Tag Archives: literature

Lay, lie, and lies — a grammatical minefield

I just read an online article that attempted to explain the difference between “lay” vs “lie.”  It actually confused me more, and I had to visit grammar girl’s blog just to double-check myself:

Grammar girl has a good explanation, but I decided to provide my own helpful hint, just for fun and to show what a nerd I am.

“lay” vs “lie.”

Whenever I don’t know which to use, I recite the following.

“I lay me down” = “I lie down”

Hopefully, you’re familiar with the bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” If not, Google it. J It’s a good mnemonic device for the above purpose.

Short and sweet explanation: “lay” has to have an object, in this case “me.”  I can’t “lay down” (at least not while using the word properly), because I need to say what I’m laying down (myself, a book, etc.). Neither can I “lie me” down, because lie doesn’t need an object.  See how silly it sounds?

This only applies to present tense, however, so have the following triplets memorized. (They represent present / past / past participle, but you don’t need to know that yet).

Lay / laid / laid

Lie / lay / lain

Don’t try to over-think it, just learn the pattern of the three that go together. These should be easy for anyone who’s had to memorize conjugation charts while studying a foreign language.

When you’re confused, first use the mnemonic to decide which one is correct. Once you’ve done that, match that word to whichever triplet has it at the beginning. Once you’ve got the triplet firmly in mind, then consider your tense. For present tense, use the first of the triplet, for past tense, use the second, and for past perfect, use the third.


Lay:  Today, I lay the book down.  Yesterday, I laid it down.  Every night, I have laid it down.

Lie: Today I lie down [because I’m tired].  Yesterday, I lay down [because my head hurt].  Every night, I have lain in bed with insomnia.

And if anybody ever tells you any different, well…that’s just a lie.

Was this helpful?  Do you have your own tips and tricks?  Feel free to share!


Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Writing


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The Tense Problem of Present Tense

A lively debate currently rages in the fiction-writing world, pitting past-tense narrative against present-tense.  Assuming that a (presumably older) writer is interested in learning more about writing in present tense, one quandary they face is that, while present tense has exploded onto the fiction scene and would tend to suggest that the writing world is moving toward it as the desired contemporary mode, the majority of reading materials available are in past tense.

I think this important to note because we learn to speak the language we hear growing up; composers tend to write in the genre they predominantly listen to; writers write based on the works they have read.

The point being that learning another language as an adult requires some effort and—as a good teacher will tell you—immersion.  So how then are we, as writers who have predominantly been exposed to past tense fiction, supposed to suddenly pull off present tense that is readable and engaging?

I believe this may be part of the difficulty with those readers, including myself, who have picked up a book in first person present tense only to feel a little repulsed by it. Although I enjoyed the storyline of the book in question, I continue to have mixed feelings about it even now, over a year later.

The first time I heard an oboe played (by a high-schooler), I hated it. It sounded terrible—the kind of music where you stop up your ears in misery.  Later, I heard an oboe played by a professional, and suddenly I loved it.  The point being that those who hate present tense may not truly dislike the tense itself but rather the imperfect manner of its application, primarily by writers like me who have never been immersed in it.

With that in mind, I recently decided to give present tense another chance and purposefully picked up a book I knew to be written in it.  What a difference!  It was well-crafted, and I easily connected with the main character within the first couple of sentences—the same amount that it had taken to repulse me from the other book.

So to those writers like me who have difficulty with consistent application—go forth and read (present tense)! A basic internet search will pull up several available lists.

To those who have had difficulty with accepting this new-fangled thing—go forth and give it a second chance.  You may be surprised.

What about you — are you a writer or a reader who can relate?  Do you love/hate/don’t care about what tense a book is written it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Writing


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