bad. Its past tense is laid. There’s that -d to make a past tense verb:

He laid his head on the pillow.

Practice, and you’ll get the hang of it. Jot yourself a note and tape it to the wall where you can look at it whenever you want a reminder.

Lie Lay, Lain. Lie on the bed.

Lay Laid, Laid. Lay your head.

Maybe you want to sleep on it.


PS: Wouldn’t you know, Pickles had a follow-up:

A teacher gets it wrong, then right

rogersgeorge on January 20th, 2014

Two essentially unrelated Luann comics, except they feature the same two characters, first in 2006, the second in 2007. First, Miss Phelps gets one of my pet peeves wrong:


“Lies” happens to be correct. However, she catches the error in the next comic:


And, to answer Mr. Fogarty’s question in the first strip, the future was considered to be behind us by the ancient Greeks. They pictured us as moving backwards through time, because you can see the past, but you can’t see the future!

Yet another comic about grammar

rogersgeorge on December 28th, 2013

Last time I featured a curmudgeon who likes to correct certain mistakes in others’ grammar. Another battle that we curmudgeons are going to lose is using lay and lie correctly. LAY is TRANSITIVE, people! Harrumpf. You always should lay SOMETHING down. When you stretch out on the bed, it’s LIE down. See? No direct object. Harrumpf again.

So this guy in Speed Bump (Dec 21, 2013) got his revenge. Too bad he’s not around to enjoy all the grammarian teeth grinding he’s causing, and I wonder what he had to pay the monument guy to engrave his tombstone that way.


I’ve mentioned this pair of verbs more than once in the past, by the way. Alas, my dear sweet wife does not belong to my grammatical camp.

In which I bemoan the state of editing in…

rogersgeorge on January 3rd, 2012

The New York Times, of all places. This newspaper, whatever you say about its politics, used to be the standard of good and correct writing to which any writer of non-fiction could aspire. Now I must say Beware of imitating how the NYT is written.

I’m in the middle of a photo article that reviews 2011 with 365 photographs. It’s an interesting article, and here’s the link:

Photo 57, dated February 26 has a nice NASA photo of the ISS and the space shuttle with the earth in the background. “Backdrop,” even when used as a verb, is one word, folks.

“In this handout image provided by NASA, back dropped by a blue and white part of Earth, space shuttle Discovery approaches the International Space Station during STS-133 rendezvous and docking operations in Space.”

Photo 131, for May 11, has, and I quote, shuddering,

“A young Afghan boy who was shot in the stomach lays on a stretcher as he is taken to hospital in a medevac helicopter in the volatile Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.”

I’m not trivializing the human tragedy here by mentioning bad grammar.  Reporters and editors doing sloppy work do the trivializing. I discussed this verb a while back, here and here. The NYT should know better. (Full disclosure: they got the verb right in the Sept 13 photo.)

Photo 191, dated July 10, has this monument to carelessness:

A female passerby adjust her hair using the glass in the front door of the temporary residence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anne Sinclair in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City.

Third person singular present tense of “adjust” is “adjusts.”  But you knew that.

Photo 221, dated August 9:

A malnourished sick with TB is being washed by his mother in Banadir hospital.

A malnourished what?

The Sept 14 photo caption has “a police” where they mean “a policeman.” The Sept 20 caption says the people in the picture have their heads bowed in prayer.  They are standing, heads up, with their hands over their chests in the posture customarily taken when pledging allegiance.

Come on, you professionals at the NYT. Read my previous post.

To end on a cheerier note, here’s a NASA photo similar to the one in the NYT article.

Our Earth is the backdrop!