Judy Nollet
White Plume Communications

writer, instructional designer, eLearning developer

Getting Lay-Laid/Lie-Lay

Would anyone defend English as a language with easy, consistent rules? There are simply too many EXCEPTs in how we spell, pronounce, and use our words. To paraphrase Lincoln, certain English words can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. The editors of the American Heritage Dictionary seem to agree. Hence, the need for their book 100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses & Misuses (ISBN: 0-618-49333-6).

This inexpensive reference is exactly what the title states: a compilation of words that are often used incorrectly. It provides clear definitions, as well as explanations about common mistakes, plus some tips for remembering the proper use.

For example, entries include lay (to place an item) and lie (to recline). Part of the confusion between these two words results because the past tense of lie is lay. Also, because people run words together when speaking, "I lay down on the couch" (correct) may sound like "I laid down on the couch" (incorrect). So if people learn from hearing the language spoken, they might pick up the wrong usage, even if the speaker is using the words correctly.

How to Use Lay and Lie Correctly

Lay (laid, laying, lays) takes a direct object. In other words, you must lay some thing. Here are some correct examples:

  • Please lay the handouts on the chairs.
  • The server laid a napkin on each plate.
  • I'm laying the baby on the play mat.
  • The boss lays the blame on the designers.

Lie (lay, lain, lying) cannot take an object. Here are some correct examples:

  • He lies on the hammock to read.
  • She lay down but couldn't sleep.
  • That paper has lain on my desk all month.
  • I was lying on the grass.

OK. That's two confusing words down. To learn about the other 98, pick up the book.

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