Are you Lying or Laying Around

Are you Lying or Laying Around
Terry Odell

lie or layAnalytics from my own website/blog shows that consistently, one of the top three search terms (after my name) ended up on a basic grammar post I did a number of years ago. If that many people were searching, I thought some of our TKZ readers might find it useful. If you’ve already got a handle on the usage, enjoy the picture of the cat.

Years ago, when I was tutoring for the Adult Literacy League in Orlando, one of my students was a native Korean speaker. She’d been in the US for almost two decades, but she needed a lot of help with grammar. I relied on a book my kids had used in elementary school, Scholastic’s A+ Guide to Grammar by Vicki Tyler. I don’t think you can find it anymore, and I’m glad I kept the book. The pages are yellowing, but it’s a great quick reference, explained in easy to understand terms.

One problem my student had, and one that I still see when evaluating manuscripts, is the “Lie vs Lay” usage. So, here’s your grammar tip for today:

LIE (Not the fib-telling usage)
Means to rest or recline, and also to remain or be situated.
NEVER takes a direct object.

Means to put or place something.
Usually takes a direct object that tells what was placed

Confusion arises when you change tenses.

LIE is present tense. Past is LAY

LAY is present tense. Past is LAID.

Here are some examples in a variety of tenses which might clarify things. Or give you something to refer to.


  • If you’re tired, lie down and take a nap
  • I wonder what lies beneath the pile of clothes in my closet.
  • Your sweater is lying on the couch
  • Last summer, we lay by the pool every day after lunch
  • The envelope from my sister lay unopened for a week
  • I have lain in bed all morning


  • Lay the grocery bag on the table
  • I was laying the new hardwood floor in the dining room.
  • I laid the grocery bags on the table before I answered the phone.
  • I have laid my cards on the table.

So, in answer to the question posed in the title of this post — you’re lying around.

I don’t know if this helps. I tend to rely on the “takes an object” rule if I’m not sure. Of course, there’s always the write-around option. Use a different word!

What about you? Any grammar issues you have to stop and think about? Any you’ve noticed while reading?

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

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Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

25 thoughts on “Are you Lying or Laying Around

  1. I feel for anyone trying to learn the inconsistent mishmash of English verb tense.

    Strunk and White Elements of Style is my go-to grammar reference. That skinny little book answers 95% of my questions. I could look up the other 5% in the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) but, rather than tackle that doorstop, I usually do a write-around, as you mention.

    “That” and “which” are the ones I can never remember.

    • I have the CMS. I’ve rarely been able to find the section I need, and when I do, I don’t understand what they’re saying. I agree, Strunk and White’s much easier to navigate.

  2. Thanks, Terry. I had a junior high school teacher privately explain the difference between “lying” and “laying” with a knowing wink. I’ve never forgotten it. Har har.

    I also use The Elements of Style as well as its companion volume The Elements of Grammar. There are days when an objective observer might conclude I’ve never encountered either of them.

    Hope you’re enjoying your week!

  3. Thanks so much for this post. You don’t know how many writers get this wrong. I even had an argument with my editor for my first published novel when she wanted to change “the body lay on the floor” to “the body laid on the floor.” I ended up rewriting the sentence. I realized that, whatever I went with, many readers would think it was wrong.

  4. Thanks, Terry, for the reminders.

    I’ve found Harvey’s book to be helpful.

    One area where I’ve noticed a lot of inconsistency: go “in” the house, vs. go “into” the house, “out” vs “out of,” etc.

    Thanks, Terry!

  5. I love the English language. There are so many opportunities to bring a smile to someone’s face with just a few words. I saw a cartoon years ago with the caption “The lion will lay down with the lamb.” It showed a lion and lamb carpeting the ground with feathers.

    Homonyms are some of my favorites. I saw an email the other day by a very well-known writing expert that had this sentence: “And by ‘good mystery’ I mean one that fools us in plain site.”

    Btw, is that Fiona the cat?

    • I inherited a love of wordplay from my dad. And no, that’s a generic stock photo cat. Since Fiona doesn’t live with me, I don’t have many pictures of her.

    • Kay, when I worked at the bookstore at my university, one day we received a shipment of grammar books. On the outside of the box it was plainly stamped in black ink: GRAMMER BOOKS. The irony was delicious.

  6. I’ve always gone by whatever sounds best with grammar. I can usually spot and correct grammar in a passage, but put me in front of a test booklet with their individual sentences, and I’m just guessing.

    The Lie vs lay thing never even occurred to me (and here’s something that always messes me up. Is it occurred or occured?) Double letter where there doesn’t need to be double letter is my Achilles heel.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Karla.
      Everyone has their stumbling blocks.
      Just ask yourself “What is the character putting down?” If it’s something, it’s “lay.” If not, it’s “lie.”
      Or bookmark this post. 🙂

  7. The biggest problem I run into is that so many modern writers get things wrong that my brain is starting to take the wrong versions as ‘possibly okay’ – while I fight stubbornly to keep it focused on the correct version.

    I’m horrified when my fingers type its when I mean it’s – or vice versa – and terrified I won’t catch them all.

    And am I the only one left who insists on ‘fewer’ when other, less-what? writers allow themselves to write ’15 items or less’ over the grocery store checkout line?

    At least, I have not yet written ‘alright’ anywhere.

    • Say something often enough and people will believe it. And aside from what you’re seeing here, I’ll never use ‘alright.’ It grates every time I see it.
      I suspect I’ve misused ‘bring’ and ‘take’ a few times.

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