I’m Giving Up Trying To Correctly Conjugate “Lay” And “Lie” For Lent

I just heard that President Biden is giving up ice cream for Lent. It has led me to think about what meaningful thing I can sacrifice in remembrance of Christ’s forty days of fasting and prayer in the desert. Then it dawned on me. All my life I’ve enjoyed trying to figure out if I “lie” the vase on the table or “lay” the vase on the table, or whether I need to “lie” down or “lay” down. I derive an enormous amount of pleasure thinking about those words in the past tense as well. For example, “Yesterday I layed? lied? lay? on the bed all afternoon thinking about the correct way to tell someone I had a nap.  

Here is what Merriam’s Webster Dictionary says about how to figure it out: 

Lay means “to place something down flat,” while lie means “to be in a flat position on a surface.” The key difference is that lay is transitive and requires an object to act upon, and lie is intransitive, describing something moving on its own or already in position. Beyond the present tense, the pair can become more confusing because lay is the past tense of lie, and laid is the past tense of lay

I so love reading this explanation for its clarity and usefulness. I thought I could cleanse my soul during the Lenten Season by not caring how ignorant I sound when I need to discuss positioning something onto a horizontal surface. Perhaps I will simply use the words “place” and “rest” instead of “lay” and “lie” and, in doing so, find myself closer to the Lord for letting go of this charming grammatical puzzlement. 

The only thing I like more than eating chocolate and drinking wine is I dabbling in the conjugation of very irregular verbs. (Who has not at least once used “brung” for the past tense of “bring?”) I have decided, however, to forgo the many hours I could spend wondering happily about the conjugates of “lay” and “lie” and level up my holiness. God knows, I take such guilty pleasure in going through all the possibilities, and endless ways to appear illiterate. It seemed only fair that I permanently delete the whole eight-part pic-to-graph of 6th grade grammar from my memory.  

Yes, I could have given up coffee or vaping for Lent, forgiven an enemy or let go of a toxic grudge, but I think the greater act of self-abnegation is to stop going through the delightful mind games that “lay” and “lie” provide. How I will miss making one mistake after the other, never feeling confident enough to stick with one response, hoping that the person with whom I am speaking will not detect my verbal foul.  

So for these forty days and forty nights, I will not allow my mind to succumb to the temptation of going through the permutates of lay, lie, laid, lain, layed, etc, etc, and turn my thoughts to less enjoyable activities like reclining on a divan, positioning a bottle of Patrone on a nightstand, or depositing a bon bon on my tongue.  

One comment

  1. Darn, I was hoping you would finally give clear definitions of lay and lie, but thanks for providing alternative terms. It reminds me of the flashcards with a word on one side and the definition on the other. I got the word “cliché”. No idea so looked on the back, “A trite phrase or hackneyed expression”. So helpful 😳


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