How many times have you looked up the difference between laying and lying? The fact is, it’s pretty difficult to remember how to use them. Here’s your chance to master it once and for all with some simple rules and helpful mnemonics.
To lay is to set (or otherwise place) something in a resting position. To lie is to tell a falsehood.
Here is a mnemonic from the website Primility to help you tell them apart:
“If you tell an untruth it is a lie, not a lay; and if you are in the process of telling an untruth you are lying and not laying.”
If to tell an untruth were the only meaning of lie, using these two words properly would be less of a challenge. However, lie can also mean to recline or to rest in a flat position. What a confusingly similar definition of a disconcertingly similar-looking word! It’s not a lost cause though; One web commenter shared how he remembers the difference between the two verbs:
(pLAce) and (recLIne)
This mnemonic should help you remember that lay, which begins with the letters L-A, has a long A sound like its definition: to place. On the other hand, lie, which starts with the letters L-I, has a long I sound like its definition: to recline.
Beyond being defined and spelled differently, lie and lay are also used differently. In the present tense, you must use a direct object with lay. However, lie doesn’t require a direct object. There are two memory aids for this rule, and as a bonus, the second one helps us with the past tense of the verbs:
While you lie down on your bed, you lay your head on the pillow. (Head is the direct object that follows lay.)
The past tense of lie (as in, to tell an untruth) is lied. Here’s what you need to remember in order to use lie and lay in the past tense when you are talking about reclining or setting things down:
As you can see, the past tense of lie is lay, but the past tense of lay is laid, which is a recipe for confusion! To remember that laid (as opposed to lain) is the past tense of lay, just memorize this phrase:
Use a D when there is a direct object. Because you only need a direct object with lay, you will know that the past tense is laid.
On one forum, a user named Maryn provides a full listing of lay and lie in every tense from simple present to the future perfect progressive. Now, let’s look at some examples. If you recall the context of the following quotes, they might help you to choose the right verb when you need it.
Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed.
―Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.
― Albert Camus, The Stranger
Can you reduce the number of times that you have to search for the difference between laying and lying? Along with mnemonics, one of the best ways to commit something to memory is to practice it. Try writing a story or a poem with plenty of instances of lay and lie in present and past tense. You might not create the next national short story award winner, but at least you will embed these two verbs in your memory. Just think; today could be the last day that you look up the difference between lying and laying!
from Grammarly Blog