Let Sleeping Cats Lie

You’re not going to like this, grammar cats. I don’t like it either. I’m just going to rip the Band-Aid off:

“Lie” and “lay” are two different words.

Cat

DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYS.

Lay and lie get confused because even though they have slightly different meanings, they share the word “lay.” The present tense of “to lay” is the same as the past tense of “to lie.” So we can say:

Frank decided to lay the cat on the dog while the dog lay sleeping.

catTerrible idea, Frank.

The first “lay” is from “to lay”; the second is the past tense of “to lie.” Are you confused yet? Well, it gets worse: Speaking as someone who has to look this up four or five times a week even though I know the rule, I’ve realized that you just have to memorize it.

cat

But it’s okay! Cats can help us. If there’s one thing in the world cats are good at, it’s being motionless.

cat

Like a goddamn champion.

Lie:

Though we all know cats are noble and honest by nature, they’re good at lying…on things. The present tense of to lie is lie; the past tense is lay; the past perfect tense is had lain.

Lay:

When you use lay, it should usually take an object. So if you find yourself typing lay, ask yourself, “laying what?” (If you’re not laying anything, you probably want to use lie.) The present tense of to lay is lay; the past tense is laid; the past perfect tense is had laid.

Now I’m going to bombard you with examples.

Present Tense:

cat

Lie: The cat lies on the book.

Lay: She lays the cat on the book and realizes she’s not going to get to read it anytime soon.

Present Continuous Tense:

cat

Lie: The cat is lying on the floor, minding its own business.

Lay: Someone is laying office supplies on that poor, long-suffering creature.

Past Tense:

cat

Lie: Grumpy Cat lay in some jerkface’s hands.

Lay: Jack laid Grumpy Cat down and apologized.

Past Perfect Tense:

cat

Lie: The cat had lain too close to the tracks because it thought it had eight lives left.

Lay: He had laid his cat down in the subway station, so he no longer had a cat.

There you go! Repeat those examples to yourself a few thousand times (or put it on a sticky note and attach it to your monitor) and you’ll be ready to navigate treacherous examples like:

The standing lion laid its mouth on the lying lion.

big cats

I’m sure it’s an affectionate gesture.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Julia Taylor
    Mar 14, 2013 @ 11:32:26

    Loved this…after I could get past laughing hysterically at the first cat picture.
    Very helpful and, yes, I will have to memorize. Thanks!

    Reply

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