Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
Sure, it’s easy to distinguish lace from lice and lake from like, but what’s the difference between lay and lie? When I say “lie” in this article, I’m not referring to the act that causes Pinocchio’s nose to grow; I’m talking about when someone reclines.
The quick answer to this confusing conundrum is this: lay requires a direct object while lie does not. You lie down in the fetal position sucking your thumb when you’re super-stressed watching a Colts game. You lay down a brass unicorn paperweight on important papers so your office’s industrial-strength air conditioner doesn’t whoosh them away and risk paper cutting your entire department.
Allow me to lay down a few examples:
King Lear lays his lyre down on the linoleum landing of his lopsided lake lair. In this case, “lyre” is the direct object, so lay is correct.
Lance lies lazily in his limo, lunching on Lay’s and listening to Lyle Lovett’s lavish lyrics. Lance lies down on his own, while Lear lays the direct object (his lyre) down.
Now it gets complicated; the past tense of lie is lay, while the past tense of lay is laid. So, you could correctly say: John Lennon lay down on the floor while he laid down the lead vocal track to “Revolution 1.” The English language strikes again.
While on vacation in Hawaii, Linus laid a lei on Elaine while she lay on the beach.
You can lie about laying down your laser while you lie on the loveseat in your lounge.
It’s a wonder anyone learns to speak English as a second language. We often assume and expect others to possess a mastery of the English language while its rules are ridiculously complicated and, once you think you understand it, someone comes along with a half dozen head-scratching exceptions.
To take a “Hamilton” quote out of context, sometimes I feel English is “such a blunder, sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder.” Yet our language’s seemingly contradictory rules awaken our inner-word nerds and cause us to lie in bed while we dream about the truth.