Once in a while, you just feel like laying down to take a nap, right? No, you do not. You have just committed the (common) sin of mixing up your lays and your lies.
(Before we get started, you might want to take Grammar Girl’s six-question Lay vs Lie Quiz. Then you can take it again at the end and see how much you improve.)
The word “lay” is always paired with an object; it means to put something down. A common example is that you lay a book (object) on the table. To lie requires no object; it means to assume a resting position. You lie down (no object) to get a good night’s rest.
‘Lay it on me’
If you can’t straight-up memorise that rule, one popular mnemonic device for remembering the difference between “lay” and “lie” is to think of the phrase, “Lay it on me.” “Lay it on me” is a slangy way of saying, “Talk to me about it,” but it can also remind you that lay goes with an object (it).
Here’s where things get rough
That wasn’t too bad, right? But now what if you need to use the past tense or past participle of lay or lie? Yeah, that’s where it gets dicey.
Lie / lay / lain
Lie is the present tense. I’m going to lie down.
Lay is the past tense. Last night, I lay down too early and couldn’t fall asleep.
Lain is the past participle. She has lain awake all night.
Lay / laid / laid
Lay is the present tense. I should lay the baby down in the crib.
Laid is the past tense. I laid the mail on the kitchen table.
And laid is also the past participle. I have laid the reports in the same spot each week.
I cannot help you memorise that; you simply have to practise using it a lot until it becomes second nature. Write it down and display it near your computer or stick a Post-It Note to the bathroom mirror for a week to commit it to memory.
Then you can lay the whole thing to rest, once and for all.