Lie vs Lay, Revisited

I think I might have confused some of you with my first lie vs lay post, because I see people who used them correctly before start to use them wrong. 😦 I’m going to try to clear things up in this post by using examples from common confusing situations.

To review, here are brief definitions of the verbs to lie and to lay. The verb to lie, when meaning to recline (as opposed to not telling the truth), is an intransitive verb, so it is used without an object. Whatever lies down does so by itself. Meanwhile, the verb to lay means to put or place something down, and requires a direct object because it is a transitive verb. The subject lays the object. For a more in-depth explanation, please see the original post.

Here is the table again, slightly modified for clarity.

Present Tense Simple Past Tense Past Participle Progressive Tenses
lie lie lay lain lying
lay lay laid laid laying

The infinitive
Incorrect: You need to lay on your back to do this exercise.
Remember, the verb lay means to place. In this case, you need to recline to do the exercise, and therefore use the verb lie.
Correct: You need to lie on your back to do that exercise.

The simple past tense
Some of you might have remembered me saying “don’t use lay when you mean to recline” and are avoiding it entirely. However, the simple past tense of the verb lie happens to be the word “lay,” which is probably where the confusion started.

Incorrect: I laid awake for two hours before giving up on my nap.
“Laid” is actually the simple past tense and the past participle of the verb lay. For this example, the correct verb is lie.
Correct: I lay awake for two hours before giving up on my nap.

Incorrect: Her hair laid in a pile on the floor.
If you think the verb lay means to recline, of course the simple past tense would be “laid.” However, the correct verb here is actually lie. “Her hair” is the subject of the verb. It is in a pile on the floor. It’s not placing anything in a pile on the floor. The simple past tense of lie is “lay.”
Correct: Her hair lay in a pile on the floor.

Laying or lying?
I know I kept emphasizing that the past tense of the verb to lie is lay, without specifying it was the simple past tense. This may have led people to think any reclining that happened in the past becomes something with “lay” in it, and I’d see errors like the one below.

Incorrect: She was laying on the grass.
The past progressive of the verb lie is lying.
Correct: She was lying on the grass.

The same goes for the present progressive.

Incorrect: I don’t have a ton of cash laying around.
Your nonexistent cash is not placing other objects around. The present progressive of the verb lie is lying.
Correct: I don’t have a ton of cash lying around.

Lay in bed or lie in bed?
Here are two sentences that use “lay in bed.” One is right, one is not.

Correct: I lay in bed for twenty minutes but didn’t fall asleep.
This is correct because we’re talking about reclining in the past. The simple past tense of the verb lie is lay.

Incorrect: If my head doesn’t stop hurting, I’ll just lay in bed.
You’re talking about reclining here, so this is the simple future tense of the verb lie. It should be “I’ll lie in bed.”

Lay down or lie down?
Incorrect: The ultrasound technician told me to lay down.
In this case, the correct verb is to lie. If you’re commanding someone to recline, use “lie down.”

However “lay down” is not always wrong. It’s right if you’re referring to placing an object down.
Correct: Lay down your burdens.
Here, your burdens are the object of the verb. You are placing them down, figuratively.

Lay flat
I hear this all over the crafting world. 😡

Incorrect: Let your swatch lay flat, and measure out four inches.
The knitted fabric is not actually placing anything down. Therefore, you want to let the swatch lie flat.
Contrast that with “lay your swatch flat,” which does make sense because you’re placing the swatch (the object of the verb) so that it’s flat.

Incorrect: Pull your threads tight so it lays flat.
The threads are not placing anything flat. Your work lies flat.

At this point, you might be thinking, but clothing tags say “lay flat to dry!” This is my interpretation. I don’t know for certain if it’s accurate. I think it means “lay [the garment] flat to dry.” Remember that the verb lay means to place, and must be used with an object. In this case, the object is the garment, and it has been omitted from the sentence. (I’ve seen some tags that say “dry flat.” Again, the object is omitted, but the wording is more concise and avoids perpetuating the “lay flat” confusion.)

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I hope you found this post helpful. This is my current grammar pet peeve because I’m hearing it used incorrectly more and more. It’s also a pity that there are people who write with otherwise correct grammar but mix up these two. As always, feel free to ask for clarification if you need any.

Who vs Whom

It’s been over two years since I wrote my lie vs lay post. At the time, someone requested that I do one on who vs whom, which prompted me to look up how to use them correctly, since I hadn’t paid much attention to them until then. Even if she no longer wants it, I still would like to write a post explaining when to use who and when to use whom, because I am passionate about proper grammar.

Disclaimer: I am not a grammarian, but in writing this post, I consulted different resources and integrated the information so that it is accurate to the best of my knowledge.

First off, let’s review the roles of the subject, verb, and object in a sentence. (This is super important and is what helped it click for me.) The subject is what the sentence is about, and the verb describes the action of the subject. In other words, the subject does the action. Meanwhile, the object receives the action of the verb. Got it?

Since you probably already know when to use who, and use it when whom should be used, I’ll just write about the distinction between the two, and focus on when to use whom.

Use who (and whoever) when referring to the subject, and whom (and whomever) when referring to the object.

Here’s a table that lays it out

Serve as the Examples Use
Nominative Pronouns subject I, he, she, we, they who/whoever
Objective Pronouns object me, him, her, us, them whom/whomever

You probably have heard before that if you’re not sure whether to use who or whom, substitute the word in question with he or him. If the sentence makes sense with he, use who. If the sentence makes sense with him, use whom. (Him and whom both end in m.) If the sentence is a question, come up with an answer using he or him and see which one makes sense. You can also rephrase the sentence to be a question and apply the same technique.

Now for some examples!

Example: Whom do you have a crush on?
The subject of this sentence is “you” since you’re the one who has the crush on the object. Therefore, it’s correct to use whom here. I know it might sound awkward because we’re not used to hearing it, but the answer “I have a crush on him,” makes sense, so you know you’re supposed to use whom.

Example: She is with her little brother, whom she has to babysit all the time.
Rephrase the sentence as though you were answering the question, “who/whom does she have to babysit all the time?” “She has to babysit him all the time” makes sense, whereas “she has to babysit he all the time” doesn’t, so we know whom is the correct word.

Example: This is John, whom I met at last year’s retreat.
Just isolate the clause containing who/whom. The subject of the verb met is I. I met him makes sense. Therefore, we should use whom.

Example: The suspect, who was wearing light-up shoes, was last seen in the parking lot at 9 PM.
The suspect is the subject of the sentence. He was wearing light-up shoes. Therefore, who is the correct word.

Now it gets complicated

Some of the examples above had more than one clause in the sentence, but it was clear what the subject and object of the verbs were. However, it can be confusing when the relative pronoun in question (i.e. who/whom) is between two verbs. This is when it’s useful to review what clauses are. A clause is a group of words consisting of a subject and verb. (For a more in-depth explanation and examples of clauses and how they relate to sentences and phrases, see this and this.) It is important to first identify the clauses that make up the sentence, and then identify the subject of each clause. Remember, the subject of a clause always remains a part of that clause!

If that was confusing, just isolate the clause containing who/whom.

Example: Whomever she marries is a lucky man.
In the clause “whomever she marries,” she is the subject and whomever is the object of marries. To check, “she marries him” makes sense. Now, had the sentence been “whoever marries her is a lucky man,” whoever is the subject of marries.

Example: I will pick whoever finishes first.
At first glance, it looks like the correct word should be whomever, because “I will pick him” makes sense. However, “whoever finishes first” is a separate clause, with whoever being the subject of “finishes first.”

It may be tempting to always use whom/whomever following the words “to” and “for,” but it’s not always correct. First identify the subject in each clause.

Example: She will talk to whoever will listen.
You may be tempted to use whomever, thinking “whomever will listen” is the object of “talk to.” After all, “she will talk to him” makes sense. However, “whoever will listen” is a clause and whoever is the subject of “will listen.” Who will listen? He will listen. Therefore, whoever is correct.

Example: We left it outside for whoever wants it.
Again, “whoever wants it” is a clause, with whoever being the subject of “wants.” “He wants it” makes sense.

Don’t let parenthetical phrases throw you off. Asides such as “I said,” “she thinks,” and “we believe” are separate clauses.

Example: I felt used by someone who I thought was sincere.
It may be tempting to think it should be “whom I thought” but whom is not the object of “I thought.” Instead, who is the subject of “was.” One way to test this is by putting “I thought” at the end of the clause: someone whom was sincere, I thought. It doesn’t make sense, therefore, who is the correct word.

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I hope this post made it clear when to use who and when to use whom. If you still don’t get it but care, feel free to leave your questions in the comments below and I will try to help you. Also, try reading some of the pages that I’ve linked below for more explanations and examples. If you were confused by all this and don’t want to bother, don’t worry, since the distinction between the two is starting to fade. Besides, you can try to get around it by rephrasing the sentence without the relative pronoun.

I tried my best to ensure that the examples were accurate, but if you do find an error, I would appreciate it if you kindly pointed that out.

Sources and further reading

Lie vs Lay

Recently, I’ve seen and heard too many incidences of lay and lie being misused so I had to say something. I will do my best to explain the difference between the two and when each should be used.

Here are some examples of incorrect usage, followed by the proper word:

  • Medical professionals: “I need you to lay down for me.” No, you need me to lie down for you.
  • People talking: “I was laying in bed last night when….” No, you were lying in bed last night.
  • The news: “The suspect was found laying at the bottom of a boat.” No, he was found lying at the bottom of a boat.
  • As much as I like this song, it should be “I’m sick of lying down alone.”

So, what’s the correct usage?

The verb to lie, when used in the sense of reclining (as opposed to not telling the truth), is an intransitive verb, meaning it is used without an object. On the other hand, lay means to put or place something down, and requires a direct object because it is a transitive verb. For example, you lie down on the bed. He lays the cards on the table. (The cards being the direct object.) In the words of Grammar Girl, “you lay something down, and people lie down by themselves.”

If you find yourself wanting to use lay but aren’t sure if it should be lie, you can first ask yourself “lay what?” If the answer is yourself or another person, then you must mention who is being laid. (Hence, “Now I lay me down to sleep” is correct because “me” is the object.) If there isn’t anything to lay, then the word to use is lie. (“Now I lie down to sleep.)

This site has another tip to help you decide between lay or lie. Substitute the disputed word with a form of the verb “place,” and if it makes sense, use a form of lay.

Now it gets complicated because the past tense of lie is lay. Note that the past tense of lay is laid, (NOT layed, which only exists as a misspelled word). It’s not a mistake in the table below: both the past tense and past participle of lay is laid.

Present tense Past tense Past Participle Present participle
lie lay lain lying
lay laid laid laying

Examples of Lie Conjugated

  • Past tense: After I lay down, the phone rang.
  • Past participle: The corpulent man had lain on the couch for hours, until his wife scolded him.
  • Present participle: I am lying on my side as I write this.

Examples of Lay Conjugated

  • Past tense: She laid the sequins in a pattern on the shirt before she sewed them in place.
  • Past participle: That is one of the most amazing pictures that I have laid my eyes on.
  • Present participle: He was carefully laying each tile in place, when he lost his balance and fell on his work.

If you would like to see more examples, a quick Google search for “lay vs lie” will turn up many helpful websites.

There’s no need to feel guilty if you’ve been using these words incorrectly. Just learn to use them correctly. I know my grammar isn’t perfect, so I appreciate it when people kindly point out my errors.