Lie, Lay, Laid and Lain – which is right?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found this tricky to keep track of – should I use lie, lay, laid or lain? No matter how many times I refresh myself on the topic, I still have to double-check whenever I’m using one of them.
If you’re anything like me, you need a handy summary that will help you keep your lays and lies in order. And, what would you know, here it is!
Defining some terms
First things first, let’s define a few things. I’m an avid believer that you don’t need to know all the nitty-gritty technical aspects of sentence structure to be a good writer. So much of it is instinct that you develop the more you read and write. I am going to use some of those technical terms in this post, however, so I’d like to briefly clarify what they mean.
Jim ate a pizza.
The SUBJECT of this sentence is ‘Jim’.
The VERB is ‘ate’.
The OBJECT is ‘a pizza’.
The TENSE is past.
Simple enough, right?
Getting a little more technical, a participle is a compound verb form that can indicate tense. We can use it to give more context.
Past participle: Jim has eaten a pizza.
Present participle: Jim is eating a pizza.
The past participle indicates that the action not only occurs in the past, but that the action is complete. Jim has finished eating.
The present participle indicates that the action is ongoing. Jim is still eating.
Now with those definitions out of the way, let’s get into untangling lie, lay, laid and lain.
Present tense – Lie and Lay
Lie doesn’t require a direct object.
Sally lies down on the grass.
Jim lays the picnic basket down next to her.
Note in the second example, the direct object is the picnic basket. That is the object on which the subject (Jim) is performing the verb (to lay).
Past tense – Lay and Laid
Now, this is where most people get tripped up because the past tense of ‘lie’ is ‘lay’. Don’t you just love the English language? Such marvellous chaos.
The past tense of ‘lay’ is ‘laid’.
Sally lay down on the grass.
Jim laid the picnic basket down next to her.
Past Participle – Lain and Laid
The past participle of ‘lie’ is ‘lain’.
The past participle of ‘lay’ is ‘laid’ (same as past tense).
Sally has lain on the grass all afternoon.
Jim has laid the picnic basket down next to her.
Present Participle – Lying and Laying
The present participle of ‘lie’ is ‘lying’.
The present participle of ‘lay’ is ‘laying’.
Sally is lying on the grass.
Jim is laying the picnic basket down next to her.
To sum up
Present, Past, Past Participle, Present Participle
Lie, Lay, Lain, Lying – no direct object required.
Lay, Laid, Laid, Laying – direct object required.
Sally lies on the grass. She lay on the grass. She has lain on the grass. She is lying on the grass.
Jim lays the basket down. He laid it down. He has laid it down. His is laying it down.