Today call me laid but I’m referring to grammar; more specifically to the infinitives to lie and to lay. So if your Google search brought you here for something sexier, you’re in luck. There’s nothing hotter than the proper conjugation of verbs.
(Besides sentence diagramming or an explication of Moby Dick, am I right?)
Forgive me for taking the time to address the lie/lay debacle in a blog post. You’d probably rather read about my crock-pot chicken recipe or how my crippling fear of success leads me to sabotage myself with grammar-related musings.
(Wait, you wouldn’t? Well, okay! To my point.)
I’ve noticed a decent percentage of people misusing to lie (as in “to recline”) and to lay (as in “to place or set”). And since the English language is replete with homonyms and homophones, it’s no wonder there’s confusion among the masses.
Still. As a former English teacher, let me lay it out there:
You don’t tell a dog to lay on its bed; nor do you lay down for a nap or lay out in the sun. In the present tense, the proper conjugation for the infinitive to lie is lie or lies.
I want my dog to stop humping me and lie down so I can lie on my bed to take a nap because it’s only 65 degrees outside which, for southern Californians, is so cold we will not lie in the sun. (Brrr!)
In the present and future tenses, no one lays down to rest.
I lie, you/we/they lie, he/she/it/lies down. Or out. Or yowsa, this stuff is hot!
Now. Here comes the past tense of to lie to mess with us.
Yesterday, my dog lay by the fire while I lay on the couch watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in which the ladies lay on the beach in Hawaii because life is hard.
Yes, indeed. The past tense conjugation of to lie is lay.
I lay, you lay, he/she/it/we/they lay.
Crap, right? Whose idiot idea was this? Maybe the guy who wrote Moby Dick, I don’t know. I do know if it sounds weird, it’s because so many people use it incorrectly.
But what about laid? you ask. And I’m glad you did.
The verb to lay, as in “to place or set,” is unsettling because the present tense is lay and the past is laid.
You can lay your winter coat right there (brrr!) and join me as I lay placemats on the table and fold this laundry I laid on the guest-room bed three days ago.
Did I just blow your mind?
It gets even sexier when we add participles into the mix. Not to mention conditionals and perfects and futures and ohmygodnowondernooneknowswhatherightwordis!
So rather than alienate you completely, I’ll close with a few more of the most common conjugations. Then you can send me specific questions and/or death threats via email, Facebook or twitter.
To lay (as in to place – this verb requires a direct object being set somewhere):
Today I lay, you lay, he/she/it/lays, they/we lay our heads on his chest. (Whose chest? Let’s say Ryan Gosling’s.)
Yesterday, I laid, you laid, he/she/it/they/we laid our heads on Ryan Gosling’s chest. (Because why not yesterday, too?)
Tomorrow, I will lay, you will lay, he/she/it/they/we will lay our heads on Ryan Gosling’s chest. (When is a bad time, really?)
The key is the direct object being laid, or placed. And the object is our heads. And the heads are lucky.
To lie (as in recline – on a bed or a beach towel or the backseat of a car):
We addressed present and past already so let’s skip to the future.
I will lie down on the bed. You will lie, he/she/it will lie down. We all will lie down. Why? Because we’re exhausted by this post.
I/you/he/she/it we are lying down. I/you/he/she/it were lying down. Still with me, yes? Also still exhausted.
Now it gets tricky:
I have lain in the sun for two hours, so I am burned. By noon tomorrow, you still will have lain in the sun less than the cast of Jersey Shore. But he/she/it/they have lain together so many times on that show no one remembers who’s gotten laid by whom.
I know. Completely crazy, right? I mean the verbs. Not the cast of Jersey Shore. They’re awesome. Obviously.
So. Do you all hate me sufficiently yet?
Good. Now let’s talk about Moby Dick…