editing / writers tips

Writer’s Tip #23: The Use of ‘Lay’

When 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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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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

  1. Pingback: Can You Fix These Grammar Problems? | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: Today's Author | Can You Fix These Grammar Problems?

  3. Does a dog lay down or lie down? I am used to reading “lay down” but I am used to I lie down. I usually say that my cat laid on me. Is that wrong? It sounds wrong according to this.


  4. Nice choice of topic, Jacqui! I used “lie” in an essay I just published in a writers’ craft book, and even though I knew it was right I looked it up to double check. Lay/lie is one that so many people get wrong!


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