With Easter just days away, I’ve been hearing about all the Easter egg hunts going on around town at local day care centers, elementary schools, and churches. And all this talk about eggs is a fine time for me to address an issue that I know many folks still do not understand, and that’s the correct use of lie and lay. Here’s my easy rule that will help you stay out of trouble: If you’re going to use the word laying, ask yourself whether eggs could be involved.
Lie means to rest or recline. Lay means to put or place something down, and lay needs an object. An egg is an object. That’s why a chicken can lay an egg.
“I was laying on the bed” (or sofa) is something I often hear and read. And I always want to say, “No, you were not. If you were resting or reclining, you were lying on the bed. You were not laying on the bed.” The one possible exception to this rule? I once read a book by a fellow who claimed he dreamed about wearing a chicken suit and woke up with an egg in his bed, but I did not then and do not now believe him.
So. You lie on the bed. You lay the blanket on the bed.
Lay what? You can lay the blanket on the bed. You can lay a book on a table. You can lay those Easter eggs on the kitchen counter. And if you’re a chicken, you can lay an egg if you wish. Remember, if you’re laying, you have to be laying something.
I do realize much confusion stems from the fact that the past tense of the word lie is lay. Alas, I wish it were not so, but it is. And I’ll save that topic for another day, because today I hope to instill this one simple idea: Laying has to involve an object—for example, an egg.
Need a nice visual to hammer home this point? Here’s a favorite. Enjoy!