editing / writers tips

Writer’s Tip #23: The Use of ‘Lay’

writers tipsWhen you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: How to use the word ‘lay’

Here’s the rule for the use of ‘lay’:

‘Lay’ is a transitive verb that means ‘place or put’. Lie is an intransitive verb meaning ‘rest on a surface’.  One is active, the other, passive. A hen may lay an egg, but you lie down. (Elements of Style, Strunk and White)

The verb “to lay” must ALWAYS have a direct object (a noun that receives the action of the verb)
EXAMPLE: I lay the papers on the desk. Papers is the direct object of the verb LAY. Any time a form of the verb LAY is used, it must have a direct object.

For more on the lay-lie controversy, check out Grammar Girl.

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6 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #23: The Use of ‘Lay’

  1. Pingback: 10 Hits and Misses for 2013 | WordDreams...

  2. I’m honored, Dr. B. I’ll put together a guest post and send it over to you.

    But you’re wrong about the try part–you write so readers understand, in words that reach our hearts and minds. I’ll put you on my blog roll, also.


  3. worddreams,

    As I read your blog I realize I’m an old country doctor who loves to try and write, but you know what the heck you are doing!

    I try to have a guest post on Fridays and I hope you will consider one some time. It can be short. I’ve found if I go over 500 words I often lose folks anyway. Any topic is fine, but some thoughts on the mechanics of writing might be fun, and I think my readers could learn a lot from you.

    I gotta split for the office, but will add you to my blogroll soon. I like your style.

    Dr. B


  4. Thank you so much for posting this tip. While I am not one to judge people too strongly on language, the fouling of lay and lie makes me want to start slapping folks.


  5. I used to be an office assistant for one of the English professors at the college I went to. One of my duties was to grade Comp I and Comp II grammar exercises. The kids who were English majors did just fine, but some of the kids who had to take the class didn’t know a whole lot about grammar which is sad. The use of ‘lay’ was something a few of them never really got. It was tough to grade those things sometimes….. yikes.


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