"I wrote an essay for my Language Arts class that included this sentence:
The tired dogs lay in the grass.
My teacher crossed out lay and wrote lie. Am I wrong, or is she?"
People mix up lay and lie all the time because they both convey a similar sense of reclining or being at rest. But there is a key difference.
- Lay is a transitive verb. Use it when you have a direct object. I lay my keys on the table. She lays her head on the pillow.
- Lie is an intransitive verb. Use it when you don't have a direct object. I'm going to lie down on the couch. He likes to lie on the grass and look at the sky.
When things get tricky: Be careful about tenses. Lay in the present tense looks identical to lie in the past tense.
- Present tense: I lie on the couch.
- Past tense: I lay on the couch.
- Present tense: I lay my weary body on the couch.
So the key question is: Which tense?
- If Samantha was using the present tense, then her teacher is correct. The tired dogs lie in the grass.
- If Samantha was writing in the past tense, then she was correct. The tired dogs lay in the grass.
Examples (using present, past, and past participle):
- I lie on the bed. I lay on the bed. I have lain on the bed.
- He lays his cards on the table. He laid his cards on the table. He has laid his cards on the table.
Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr Creative Commons