One reader has suggested that I write about some of the fundamentals that cause problems for young writers. It was suggested that I discuss the rules for lay and lie.

Consider this about  lay and lie from The Associated Press Stylebook:

The action word is lay. It takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying.

Lie indicates a state of reclining along a horizontal plane. It does not take a direct object.

Its past tense is lay. Its past participle is lain. Its present participle is lying.

When lie means to make an untrue statement, the verb forms are lie, lied and lying.

Here are some examples of present or future tenses.

Right: I will lay the book on the table. The prosecutor tried to lay the blame on him.

Wrong: He lays on the beach all day. I will lay down.

Right: He lies on the beach all day. I will lie down.

In the past tense:

Right: I laid the book on the table. The prosecutor has laid the blame on him.

Right: He lay on the beach all day. He has lain on the beach all day. I lay down. I have lain down.

With the present participle:

Right: I am laying the book on the table. The prosecutor is laying the blame on him.

Right: He is lying on the beach. I am lying down.

These are the rules on lay and lie, and for the most part lay and lie are obsolete words. Hardly anyone writes or says, “I laid the book on the table.” Most people just say, “I put the book on the table.”

Writers should understand original usage, but they do not necessarily have to stay with the same old words.

My thoughts on the word laid were reflected in a conversation with Ron Howard (aka Opie) with Dave Letterman on The Late Show a few years ago.

Dave: “What’s the movie about, Ron?”

Ron: “Opie gets laid.” (now there’s a past tense for you.)

Some words simply do not mean what they used to mean.

In reference to the sexual revolution, make a list of words that have changed to the point of simply not being used the way they used to be used.

Times change, people change and words change. This doesn’t mean that change is always for the better. It just means that change is a part of life.

As for words, there is no reason to get bent out of shape in reacting to these changes. Study them and think about them. Some times the “change” is brief, and some times it is permanent.

I am going to try to make a list of some of the words that have changed in my life time. Any one else interested? Keep in mind that you have to have a sense of humor when you’re studying words.

As for the traditional usage of lay and lie, it has always been a problem. I had a stern editor who insisted that I not “write around” this usage but that I use the word or words correctly.

Some times I did, and some times I did not. Often, I thought of words that had more punch or action.

Years ago, I remember when a journalism student used the word “venue” instead of place. It surprised me, and initially I did not think it was a good idea, but I changed my mind. If you have followed this word, you know that venue has been fully established as a “legitimate” replacement for place.

Editors and writers should keep readers in mind.


Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at