Tag Archives: manuscript

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 Dreaded “had had” Construction

I have heard that some agents/editors will immediately reject a manuscript either written in present tense (due to their personal preferences) or with inconsistent use of tense (based on the assumption of poor editing).

The latter (inconsistency of tense) may be attributable to the fact that, when writing in past tense, you are fairly restricted to four basic past tense forms. But when writing in the present tense, you have eight — the four basic present tense forms plus the original four past tense forms — because narrating in present tense does not remove the need to reference something that happened in the past. This leaves you with a lot of grammatical forms to mix and match, but it can potentially lead to confusion regarding what tense is being used for the primary narration.

When narrating in past tense, you have the following options:

(The majority of the narration will be in these two forms.)

1) Simple past: “He had a good time.”

2) Past progressive: “He was having a good time.”

Then you have your references to the “past within the past,” aka the dreaded “had had” construction.

3) Past perfect: “He had had a good time.”

4) Past perfect progressive: “He had been having a good time.”

Narration uses the last two forms when talking about the story’s past, ie something that happened in the story prior to the point in time currently being narrated.

Please note that this is different than going into a full-on flashback. For a true flashback, the reader travels with the narrator back to that moment, and the tense can either be kept the same as the regular narration (requiring a very clear delineation of when the flashback starts and ends) or else changed (eg primary narration in past tense, flashback in present tense, or vice versa) for effect, in order to emphasize the change. This is very different than a reference to the past, which I like to call a “thought-back.”

When using present tense narration, you have the following four options in addition to the four already listed above:

(These are now the primary forms being used by the narrator.)

1) Simple present: He has a good time.

2) Present progressive: He is having a good time.

So then one might assume that the following forms are now being used to refer to the “past of the present,” ie anything that happened prior to the present point in time being narrated.

3) Present perfect: He has had a good time.

4) Present perfect progressive: He has been having a good time.

One might also assume that converting a piece written in past tense to make it present tense is a simple matter of exchanging all past forms to their present equivalent.

In my next blog, I will take a short paragraph from my current WIP and demonstrate why the above assumption is inaccurate, why some agents/editors might assume the author is being inconsistent with tense when they really aren’t, and suggest some solutions for how to edit a piece currently written in past tense into a true present tense form.

For more information on use of different tenses, “Grammar Girl’s” blog was particularly helpful.

Did you learn anything helpful from this post? As always, feel free to comment.

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Posted by on April 12, 2013 in Writing


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