Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: lay; lie (1).

lay; lie (1). Today: The Distinction. Very simply, “lie” (= to recline, be situated) is intransitive — it can’t take a direct object {he lies on his bed}. But “lay” (= to put down, arrange) is always transitive — it needs a direct object {please lay the book on my desk}. The verbs are inflected “lay-laid-laid-laying” and “lie-lay-lain-lying.” Because “lie” is intransitive, it has only an active voice {lie down for a while}. And because “lay” is transitive, it may be either active {he laid the blanket over her} or passive {the blanket was laid over her}. To use “lay” without a direct object, in the sense of “lie,” is nonstandard {I want to lay down} {he was laying in the sun}. But this error is very common in speech — from the illiterate to the highly educated. In fact, some commentators believe that people make this mistake more often than any other in the English language. Others claim that it’s no longer a mistake — or even that it never was. But make no mistake: using these verbs correctly is a mark of refinement. The most unusual of these inflected forms, of course, is “lain,” but most writers have little difficulty getting it right — e.g.: “Katrina Kuratli said she and her husband, Dan, had just lain down in their bedroom when the bomb went off around 10:45 p.m.” Mack Reed, “Pipe Bomb Rips Car, Jolts Simi Neighborhood,” L.A. Times, 30 Apr. 1994, at B9. Next: “lay” for “lie.” For information abut the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “If we think out logically and bravely what is for the good of society, our view of language will lead us to the conclusion that it is our duty to work in the direction which natural evolution has already taken, i.e. towards the diffusion of the common language at the cost of local dialects.” Otto Jespersen, Mankind, Nation, and Individual from a Linguistic Point of View 72 (1946). ====================
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