Several readers have asked me to discuss the difference between lie and lay.
I hadn’t obliged until now, primarily because I thought it obvious. Also, the worst offenders either don’t read language blogs or don’t care enough to bother. But maybe there’s room in the middle for a refresher.
Raise your hand if you know the difference between lie and lay.
You’d think mattress marketeers would know.
There’s a mattress commercial running lately that encourages shoppers to come in and “lay down.” ARRRGGGHHH!
I recently saw mention of another manufacturer’s product, called the “Lay Down and Sleep.” ARRRGGGHHH!
One of the oldest mattress retailers is known for its jingle, which begins “Lay on it …”
Now, I know plenty of people who “lay down” when they’re tired, “lay on the beach” on a sunny day or “lay in bed” on Saturday mornings. As I type this, even spell check is cringing.
I hate to have to even say it, but it’s lie. When we recline, we lie down—usually on a mattress.
I admit, it gets confusing when the past tense comes into play:
Present tense = lie (She lies awake at night.)
Past tense = lay (She lay awake last night.)
Past participle = lain (She has lain awake since midnight.)
When do we use lay? When there’s an object involved. We lay something down. We lay down the law. We lay a book on the table. Now I lay me down to sleep (technically, it should be reflexive, I lay myself down to sleep, but that spoils the meter of the prayer).
The tenses of lay are as follows:
Present tense = lay (Every year I lay a wreath on the grave.)
Past tense = laid (She laid a mat at the front door.)
Past participle = laid also (The hen has laid an egg every morning this week.
Dear readers (you know who you are), did I explain this clearly, as you requested?
Dear offenders (you know who you are), would you consider making better word choices?
Dear mattress makers (you know who you are, though chances are you’re not reading this), are your marketing agencies asleep on the job?
Maybe instead of “Lay on it, play on it,” they could sing “Lie on it, cry on it,” Lie on it, sigh on it,” “die on it,” “get high on it,” “eat pie on it,” WHATEVER.
To be fair, as lie versus lay goes, there’s bad behavior beyond the bed business. Just listen to some of your favorite songs and you’ll find some doozies.