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Now I lay me down to sleep* . . . or now I lie me down to sleep. Wait a minute. Which is it? Lie or lay?lay lie dog training

“Lay Down Sally.” “Lay, lady, lay.” What were Clapton and Dylan thinking when they put these lyrics out into the universe? Didn’t they know they’d embed incorrect grammar into our heads forever, worse than any earworm?

The good thing is we can use their mistakes to help us get it right. Lie and Lay are two little three-lettered words that cause headaches. Great big grammar headaches. But when you look at lie and lay in the present tense, you should be able to make the determination.

Lie: to recline or rest on a horizontal surface. Lie is an intransitive verb: you can’t do it TO something else.
Present Tense
You lie across the big brass bed. (Lie, lady, lie across my big brass bed. Lie down, Sally.)
He lies under the car to change the oil.

Lay: to place something or someone in a horizontal position. Lay is transitive verb: you do it to SOMETHING OR SOMEONE ELSE
Present Tense
They rush up to the clerk and lay their winning lottery tickets on the counter.
The robot lays the broken machinery on the workbench and steps back.lie_and_lay blackboard tip

A memory trick: I LIE flat but I LAY bricks.

Once you determine you are doing the action in the present tense to something/someone else or not, it’s easier to make the determination of lie or lay. However, when using the past tense, that’s when you’ll need the aspirin.

See, the past tense of lie become lay.
And then lay becomes laid.
Oy vey! Make sure that aspirin is extra strength!

Past Tense
Last night I lay under the stars.
She lay there, unconscious, for many hours.

Past Tense
Yesterday I laid fresh flowers on her grave.
We laid the neatly folded laundry on her bed.

It’s okay if you don’t remember this every time. I know I don’t, but having reference material nearby is a good asset and can help avoid mistakes.  Keep this page handy.


Person Present Tense Past Tense Past Participle Present Participle
I lie lay lain Lying
he, she, it, lies lay lain Lying
we, they, you lie lay lain lying


Person Present Tense Past Tense Past Participle Present Participle
I lay laid laid laying
he, she, it, lays laid laid laying
we, they, you lay laid laid laying


*A version printed in The New England Primer:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

we are not talking about the definition of “not telling the truth”