Friday, January 7, 2011

Confusing verbs - lie, lay, lie

Two intransitive, one transitive
One regular, one slightly irregular, one very irregular
But which is which?

Even native speakers have problems with this one. But you can master these tricky little verbs, and at the same time practise your prepositions and phrasal verbs, by doing these quizzes.

Mouse over the buttons for instructions how to use Click and drop

Exercise 1. - Use your instinct: fill the gaps with words from the top box

laid   lied   lay   lays   lain   lying   lies   laying  
1.Every morning Mum the table for breakfast.
2.Don't believe a word he says. He's always .
3.Yesterday, my brother in bed all morning. He says he has flu.
4.She wrapped the baby up and him in his cot.
5.And today he's in bed all day.
6.One of the witnesses in court yesterday.

Exercise 2. - Complete the chart with all the forms of the verbs

e.g.: do - does, doing, did, done
be (or put yourself) in a horizontal position lie
put something in a horizontal position lay
say something which is not true lie

Exercise 3. - Are the verbs transitive (take an object) or intransitive (don't take an object)?

1.lie (be in a horizontal position)
2.lay put something in a horizontal position)
3.lie (tell an untruth)

Areas of confusion

The main confusion is between lie (1) and lay, which have very similar meanings. There can also be some grammatical confusion between the two versions of lie.

The verb lie (1)

The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary gives several meanings:
  1. (of a person or an animal) - to be or put yourself in a flat or horizontal position so that you are not standing or sitting
  2. (of a thing) - to be or remain in a flat position on a surface
  3. to be, remain or be kept in a particular state
  4. (of a town, natural feature, etc.) - to be located in a particular place
  5. to be spread out in a particular place
  6. lie (in something) (of ideas, qualities, problems, etc.) - to exist or be found
  7. British English) - to be in a particular position during a competition

The verb lie is often used like a linking verb, with adjectives. ?

Exercise 4 - Fill the gaps with appropriate adjective (phrases)

1.The dog was lying in front of the fire.
2.The dictionary lay at the letter 'l'.
3.After the blizzard the snow lay ' and crisp and even'. ?
4.Those cigarettes have lain ever since I gave up smoking.
5.Only five weeks to go, and Rovers are lying in the league.

The verb lie is also frequently used with prepositions and adverbs.

Exercise 5 - Fill the gaps from the words in the box. You will need to use one of them more than once.

out   in   by   over   at   on   below  
1.He had left his clothes lying all the bedroom floor.
2.A beautiful schooner lay moored anchor in the bay.
3.Money lying the bank is money lying idle.
4.London lies the River Thames.
5.Far us, almost hidden in the mist, lay the 'Lost Valley'.
6.Farmer Arthur Fallowfield thinks the answer lies the soil.
7.She laid the clothes on the bed to photograph them for Ebay.
8.Could you lay the logs down just the fire.

The verb lay

The main meaning of lay is to put somebody or something:

  • in a particular position, especially when it is done gently or carefully
    She gently laid the baby in the pram.
  • down somewhere, especially on the floor, ready to be used
    We're having our new carpet laid today.
  • over something, as a covering layer

    Before we paint the room, we need to lay newspapers over all the furniture.

It also has some other related meanings, including:

  • (of a bird, an insect, a fish, etc) to produce an egg or eggs
    The goose that laid the golden egg
    The cuckoo lays its eggs in another bird's nest.
  • (British English) to put things (knives, forks, plates, etc.) on the table so as to prepare it for a meal
    Supper's nearly ready, can you lay the table, please?
  • to bet money on something; to place a bet. In other words put money (down) on something.
    He's just laid fifty pounds on that horse. He's obviously got money to burn.
    I'll lay you ten to one he doesn't turn up.
  • to have sex, usually used in the form - get laid (like it just happens as if by chance!)
    He's hoping to get laid tonight.

There are several phrasal verb from lay

Exercise 6a. - Note how these phrasal verbs are used in context

a)lay about sb (with sth)The old woman laid about the would-be mugger with her brolly.
b)lay sth aside (or by)They had laid all their savings aside for their old age.
c)lay sth downThe rebels have finally laid down their arms.
d)lay sth inWe've laid in lots of firewood for the winter.
e)lay off sb/doing sthLay off Jack, will you. He's only a little kid.
f)lay sb offA hundred workers have just been laid off from the local factory.
g)lay (sth) onThey're laying on a special bus to take us to the wedding.
h)lay sth on sbHey man, stop laying all these bad vibes on me!

Exercise 6b. - Match the phrasal verbs above with their definitions below

1. to collect and store sth to use in the future
2. make sb redundant (stop employing sb because there is not enough work)
3. to put sth down or stop using it
4. provide sth for sb, especially entertainment or transport
5. (British English) to attack sb violently
6. (informal) to make sb have to deal with sth unpleasant or difficult
7. stop doing sth (often involving treating sb unpleasantly)
8. to keep sth to use, or deal with later

Putting it all together

Exercise 7. - Fill the gaps with suitable words from the box

lying   lay   lays   lies   lie   lied   laying   lain   laid  
1.The hens have hardly anything all week. Are they OK?
2.Look at these cans of beer everywhere. People are so untidy.
3.You'd never to me, would you?
4.He down on the bed, absolutely exhausted.
5.I knew he was from the guilty look on his face.
6.They flowers on the path where the King was going to walk.
7.Let's see how the land before we take a decision. ?
8.I haven't actually to you, but I have been economical with the truth.
9.You're a total couch potato. You've just there on that sofa all evening.
10.She , you know. All the time. But at least it's usually just fibs.
11.We need to the foundations for a new type of education.
12.Mummy, Tommy to you just then. It wasn't me who did it, it was him.
13.Just back and think of England. ?
14.He always all the blame on me.
15.I'm big money that our side will win.

Lay or lie on YouTube

Because native speakers seem to have trouble with these two verbs, there is quite a lot of material on the Internet connected with this problem.
I find most of the videos quite boring, and at least one, plain wrong. These seem to be the best:
NB - In the video they label this line from 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol - 'If I lay here' as incorrect, but it is of course absolutely correct, lay being the Past Simple of lie. The construction here is classic Second Conditional (although as a question) - if + Past Simple, with would + 1st form in the result clause.

Chorus from 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol

  • If I lay here,
  • If I just lay here,
  • Would you lie with me,
  • And just forget the world?
I've written a more detailed post about Snow Patrol and Chasing Cars here.

The intransitive use of lay.

Although it is usually considered incorrect, there is apparently a long history of using lay intransitively to mean lie. There is a fascinating and useful 'usage discussion' of this question at Merriam-Webster, the popular American dictionary. Their message is, that although this use is on the increase (I think mainly in the US), it is better not to use lay intransitively, not at least until it has won more acceptance.
This usage is quite popular in songs - let's call it poetic licence - including of course the Dylan classic Lay, Lady, Lay. Others, like Melanie in Lay Down (candles In The Rain), hedge their bets, the chorus going: Lay down lay down, let it all down, but earlier she had been singing: Lay it down, lay it down again. So she goes for both intrasitive and transitive. We also get the transitive construction: lay me down, in for example, Simon And Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water: I will lay me down and Sophie B Hawkins's As I lay me down. Hat tip for the idea to Gorwell97 at YouTube, even if we disagree.



More quizzes - aimed at learners

More quizzes - aimed more at native speakers

See also - Confusing words: raise, rise, arise in a previous post.


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