Lie vs. Lay
- On March 13, 2018
In a recent interview, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn was asked about her dream vacation. She said, “I would like to go to a warm, secluded island with my girlfriends, drink cocktails, and lay in the sun.”
In a press release about staff changes at a PR firm, a senior executive enthused, “We are excited by the opportunities that lay ahead.”
In both cases, lay should have been lie.
The grammatical explanation for when to use lie and when to use lay is complicated, but I’m going to give you a trick to make it easier: To lay means to place something, so if you can replace lay with place and your sentence makes sense, you have the right verb.
Do that with Vonn’s and the PR exec’s statements and you’ll hear in an instant—I want to place in the sun and We are excited by the opportunities that place ahead—why lay is wrong.
Now in these two sentences lay is right:
- I always lay (or place) my blanket on the smoothest part of the sand.
- You lay (or place) the fork to the left of the plate.
The past tense of lie is lay (except when lie means to tell an untruth, in which case it’s lied), which is why a person might get thrown off by a sentence like Yesterday, I lay in the sun, which is correct.
One of the most famous misuses of the verb lay comes in the old Eric Clapton song, “Lay Down Sally,” in which the singer tries to get Sally to stay in bed with him instead of leaving.
Had he sung “Lie Down Sally” maybe he would have gotten lucky.