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Thread: lie or lay

  1. #1
    REO Guest

    Thumbs down lie or lay

    Could you tell me how you feel about the difference between the sentences below?

    A) The dictionary is lying on the bookshelf.

    B) The dictionary is laid on the bookshelf.

    And, I think that these two sentences are both OK. But it is too natural that "the dictionary is lying on the bookshelf." On the other hand, by the sentece "The dictionary is laid on the bookshelf.", I mean that the dictionary was laid by somebody, especially not in the usual place. Is it right? If the sentence is "The dictionary is ( ) on that bookshelf that I don't use or that I usually don't put it.", which one do you prefer to use?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: lie or lay

    Quote Originally Posted by REO
    Could you tell me how you feel about the difference between the sentences below?
    A) The dictionary is lying on the bookshelf.
    B) The dictionary is laid on the bookshelf.
    And, I think that these two sentences are both OK. But it is too natural that "the dictionary is lying on the bookshelf." On the other hand, by the sentece "The dictionary is laid on the bookshelf.", I mean that the dictionary was laid by somebody, especially not in the usual place. Is it right? If the sentence is "The dictionary is ( ) on that bookshelf that I don't use or that I usually don't put it.", which one do you prefer to use?
    Hi R E O,

    The distinction you are making is a general one relating to active and passive voice. "The dictionary is lying on the bookshelf" is the present continuous tense of "to lie", and indicates that the dictionary itself is doing the "lying" and continues to do so. If "the dictionary is laid on the bookshelf" then someone else (other than the dictionary) is doing the "laying" - the dictionary is a passive object of it, that's all. There is no particular sense that it is an unusual place - I can quite naturally say "In most households, the dinner is usually laid on the table, but the dictionary is usually laid on the bookshelf."

    So the answer to your question is that I would use either the active or passive form - "lying" or "laid" - depending on what I was trying to convey at the time. I would use the active form ("lying on that bookshelf") if I was describing the current state of affairs. I would use the passive form if I was describing what normally happens to the dictionary. For example, "When I'm out of town, the dictionary is normally laid on that bookshelf, but I notice it's lying on the other bookshelf today."

  3. #3
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    Default Re: lie or lay

    There are actually two completely different verbs here, and confusing them is a very common mistake among native speakers, especially, for some reason, Americans.

    One verb is "to lie", and is instransitive, which means that it cannot take a direct object. The past tense is "lay" and the past participle as "lain". It is a verb of state: The book lies on the shelf; the book lay on the shelf; the book has lain on the shelf for a week; I lie on my bed; I lay on my bed; I have lain on my bed since 4 o'clock.

    The phrasal verb "to lie down" describes the action of assuming a lying position. Normally only animate objects can lie down, because it implies a deliberate action: When I am tired, I lie down on the sofa; I was tired, so I lay down; The cat has lain down in front of of the fire.

    The other verb is the transitive verb "to lay" and means "to put sth. down in a lying position". Its past tense and past participle are both "laid": I will lay the book on the table; I laid the book on the shelf; I have laid the book on the floor. Also, birds lay eggs, and people can lay the table (i.e. they place cutlery and dishes on the table in preparation for a meal).

    The confusion is easy to understand: "lay" can be the present tense of the transitive verb or the past tense of the intransitive verb. That's why people often get it wrong, and you'll see sentences like: "I him laying on the floor" when they mean "lying".

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