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Will you lay or lie down?

If you’re feeling tired and you’re going to go have a rest, will you lay or lie down? When I was a child and I told my grandmother that I was going to lay down, she would tell me that, “chickens lay; people lie.” Notwithstanding the potential for the statement to be a rather cynical view of humanity (my grandmother wasn’t cynical so I’m sure that wasn’t her intention), she was right: when deciding  between the present tense form of “lay” or “lie” to express the need to recline, the correct choice is “lie”. When deciding between the two options, keep in mind that the verb “lay” requires a direct object, which is a word or phrase that indicates the person or thing upon which the action expressed in the verb is performed or received. For example, in “you can lay the cloth there”, “the cloth” is the direct object, and the sentence wouldn’t make sense without it. In comparison, “lie” does not require a direct object: “I’m going to lie down”. 
Things get a little more complicated when using the past tense as “lay” is the past tense of “lie”. However, to ease our grammar pains, the Grammar Girl has created a handy chart to help determine the correct usage, and you can find that chart and more information on how to conjugate the past and past participle tenses of the verbs at "Lay Versus Lie". 

Do you have questions regarding this writing tip or any other writing-related matter? Please contact the Writing Centre.

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator 

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