Note: In each case the verb "to lie" is not followed directly by a noun/pronoun




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LIE -- intransitive -- no direct object:

Note: In each case the verb "to lie" is NOT followed directly by a noun/pronoun (i.e., a thing, a direct object). Often “to lie” is followed by a prepositional phrase, or else an adverb.

LIE -- PRESENT:

I lie in the bed. OR I am going to lie down.

She lies on the couch.

The cat likes lying on top of the television. (note the verbal “lying” not “laying)



LIE -- PAST:

I lay in my bed (yesterday).

She lay on the couch (last week) when she was sick

The cat lay quietly on the grass in the front yard all morning.

The children lay in the sun last weekend when it was warm.

LIE -- FUTURE:

I will lie in my bed this evening when it is time to go to sleep.

She will lie on the couch the next time she feels sick.

The cat will lie on the computer once the monitor warms up.



LAY -- transitive -- takes a direct object:

Note: In each case the verb "to lay" IS followed by a noun/pronoun (i.e., a thing, a direct object).

One useful mnemonic is the first line of an old child's prayer: "Now I lay me down to sleep."

"Lay" is correct here because it is followed by a direct object, "me."

LAY -- PRESENT:

I lay the book on the table where you can see it.

She lays herself down on the couch when she feels sick.

The cat lays a mouse at the feet of his mistress. [Ok, the cat is a tomcat]



LAY -- PAST:

I laid the book on the table last night so you could see it when you came in.

She laid herself on the couch because she felt sick yesterday.

The cat caught a mouse last month and laid it at the feet of his mistress. [still a tomcat]

The children laid the dishes on the table before dinner.

LAY -- FUTURE:

I will lay the book on the table where you can see it.

She will lay herself on the couch the next time she is sick because it is closer to the bathroom than her bed.

The cat will lay a mouse at the feet of its mistress every time it catches one.

The children will be laying the dishes on the table before dinner tonight.

NEGATIVE EXAMPLE:

Snow Patrol "Chasing Cars":

If I lay here -- WRONG

If I just lay here -- WRONG

Would you lie with me -- RIGHT

And just forget the world.

In the first two wrong instances, the verb should be "lie" because it is intransitive, i.e., it doesn't take a direct object.

Again, you don't have to know the terms “transitive” or “intransitive” except as they may help you to remember whether to use "lie" (intransitive) or "lay" (transitive).

This is the way I remember which is which, if it helps:

"Transitive" contains the word "transit" meaning, loosely, "movement." The action, in a sense, moves through the verb to land on something else, i.e., the direct object.



LIE LAY

present lie lay

past lay laid


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