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Lie vs. Lay: Proofreading English Most Evil

Lie vs. lay. Two of the most despicable verbs in English. Here's the lowdown on getting these right when proofreading content.

Lay Always Has a Direct Object

Use lay when you lay something down, whether it's a pen, a check, an apple, or an angry cat.

Lie Describes a Reclining Position and Has No Direct Object

People lie down. Books lie on a shelf. Angry cats lie down once they're calm, even if their tails are still twitching. But you never lie something down.

...And Here's Where the Proofreading Gets Creepy

The real headache of lie vs. lay is in the verb conjugation. Let's take a look:

Lay:

  • Past tense: laid. She laid the cat toy on the couch.
  • Present participle: laying. The mason is laying brick.
  • Past participle: laid. We have laid each page of the contract on the desk for you to sign.

Again, lay always has a direct object. You lay something down.

Lie:

  • Past tense: lay. Seriously. I'm not kidding. The past tense of lie is lay. The fat cat lay on the mat yesterday.
  • Present participle: lying. Why are you just lying there? It's noon, and you should be at work.
  • Past particle: lain. They have lain down their guns and surrendered.

If you find this proofreading tip helpful, save it in Evernote, or write the conjugations on an index card you can keep in your desk. You, too, can defeat two of English's most horrendous, confusing verbs.

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