Did the men die where they lay or where they laid?

by Sandie Armstrong
(Pottstown, PA, USA)

In editing my husband's novel, there are many times when the hero talks about bedding down and going to sleep. The book is a story being told in the first person about a journey the narrator took in the past. My mom always told me that the verb "to lay" should be used for hens or putting a book on a table. Our hero often says things like, "I laid down on the cold, rough ground without a blanket and tried to sleep." I think that this usage is correct, but I don't want anyone to think he woke up with an egg. In another usage of this pesky word, he says, "By morning the men had frozen to death where they lay." Grisly, but correct? Or should it perhaps be "...where they laid." or "...where they had lain."?

Thank you for your willingness to help!

Comments for Did the men die where they lay or where they laid?

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Mar 24, 2011
by: Dannie

That is very well put! I still struggle with this puzzle. But when used in a dialog then there are many people that say "He laid down." Incorrect in grammar but correct in the way some people speak when the English teacher isn't listening.Makes it authentic. For a writer you want to make it real.

Not trying to argue and I really do thank you for your making sense of something that worries me as I write.

Mar 21, 2011
Lay and Lie
by: Audrey

This is, indeed , a pesky problem!

First, the difference between the infinitive verbs (infinitive verbs use to: to lie, to lay):

To lie is intransitive. Than means it does not take a direct object. In the sentence, The boy kicked the ball, the ball is the direct object.

To lay is transitive. That means it does take a direct object.

So you can say, the chicken wanted to lay an egg because an egg is the object of the verb to lay. But you will say, the man wanted to lie down, because there is no direct object of to lie.

But the reason you go crazy is because this works only for the infinitive of the verb.

Watch what happens when you see a table of forms for each verb.

To lay: laid, laid, laying
To lie: lay, lain, lying

So the chicken and the man...

The chicken wanted to lay an egg.
The chicken laid an egg for breakfast.
The chicken had laid an egg before you got up.
The chicken was laying an egg while you were looking up the answer to this.

The man wanted to lie down.
The man lay down on the bed after supper.
The man had lain down before he fell asleep.
The man way lying there while you were tearing out your hair waiting for this post.

I hope this helps.

Check out the style guides I have reviewed. A good simple style guide will lay all this out for you.

You may also like Get Your Writing Fighting Fit. It includes a list of words like this that will make you crazy.

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