Laying down some truths
Yesterday a song came on the radio. No idea what it was called since I was too fixated on the constant repetition of “lay down with me”. I can’t help it. Grammatical errors like this on live radio really grate on my nerves. How difficult would it be to say “lie down with me”? It’s not even a case of needing extra syllables or poetic licence for rhyming. It’s just wrong. And then we wonder why our children battle to get simple things like this right in their English tests!
So just to clarify. You lay an egg. You lay cutlery onto a tray. But if you’re putting yourself in a prostrate position, you are lying, not laying down. In the present tense, the difference is easier to spot, it is true. To lie, as in recline, on a sofa has no direct object. However, to lay requires a direct object (in the example above, the cutlery is the direct object of the sentence). In other words, you lay something down, but you lie yourself down.
The past tense, however, is probably what brings all the confusion into the mix. The past tense of lie is lay, while the past tense of lay is laid. Hence, “I lie down” (present), but “I lay down” (past). “You lay the cutlery onto a tray” (present), but “You laid the cutlery onto the tray” (past).
More complications: the past participle of lie is lain, while the past participle of lay is laid. Hence, “I lie down” (present), but “I have lain down” (past participle). “You lay the cutlery onto a tray” (present), but “You have laid the cutlery onto the tray” (past participle).
Looking at these all close together makes me begin to realise why people make mistakes with this. I might just have to lie down and contemplate it some more.