Getting Laid ... or is it Lain?

I was at a local writer’s group meeting last night and an interesting question surfaced (or is it enteresting. That’s a discussion for another day). One of my friends read some of their work and I immediately noticed they had used the word “laid” instead of “lay” in a sentence.

By way of example: “She went into the room and laid on the bed.”

I pointed out to this writer that the proper word was “lay” and a short discussion ensued, and I thought, “What the heck do I know?” The slightest argument made me falter in my understanding and I was no longer sure just how it all worked anymore.

I did a little research on the subject and thought I would provide this information for the world, whether y’all want it or not.

Let’s talk about all the words one might use and their meanings:

Lay-To set something down or to put in a resting position.

Lie-To rest or recline, esp. in a horizontal position.

I’ll start with these basic words in the present tense. Let me lay it on you like this. The word “Lay” implies that one lays “Something” down. The key word here is “something.” There is an object involved. Therefore, in the present tense, one cannot lay down; one can only lay something down.

Confusing as it may be, one might use the old nursery rhyme, “Now I lay me down to sleep …” I know what you’re thinking. The subject in this phrase is laying down but that doesn’t make sense. Look at it this way: The object that is being laid down in this phrase is “me.”

A better example can be found in the lyrics of a great song by Bon Jovi (you gotta know, I love eighties hair bands) of the song, “Lay Your Hands on Me.”

Lay your hands on me, lay your hands on me, lay your hands on me
I’m a fighter, I’m a poet, I’m a preacher
I’ve been to school and, baby, I’ve been the teacher …

It certainly seems that Jon Bon Jovi has been to school. These song lyrics demonstrate the proper use of the word “Lay” in the present tense.

If one wants to express “placing or putting something down” in the past tense the word “Laid” is used. The same word is used as a past participle. You can “Lay” your hands on me, and, afterwards you’ve “Laid” your hands on me, in which case, I can say I’ve had hands “Laid” on me. Either way, I’m ok with it.

Now, it’s going to get a little more difficult. I’m probably going to get a headache and have to lie down. See how that worked?

“Lie down, Sally,” Eric said.

To express this action in past tense, we would use the word “Lay.”

“What’s up with that?” you say.

Sounds strange, but if one wants to express that someone makes themselves horizontal, or in a
reclining position, write: “I’m going to lie down,” Sally said.
To express the same thing in past tense, write: The sun had come up hours ago, and Sally still Lay in the bed.

I know, I know, it seems strange to use the word the same word lay in past tense as you might in present tense. The different in the subject, or object. Remember that “Lay” in present is to set something down. “Lay” in the past tense is when someone has reclined.

Now, if someone has been reclined (past participle) one would have to use the word “Lain” to express this. For instance: Sally had lain in bed till the sun crept in from the corners of the curtains.

Is all this making sense yet?

Yea, I still have a hard time with it too. One place I like to go when faced with conundrums such as this, is the Grammar Girl. This is a website one can use to help answer perplexing questions like when to use Lay, Laid, Lie, or Lain.

By way of example, Grammar Girl even provides us with a handy little chart for use of the words.

All this being said, I would like you too ponder this:

Eric Clapton sang the song "Lay Down Sally" years ago. It was a great song-and still is ... but.

Well, heres the lyrics to the chorus:

Lay down Sally, and rest you in my arms
Don't you think you want someone to talk to?
Lay down Sally, no need to leave so soon
I've been trying all night long just to talk to you

Should these lyrics have been written to say "Lie down Sally?" I mean, is she lying down right now or did someone lay her down? or did she lay down?

Anyway, it doesn't matter. The song works and no one really cares if it is grammatically correct or not. The point here is, every rule has an exception.

Good writing and storytelling is key, grammar can be fixed.


  1. Well, darn. I thought you were going to talk about sex. I even had my own Clapton song to add as an example: "Layla, you got me on my knees..."

    Good post, though. I've always had an easy time with "lie" and "lay." Now, other words snag me every time, like "who" and "whom," or...well, I can't think of anything else right now...but I'll know it when it snags me.

  2. Reading that hurt my brain. I hate the English language sometimes. By the way, Clapton rules.

  3. Jacki, Sorry for the geeky, techy post. I do agree-clapton rules, but you da' bomb! You all that ... and a bag of chips! miss ya.


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