Helpful Grammatical Hints: Lay vs. Lie

Okay y’all. The grammar police have returned with a vengeance and here we are for another lesson on Sarah’s Pet Peeves.

This one is particularly frustrating for me, mostly because we use these words so often in our daily conversations, and because there is hardly anybody in the world who uses them correctly.

Let’s start with the basics: “lay” and “lie” are different words, and I’m not just talking about the “lie” that refers to not telling the truth. They are both words that can describe a noun (that’s a person, place, thing, or idea) at rest.

First, let’s discuss the word “lay,” as that seems to be the more widely misused of the two words we’re addressing. I am referring to the abomination that occurs when someone announces that he is going to “go lay down.” This, my friends, is incorrect.

The verb “to lay” is a verb that requires a direct object. A direct object is the thing to which the verb is done. To clarify, “to lay” is like the word “to buy” – you cannot simply say “I’m going to buy.” You must buy something – the direct object. The direct object of the sentence “I’m going to buy a shovel” is the shovel. Thus, the verb “lay” should be used in contexts when a person lays something down to rest (“I’m going to lay this book down on the table”) or when a hen lays an egg. The only time it is appropriate to use this word in the context of a person resting is in a situation like we encounter in the child’s prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep.” This is appropriate because the child is laying something – himself – down to rest.

The word “lie,” by contrast, is hardly ever misused; instead, people choose to not acknowledge its existence at all and to use the word “lay” in its place. Please do not ignore this word; it is extremely useful. “I’m going to go lie down” is a grammatically perfect statement. Use it as often as you’d like.

The tricky part about these words is using them in the past tense. In the past tense, the word “lie” becomes “lay.” In the past perfect, it becomes “lain.”

The book lies untouched on the counter.
She is lying down right now. [present perfect/progressive]
Tomorrow I will lie down.
Yesterday I lay down. [past preterite]
I have lain down already. [past perfect]

The past tense of the word “lay,” (remember, for this we need a direct object) is “laid” – this does not change in the past perfect.

Now I lay the baby down for a nap.
I am laying my clothes out for tomorrow. [present perfect/progressive]
I will lay the utensils out on the counter.
I laid it right here! [past preterite]
I have laid down a payment already.

Now, I bet you are really confused. Let’s recap to clarify.

lie, lay, lain: something (you, an animal, an object, etc) is at rest
lay, laid, laid: you or someone else puts something to rest, or puts it down

I know this is a tough one, but I hope that – if nothing else – I frightened you enough to at least think twice every time you hear, or want to say, these words.


“When I am weak, then I am strong.”

I haven’t written anything here in a while, but I don’t want you all to think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth or anything. It’s just that I am currently dealing with writing my final (final! as in never again until grad school final!) papers, studying for exams so I don’t mess up my chances of graduating Summa Cum Laude, coming to terms with the fact that my 91-year-old grandfather’s heart is a ticking time-bomb that could suffer a massive heart-attack at any minute, and counting down the last 23 days until I am married. I have spent a lot of time letting people minister to me recently, rejuvenating my own soul instead of really reaching out to others. The Bible studies I’ve been doing recently haven’t really struck me as anything I could make helpful to anyone but myself: I’m sure that many of you out there would benefit from studies on marriage as much as I can, but having no experience as of yet, I don’t really feel comfortable writing how-tos.

But here’s something I have had quite a bit of experience with lately: attempting to relax and let the Lord take over.

Those of you who know me may be laughing right now at the very thought of me “relaxing” and letting anybody take over. I am usually the most extreme micro-manager on earth; whether it comes to my own responsibilities or groups I’m involved in, I am far too paranoid to delegate responsibilities to anyone else. But in an attempt to avoid a mental breakdown from all the stress that could potentially result from my current situation(s), I have simply decided not to worry about it, only pray that God will take my life into His holy hands.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phillipians 4:6)

I am sure we have all heard that verse too many times to count, and I don’t know about you, but it didn’t have quite the impact it should have on my life until quite recently. For the longest time, whenever I would worry about something and someone quoted that verse to me, I only worried more, this time not only about what had been previously bothering me, but about my own inability to trust in Christ. I’m confident that was not God’s intention when He gave out such divine instructions.

I am also confident that God knows better than we do what we are capable of.

It is only within the past few weeks, when more burdens than I have ever held have been handed to me, that I have been able to truly say, “Lord, I can’t. You can.” And maybe those words are supposed to be spoken in a different context; maybe I still haven’t truly given all my life up to the Lord’s work, but I have certainly been able to stop worrying about the most distracting earthly things (the wedding, my final exams, my grandfather’s sickness) because I know that if they are important, God will take care of them.

I do not think it’s a coincidence that when I actually have things in my life worth worrying about, I can entrust those things to God.

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

God’s power is made perfect in weakness!

The answer to why I haven’t been able to trust God with my worries until this point is that they were not worries that weakened me to my core; they were issues I believed I could handle on my own. Now, when I am truly weak and I know for a fact there is no way I can make it through each day without the Lord carrying me accross the sand, He has granted me the grace to trust in Him. In fact, He has withdrawn all other options from my life.

And now I can only praise God for allowing me to suffer afflictions frightening enough that I am forced to stand back and watch as the Lord handles them, and pours out blessings.

I know this is not quite a message of ministry or an organized devotional or study, but I hope that it inspires you. The Lord is good, and all-powerful, and there is no affliction on Earth that He cannot handle. And when there is a time in your life when you feel you can’t go on alone, you will not have to. If you are realistic enough to realize that you cannot, you will not even try. Remember that “the Lord will provide.” (Genesis 22:8)