18 March 2009

To Lie vs. To Lay

The difference between these two irregular verbs is even difficult for native English speakers who often misuse them. 

Look at these two sentences in the present tense:

  • TO LIE - I lie down every Sunday afternoon to take a nap. (Here the speaker is doing the action to himself! An intransitive verb)
  • TO LAY – The French lay flowers at the tombs of loved ones on All Hollow’s Eve in November. (Here the subject is doing the action to something or someone! This verb is transitive; it requires an object)

Now here is where the grammar becomes complicated!! Look at this chart of both verbs in their simple past (le prétérit) and past participle forms!

Infinitive Simple Past Past Participle
to lie lay lain
to lay laid laid

Look at these two sentences in the simple past:

  • TO LIE – Yesterday I lay down because I had a headache. clipart-questionmark
  • TO LAY – The students laid their test on the teacher’s desk after they had finished it.

Look at these two sentences in the present perfect:

  • TO LIE – I have lain in bed since this morning because of this horrible headache.
  • TO LAY – My chickens have laid 20 eggs today.

BE CAREFUL because ‘to lie’ as a regular verb changes meaning! As a regular verb, ‘to lie’ means ‘to not tell the truth.’ As a regular verb, it follows regular conjugation rules: to lie, lied, lied.

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