This common mistake can really either make you sound totally uneducated or way sophisticated. It is the infamous lay vs. lie. I never understood the difference until I took a Precision Language course in college, and now I cringe every time someone uses these incorrectly.
Rather than giving you the definitions of these words, I’m going to show you the differences:
LAY – done to an object
LIE – done by the subject
Please LAY your paperwork down on the table. (The subject is doing something to something else – there is a direct object.)
I’m going to LIE down for a nap. (The subject is doing the action – no direct object.)
INCORRECT: I’m going to lay out at the pool for a few hours.
See if you can spot the mistakes in this excerpt from Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol:
If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me…
These lyrics should read:
If I LIE here
If I just LIE here
Would you lie with me (they used it correctly :)
Another common problem with these words is that their past tenses and past participles get confused. Let me clear it up for you:
LAY – LAID (past tense) – LAID (past participle)
LIE – LAY (past tense) – LAIN (past participle)
Have you seen my earrings? I LAID them on the table.
Yesterday, I LAY down for a nap.
I HAD LAID my purse on the counter, but now I can’t find it.
I WOULD HAVE LAIN down for a nap, but I was too busy.
NEVER say that someone HAS BEEN LAIN TO REST.
Good luck with this one! It can be hard to remember at first, but once you master it you will sound educated and intelligent.