This Week’s Grammar Mailbox question is:

Lay or lie?


Lay, as a transitive verb (vt), means to put or place. It takes a direct object.

Lie, as an intransitive verb (vi), means to rest or recline. It does NOT take a direct object.

Present Past Past participle
lay laid laid
lie lay lain


(A poem for you to remember their differences… )


“The Unforgivable Syntax” (by Christopher Morley,1919)


Lie and lay offer slips to the pen
That have bothered most excellent men:
You can say that you lay
In bed—yesterday;
If you do it today, you’re a hen!

Practice: Lay or Lie?

(a) The dog sleeps on the couch, and the cats always _____ curled up under the table.
(b) Don’t shout when you _____ your cards down.
(c) Linda _____ down for a nap after yoga last night.
(d) “So great was the noise during the day that I used to _____ awake at night listening to the silence.” (Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington. Houghton Mifflin, 1988)
(e) “Rosie scratched about, turned over a sack, and revealed a stone jar of cider. . . . Huge and squat, the jar _____ on the grass like an unexploded bomb.”
(Laurie Lee, Cider With Rosie, 1959)

(f) “In politics, strangely enough, the best way to play your cards is to _____ them face upward on the table.”
(H. G. Wells)

(g) “The lion and the calf shall _____ down together, but the calf won’t get much sleep.”
(Woody Allen, Without Feathers, 1980)

(h) “The lion lay down beside them to watch, but he also was so weary with the fight, that he called to the bear and said, ‘_____ down near me, I must sleep a little: if anything comes, waken me.’ Then the bear _____ down beside him.”
(Grimm Brothers, “The Two Brothers”)

Answers to last week’s challenge:
  1. His weight-loss regimen is working! He weighed 180 pounds last month and now he’s down to less than 160!

(Note: Use “less” when referring to numbers used on their own and with expressions of measurement or time.)


  1. Fewer than ten students attended this early morning class punctually.


  1. Their marriage lasted less than three years.


  1. Your perfume stinks! Please wear less of it, especially when you’re around me.


  1. Due to her busy schedule, she did fewer exercises than she should have.